Monday, December 20, 2010

And Just Like That.... My Seats Vanished

by Kate Collins

Losing a loved one just might be the most difficult and painful experience in anyone’s life. Losing a seat on an airplane doesn’t begin to compare. Except when they’re connected.

My husband and I were scheduled to take a trip in January, and as many of you know, he won’t be making that trip with me now. Because this destination is a special place for us, I’ve decided to keep my reservation and escape the cold for awhile.

I needed to cancel my husband’s reservation and ask for a refund on his ticket, so I called American Airlines customer service number and explained the situation, which always brings on a flood of tears. The woman was sympathetic and told me what to do -- fill out some forms and send in verification. (I can’t tell you how many forms I’ve had to fill out.) Then she switched me to the reservation desk where I once again had to explain the situation and ask that my husband’s ticket be canceled.

During this process, I had my reservations pulled up on the AA website, and as I watched, the seats that we had chosen for the four flights –two there and two back --disappeared. Vanished. SNAP. Gone.

I politely told the woman that I was still going to need my seats (in coach, by the way). She told me, not so politely, that I couldn’t have those seats anymore because I wasn’t a GOLD member. I explained that I used the same Advantage credit card that my husband did, and flew every flight with him, so I had helped him earn those GOLD points. Furthermore, I had asked for his miles to be rolled into my account. Wouldn’t that help?

She repeated in an even sharper tone that HE was a GOLD member and I was not! Period.

Trying extremely hard to remain polite, I said I still needed seats. So she put me in the very back of the plane on 3 of the 4 flights and informed me that on the 4th, I would have to ask for a seat assignment at the gate because the seats were all taken.

“But I had a seat on that flight. How can I NOT have a seat there now?”
“You’re not a GOLD member. That’s a GOLD row. The rest of the seats are taken.”
“So my husband passes away and you’re taking away my seat, too?”

I hung up crying. Later, I called back and talked to someone at the Advantage desk, who explained that there were indeed seats on that plane, but the rows were being held for GOLD members. They won’t open up until 90 minutes prior to boarding. I’d have to ask for a seat then. I guess I should start praying now that there will still be one open.

Over the past few months I’ve had to talk to many people at banks, credit card companies, and other businesses to close down my husband’s accounts. In all cases, they were kind and helpful. In all cases, that is, except this one.

So thank you, American Airlines, for proving once again that we are at your mercy. Captive audiences. That we mean nothing more than how much more money you can squeeze from us. And just so you know, I was with my husband on every one of those flights that earned him GOLD status. I pushed the button authorizing payment on his credit card, too. So have a jolly holiday, American Airlines, and hope that one day you don’t find yourself without a seat because you’ve lost your GOLD member. And yes, I’m aware of the double entendre and I still mean it.

Are all airlines that heartless? Have you had any experiences like that?

Kate, still fuming


Jo Anne said...

that is horrible. I would take names and talk to a sup. which you probably did and did not receive any satisfaction anyway. I am so sorry that there are people out there who with that little bit of power lords it over who ever they can, so they can feel important about themselves. Its all they have. Feel sorry for them because they have nothing.

Min said...

I am so sorry that this happened to you (both the loss of your husband and this horrible incident with American Airlines).

I only recently discovered your wonderful books (as in, in the past few weeks, and I've breezed through the first seven in the series. I'm really looking forward to getting to the rest of the series after the holidays! I'm just sorry it's taken me so long to find Abby and Bloomers!

I'm going to be sharing this story about American as widely as I can, in the hopes that others will know how they've treated you.

Happy holidays, and I hope you get that seat.

Unknown said...

just appalling. so very sorry to learn you had to endure this. my deepest condolences for your loss. I hope your escape will be good relief for you.

Janet Spaeth said...

I'm so sorry that happened to you. I'm also a widow, and here's what happened to me: I couldn't get out of a cell phone contract because he died before the end of the contract! It had both him and my minor-aged son on it (my daughter and I were on a separate one), and they were adamant. Finally lawyers got involved.

Yes, I had to hire a lawyer (the irony is that my husband was a lawyer), and we finally "settled" on a part-term payment. What was absolutely beautiful, though, was that the cell phone provider's lawyer refunded the money HIMSELF.

