Yes, American Airlines, you can hate your customers and be loved by your shareholders. Or can you?

This just in: Reader complaints surged 24 percent last month from a year ago.

Can you guess which company topped the list?

That’s right, it’s the same one that has led our list since we’ve been counting — American Airlines. In a moment, I’ll tell you why its dubious leadership position is secure.

With 41 cases, or 11 percent of our total complaints, American had nearly twice the grievances of the number two company, United Airlines.

A quick reminder that we only count cases received through our help form. These are the most difficult, intractable problems, and the grievances represent a tiny fraction of the overall complaints with a company. Often, consumers come to us when they’ve tried everything, up to and including litigation.

Our number of cases for the month surged almost 4 percent from August to 388. For the year, we’re up about 13 percent, to 3,071 cases.

Here are last month’s numbers:

 

September 2017
Rank Top 25 Companies Total Complaints Percent
1 American Airlines 41 10.57%
2 United Airlines 21 5.41%
3 Airberlin 10 2.58%
4 Delta Air Lines 10 2.58%
5 Enterprise Rent-A-Car 8 2.06%
6 Expedia 7 1.80%
7 Hertz Rent a Car 7 1.80%
8 WOW Air 7 1.80%
9 Amazon.com 5 1.29%
10 Spirit Airlines 5 1.29%
11 Walmart 5 1.29%
12 AT&T 4 1.03%
13 British Airways 4 1.03%
14 HomeAway (Expedia) 4 1.03%
15 Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) 4 1.03%
16 Princess Cruises 4 1.03%
17 Airbnb 3 0.77%
18 Apple 3 0.77%
19 Booking.com (Priceline) 3 0.77%
20 Frontier Airlines 3 0.77%
21 Icelandair 3 0.77%
22 Justfly.com 3 0.77%
23 Marriott 3 0.77%
24 Royal Caribbean (RCCL) 3 0.77%
25 Travelocity (Expedia) 3 0.77%
Total Cases: 388
Last Month: 374
Percent Difference: 3.61%
Total Cases September 2016: 292
Percent Difference Year Ago: 24.74%
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Here’s the previous month:

 

August 2017
Rank Top 25 Companies Total Complaints Percent
1 American Airlines 43 11.50%
2 United Airlines 26 6.95%
3 British Airways 13 3.48%
4 Delta Air Lines 11 2.94%
5 Enterprise Rent-A-Car 11 2.94%
6 Expedia 9 2.41%
7 Airberlin 8 2.14%
8 Southwest Airlines 7 1.87%
9 Air Canada 5 1.34%
10 Alamo Rent a Car (Enterprise) 4 1.07%
11 Amazon.com 4 1.07%
12 Norwegian (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 4 1.07%
13 Turkish Airlines 4 1.07%
14 WOW Air 4 1.07%
15 American Express 3 0.80%
16 Carnival 3 0.80%
17 Google 3 0.80%
18 Hertz Rent a Car 3 0.80%
19 Princess Cruises 3 0.80%
20 Travelocity (Expedia) 3 0.80%
21 AT&T 2 0.53%
22 Aeromexico 2 0.53%
23 DirecTV (AT&T) 2 0.53%
24 Emirates 2 0.53%
25 Europcar 2 0.53%
Total Cases: 374
Last Month: 438
Percent Difference: -17.11%
Total Cases August 2016: 342
Percent Difference Year Ago: 8.56%

And here are our year-to-date numbers:

Cases Year- to-Date
Rank Top 25 Companies Total Complaints Percent
1 American Airlines 335 10.91%
2 United Airlines 191 6.22%
3 Delta Air Lines 90 2.93%
4 British Airways 66 2.15%
5 Expedia 66 2.15%
6 Enterprise Rent-A-Car 64 2.08%
7 Southwest Airlines 44 1.43%
8 Spirit Airlines 43 1.40%
9 Airbnb 41 1.34%
10 Amazon.com 41 1.34%
11 Hertz Rent a Car 41 1.34%
12 AT&T 38 1.24%
13 Lufthansa 33 1.07%
14 Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) 29 0.94%
15 WOW Air 28 0.91%
16 Air Canada 25 0.81%
17 Airberlin 25 0.81%
18 Turkish Airlines 25 0.81%
19 Justfly.com 21 0.68%
20 Air Berlin 20 0.65%
21 American Express 20 0.65%
22 Avis Car Rental 20 0.65%
23 Norwegian (Norwegian Air Shuttle) 20 0.65%
24 Travelocity (Expedia) 19 0.62%
25 Orbitz (Expedia) 18 0.59%
Total Cases 1/1/2017-9/30/2017: 3,071
Total Cases 1/1/2016-9/30/2016: 2,662
Percent Difference: 13.32%

So why is American’s position so safe? Well, consider the words of American CEO Doug Parker made at an investor day last week.

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Let’s just play the clip.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to lose money again,” he told shareholders.

And Robert Isom, president of American Airlines, said the airline is “just scratching the surface” in ancillary revenues.

If you’re a shareholder or a fund manager, this is great news. Buy AAL!

But if you’re a passenger, you already know that American has tested our patience when it comes to “ancillary” revenues. It’s added baggage fees, seat reservation fees, increased change fees, taken away space from the seats, and even created a new sub-class of service called Basic Economy that treats you like the cattle American thinks you are.

American apparently thinks hating its customers is a great business model. It wants to add more fees and make its loyalty program even less rewarding. And it wants Wall Street to love it.

Does it?




Probably not as much as Parker and company want it to.

Now, I’m no institutional investor, but if I were, I would never put money in a company that generates as many complaints as American. Incidentally, we’re not alone in identifying American as the most complained-about airline. The Department of Transportation consistently ranks the airline as the number one major carrier, when it comes to customer grievances. Scroll down to page 48 on this report if you don’t believe me.

This is no way to do business, and it can’t possibly be a successful, long-term business model. When American drops off this list, then I would give the all-clear to consider buying AAL stock.

Not a moment sooner.

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As always, if you have a problem — any problem — please don’t forget to file a complaint with us so that we can help you. And, so we can count it.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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