Nevertheless, I spent way too much time repeating and repeating and repeating the story (which is necessary for everything).

Oh, I also was told I couldn't pay a bill (one of the household utilities) by phone because it was in his name, and until they had a notarized copy of the death certificate, they couldn't change it to mine. Oddly, they took the checks I sent, though.

It's hard enough without having to have your heart ripped out over and over.

I'm so sorry...

Mason Canyon said...

So sorry you had to go through this and having to re-tell what happen over and over again. I don't know if all airlines are like this, but I think your readers will take a dim view of American Airlines from now on. Despite the problems with the airline, I hope you have a pleasant trip.

Thoughts in Progress

Anonymous said...

I am absolutely incensed that you were treated in this way, as I'm sure you are. That "customer service" rep was downright callous and should be reported. Take the energy of your grief and anger, get online and not only get the name of the CEO, but also the members of the board. Write a letter to every one of them detailing this incident. I'm sending you a big hug from SW Ohio...I hope you're able to enjoy your trip after all of this.

Sweetbearies said...

Maybe your pointing this hurtful policy will help the company consider changing their practices. Sorry to hear about this.

Lindy said...

I know it is hard to have the energy to deal with this now, but you are an incredibly strong (and talented) woman, so go after them big time. Get the name of the customer service rep with whom you talked along with her e-mail or snail mail address. Then get the name and address of the CEO and vice president in charge of customer relations. Send a letter to the CEO and copy the other two. Describe what happened along with your (and your fans')disappointment with the company. When I had a problem similar to yours, I got a call from the local manager the day aftr I mailed the letter asking what she could do so make things better. She got her letter first, and she wanted to be able to tell the CEO what she was doing to rectify the situation when he called to bawl her out. Good luck to you, and God bless.

Unknown said...

I'm so very sorry for your loss, and most especially for your experience with American Airlines. I have a story to share that will reinforce the issue with American, but hopefully also, bring a small smile to you.

My father and mother were married in 1949, shortly after him coming off of duty as a MASH surgeon for the Army in both the Pacific and European theaters. The ceremony simple, the Honeymoon even more father told my mother that he was through travelling for awhile..and that the worst part of his commutes during the war, were the long layovers. His least favorite of all, New York City. He told Mother that only over his dead body would he go back through New York and especially by flight.

Mother and Father settled into married life, and began to live out their post war dream. The Dream of Children was hard to come by, my brother and I were 8 years apart, after a lot of heartbreaking failures. However they were so excited to have the two of us, and we were loved and knew it. In 1957, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer..and he would begin a 7 year fight to live and stay with his family as long as possible.

In 1964, he lost that battle, and it was Mother's duty to get my Father back to Pennsylvania where the family cemetery was and to have him buried. Mother made all the flight...on American Airlines... My mother gets off the plane in Pennsylvania, and my father's casket was nowhere to be found. She waited for hours, but in those days, flights were much fewer in frequency. She ended up having to take a hotel in Philadelphia and await a phone call from American.

The next day, she finally receives a phone call from a Customer Service Agent. My Father's Casket had been had been left in a holding area, missing a New York City. My mom just sat there holding the phone in her hand (this is how she always told me the story)..and finally started laughing hysterically. Tears of joy and sadness father had literally managed to keep his promise..He never did go back to New York, until it was over his dead body. She knew that had to be him sending her a farewell joke..for they always laughed and joked together..he was famous for it.

It is a sad thing to have happened, and it shows that American still seems to operate in the same way...but I hope that this has helped just a little bit.

I send you my warmest thoughts, prayers and well wishes for a trip that comes out with blessings and good memories to hold close always.

God Bless..
Patty Jones
Clearwater Florida

Dru said...

Definitely write them a letter. Also, if you have a twitter account, link this post to twitter and if you're not already, follow American Airlines. My friend had a similar situation with an airline and when she tweeted it, she got a response back and her flight was saved.

I really dislike that companies care more about the mighty dollar than about their customers.

Donna said...

recently I was sick and could not shake a constant we had to cancel our flight to be with family out West...we called Continental and they were great...we have a credit for the amount to fly again and only $50 rebook fee since I have a doctor letter .....this of course has been the exception for me but it certainly makes me want to fly with them sorry for your experience....trying to go further up the chain is always an option...or never flying again and making your story even more public always helps...local media story leaked to major networks....well again I hope your trip is wonderful...

Leann Sweeney said...

Who the hell cares if you are a gold member or not? Where is the compassion in this world? I hate that this happened to you and I have tweeted the link.

Tonya Kappes said...

Kate that's terrible!! I'd be fuming too!! I'm not a gold member and probably never will be so I don't really know all the perks. BUT I'm sure I'll keep my eye out on American Airlines!

groovyoldlady said...

United Airlines had to eat a great deal of crow after carelessly handling a musician's Taylor guitar. He made some YouTube videos and they went viral and they went all out to quell the publicity by making all nice.

Publicise this, Kate. I will help by tweeting this post!

Jen Katzenberger said...

I totally agree with Lindy. Write a letter and mail copies to everyone from the CEO on down. Use words like "disappointed, lack of faith (in their company), lack of compassion". I've had a lot of success when I approached a problem with this tactic.

Good luck and don't let them win!

Booklady said...

I really dislike this airline. I'm appalled that they are so callous.

Jessica said...

Oh, Kate, I am so sorry. This situation stinks all the way around. Mean people really do suck. I have avoided AA since they lost my bags and grounded me in Chicago for three hours with many screaming children (I like children, I have two myself) on the plane before they decided to taxi back up to the terminal and make us all get back off the plane. I only fly United, Delta, and Southwest now. I would complain until I got someone who has some power. People have no compassion anymore.
I will be thinking of you and hope that your holidays are peaceful.

Jessica in Ohio

Joyce Tremel said...

I've found one of the best ways to complain about a company is on Twitter. I had a horrible meal at a restaurant chain a few months ago and tweeted about it. I looked up the restaurant's Twitter name and made sure to use it in the tweets. Five minutes after I tweeted, I heard from the restaurant.

Companies don't like public complaints.

American Airlines Twitter name is @AmericanAir.

Kate Collins said...

Wow. What great ideas! Joyce, I'm going to follow AA right now and then tweet this blog.
Thanks, ladies, for giving me the heads up on whom to write to, as well. I'm psyched now!

Janet, I know exactly what you mean. I'm so sick of all the hoops I have to jump through to close out accounts or switch them over.
Patty, your dad was quite a jokester. I'm sure it was his way of sharing one last laugh with your mom. What a great story!

Min, always nice to make a new friend. I hope you continue to enjoy the books. Lots of fun coming!

Aryn said...

Kate - this is just awful. There is no reason for this kind of treatment. My dad had some issues like this when my mom passed away in 2007, but nothing quite so heartless as this.

Who is that travel writer who people write to and he contacts the airline/hotel/car rental/whatever company with their complaint? He is either on cnn or yahoo, but I can't remember which. You should write to this person with your story. Of course, you will have to figure out who it is first! :)

I am glad you are taking the trip yourself.

Aryn said...

Oh - and to answer your second to last question. No, I don't believe that Southwest Airlines would be that heartless. Granted, they don't have "Gold" status and stuff like that, but that's what makes them great. And HUMAN.

dollycas aka Lori said...

I am so mad for you!!! I would definitely do everything suggested above and also check to see if your local news stations has a consumer help desk. Two of ours here do and this is an issue they would take on and publicize and even help you through the mess. Plus any bad publicity for airlines right now is a hot topic with luggage fees and extra charges. I bet a few perfectly placed phone calls from the media would not only restore your Gold status but you may even become a PLATINUM member.

Stay strong and stand up to the money grubbing #$%^&@#@. You have been through so much, it is not right to go through this too.

I am glad you are still taking the trip too.

Anonymous said...

Kate I'm so sorry for the loss of your husband. Death seems to bring to light the heartlessness of large companies because I went through this back in 1985 when I lost my third child to SIDS. At that time in my town if one called 911 not only the fire dept. arrives but an ambulance for the heart from our major hospital and a regular ambulance, and the police. I was in shock dealing with all this when all the bills started rolling in and the rejections on two of the 3 emergency crews. This was a large insurance company who was very concerned about image over dollars that had taken on ME. All my anger and frustration burst out after being dammed up for two week and I was seething with threats of public exposure with legal actions! Of course after consulting their attorney the backed down and covered completely the tragedy.
So I am in total agreement with previous readers theonly thing that makes big business to change policy is the threat of tarnising their image with the public! So play "Paul Revere" and spread the word on all the publc social sites and AA will regret tussling with YOU!

Sheila Lowe said...

Two weeks ago my ex-husband's father died. My ex quickly booked a ticket through American Airlines online for nearly $1000. I suggested he call and ask for a bereavement fare. They gave him the lower fare (half the price), but refused to refund the other half. They offered a voucher, good for one year.
I will not travel American if I can help it. If we all put Kate's link on our Facebook, Twitter, etc. Maybe somebody will get the message!

signlady217 said...

Absolutely appalling! Even if the rep you spoke with had to tell you "Sorry, I can't do anything", she still could have been nice about it. Not hateful like that. I've worked in retail and education too many years and been on the receiving end of customer/parent complaints, and I know how hard that can be, but that is no excuse to treat people like dirt! I am just sitting here seething on your behalf, and wondering how many other people have had to put up with the same thing. I hope you can get some kind of resolution. Hang in there, lady! We're all with you!

Miki Willa said...

This is terrible, but not unusual, I am sorry to say. I have solved my problems with the airlines by choosing not to fly. I know that is impossible for may people, so I agree with everyone else. Get the negative word out there. Splash it everywhere you can. I hope they make it right for you.

Kate Collins said...

THanks, ladies. There's a travel writer at the Chicago Tribune. Maybe I can contact him. I'm going to tweet my blog link again. If you could retweet, that would be wonderful. Maybe some AA exec somewhere will see it and be embarrassed. One can only hope.
Your encouragement is amazing.

Vickie said...


This just adds one more reason why I will never fly again unless I somehow win the lotto and can afford my own private jet. The airlines bite.

Maggie Sefton said...

I say you drop American Airlines like a hot rock, Kate. There are OTHER far better airlines who will treat you well. I love Southwest---great service & no baggage fees & great prices. But Delta still has a part of my heart because of the wonderful way they handled my abrupt cancellation of my trip to Germany in Sept 2008 due to a sudden accident which required wrist surgery that night instead of overseas flight.

I had to cancel (from the hospital with ice packs waiting for an evening surgery) & the woman was very helpful. She told me to call back and ask customer service to see what they could do. No promises, though. My reservation was made over two months before for a good price.

The day following surgery, while arm-numbing anesthesia was wearing off, I called Delta customer service & explained the entire situation. I said I was going to see my daughter who was assigned there. She told me the seat would now cost over $3000! I told her I could not pay that. She paused, then asked me to wait on hold while she went "to see what we can do." After almost 10 minutes, she returned and said I would be given my original seat with NO ADDITIONAL CHARGES! Wow! I was expecting to pay something! I was floored. And extremely grateful. :)

That's why I tell that story, Kate. There are good airlines out there who treat you better. Go choose another. Tell AA what it can do with its Gold card.

Pooch said...

No more American Airlines for me. I do this to honor your husband's memory and to offer support to you.



Kellie said...

Hello Kate, I read the Cozy Chicks blog and just wanted to let you know that my thoughts are with you this holiday season. My mother died two and a half years ago from cancer and this will be my third Christmas without her. She was and is my dearest friend and book-buddy. The holidays are especially tough, and even-though we have never met my thoughts are with you this holiday season.
Peace to you and your family.

Laineshots said...

Kate, I told my husband - a frequent traveler - about this. His instant response was, "I hope she is writing emails to AA's Customer Service Relations Department, and CCing any other AA department she can think of. I hope she's telling them she doesn't want to have to contact the media, OR the DOT, OR the Aviation Consumer Protection Agency, to tell them how heartless AA is to a new widow, just before Christmas, who only wanted to keep the seat she paid for. She'd probably end up with Gold status AND a free ticket!" He then provided the following link:

He's still talking about it. He's outraged. I think HE would love to write that email--and so would Abby Knight!

Aimee said...

These are being posted on Reddit with the headline, "AA makes Recent Widow Cry1"

Sean Bentel
Manager, customer relations
(817) 967-2116

Mark Mitchell
Managing director, customer experience
(817) 931-7523

Gerard J. Arpey
President and chief executive officer
(817) 963-1234

Anonymous said...

Kate, I have written to American. I get email from the all the time because I work for an agency that flies a great deal. I do not have an influence, but I did let them know I was concerned. Maybe with several of us letting them know that we are aware of their inadequate customer service, you will be treated in a more courteous way. One can only hope. Take care and God Bless.

Lindy said...

I, too, have wrtten to AA and told them how disappointed I am in the way they treated Kate. I said that if they didn't know what I was talking about to read this blog. I epect that AA is now regreting the way they treated you, Kate. You deserve free flights for the rest of your life!

Donna the Bwana said...

We live in the DFW area and American owns this town-- for now. Thus, they treat their customers horribly. I had a 6:55 am flight for Boston in January of 2009 that they cancelled because of "mechanical problems"-- the flight was less than half full. Under the Passenger Bill of Rights, they were supposed to get me on the next flight. Yeah, right. They put me on one at 2 in the afternoon, then switched me to one at noon that they cancelled.... after an eternity at the DFW airport, I finally got on a flight at almost 9 pm that night. After a detour to Connecticut during which they refused to even give anyone on the plane water -- we got to Boston at 3:30am.
Add to this the times my daughter tried to fly with her dog in cabin only to be given grief by the ticket agents about the size of her dog, the carrier she was in, etc-- each time AFTER they had taken her $80 extra for the dog and even though we had strictly complied with their posted requirements. One agent tried to argue that the dog carrier wasn't in compliance until I produced the receipt that showed AA at LAX had sold it to us! Each time we ran into one of these power-mad dog hating ticket agents, they almost made her miss her flight and always gave her grief AFTER taking her money.
I will NEVER fly AA again. I will take another airline, a train, a bus, a car, walk or swim.
Thank goodness the Wright Amendment expires soon and Southwest will be able to fly to more cities. Maybe that will speed the end of this atrocious airline.
So sorry for your loss and that you had to deal with this uncaring and unfeeling airline.

Donna the Bwana said...

Oh, and save your time writing their customer service. They do not care. We detailed all of our experiences-- including how a ticket agent laughed at my daughter's tears when they flat out told her they were not going to let her and her dog on the plane ( thus making her miss her vacation from school)-- like I said, after taking her extra $80, and then, finally saying they would sell her a Sherpa carrier at a jacked-up price. We also detailed the return experience, which would have been just as bad except her dad and I accompanied her to the ticket desk, produced the receipt for the carrier and helped argue her case to the agent.
We basically got a form reply saying they hoped we would fly American again. No apology, no disciplinary action for the rude agent who mocked her and laughed at her at LAX.

They just don't care... they are arrogant and think they own their flight routes. We now fly only Continental or Southwest.

Kate Collins said...

Donna, your story is just appalling! I hope that we all can bombard AA with tweets and emails to make them sit up and take notice. Aimee posted 3 names w/email addys. We should all send them emails with a link to this blog. Big companies can still have hearts, as others have pointed out about Southwest and Delta. AA should want to generate good will, not ill will.
Kellie, I'm so sorry about your mom. I lost mine 5 years ago and miss her dearly. Holidays are painful times for all of us who've suffered losses.
Thanks to all of you who've expressed your feelings. I feel truly blessed to have such kind friends who've never even met me. Blessing to you all.

Anonymous said...

{{{Kate}}} Ugh, I hate it when "procedures" are made more important than the people those procedures are supposed to serve. I can't wait to see how this little gem figures into one of your future stories. ;o)

Annette Naish said...

OK Kate, I had complained to AA on your behalf. And today I finally got an actual response.

I am not very satisfied, but I did get an actual name in Customer Relations. If you have not received any kind of apology, you can contact attn: Debbie Mahan @

I have been a customer of theirs for a long time because I fly for my job.

Not sure this will help, but it is worth a shot. Take care and God Bless and I hope you are feeling well.

Kate Collins said...

You are incredibly sweet and kind to go to bat for me. I actually got a "postcard of apology" which is more than I expected. I was able to get a refund for my husband's ticket, and did get a seat finally. I could not get them to budge on the Gold member issue, but I fly so much that I actually made Gold on my own just last week. I hope that what happened to me and the huge outpouring of outrage over it has helped others going through similar painful situations. It's due to people like you that things do get changed for the better. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.