Why you should avoid buying your airline tickets at aa.CON

Douglas Abbott wants American Airlines to pay for a mix-up he says the airline caused. American says Abbott himself is the source of the problem. So who is right?

Passengers count on getting reliable information from the airline, but do airlines rely equally on the passenger to provide accurate information?

Abbott bought three tickets for his family to travel on May 8 from Chattanooga to Newark, via Charlotte on American. But when they showed up at the airport to check in, he learned that the flight time had been moved from 5:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and the flight had already left.

When an airline changes its flight schedule, of course it has to inform the passengers. American’s customer service plan includes a commitment to “advise you of any changes to your itinerary in a timely manner and contact you via contact information which you provided in your reservations for any changes to flight schedules after booking.” If a passenger provides an email address, American Airlines sends automated emails to passengers to notify them of schedule changes. Abbott never got an email, he says, and therefore didn’t know that he needed to be at the airport much earlier.

Abbott needed to get to his destination, and since there were no available seats on flights leaving Chattanooga that night, Abbott rented a car, drove two hours to Atlanta, stayed in a hotel overnight, and flew out the next morning on Delta. Of course, all of that costs money — $440 Abbott says American owes him.

American says it has an out — it sent Abbott an email about the schedule change as it did for all passengers. It claims the email was sent out not long after he booked his tickets back in February.

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When Abbott complained, American told him there’s a good reason he didn’t get the email: When he booked his ticket, according to the airline, he mistyped his email address. Instead of ending with the extension .net, Abbott entered his email address with .ney.

Abbott doesn’t buy that explanation. He is sure that he received a confirmation email upon booking, but unfortunately, he can’t find it.

An email sent to a .ney address would bounce back as undeliverable. But American’s notification system operates from an unattended mailbox, so nobody monitors for email errors. Abbott says even if he did mistype his email address, American should monitor for email errors and should have called him on the phone to tell him about the schedule change.

When was the last time your airline called you personally about a schedule change? I’m not sure that’s ever happened.

“How many people on that flight had an email returned undeliverable?,” Abbott wonders. “I suspect I was the only one. I think they could also have surmised that .ney should have been .net.”

The whole situation was strange. I contacted American to ask about Abbott’s reservation and to find out specifically what information was entered at the time of the booking. While we don’t always agree about passenger complaints, our contact at American is a no-nonsense kind of person who is also skilled at getting very detailed information about situations. So I knew he’d tell me the whole story.

“I can see when they booked the ticket, they put the wrong email address in. That means they wouldn’t have had even received an email confirmation – which should have been a sign that something was wrong,” our contact wrote. “They changed it to the correct email May 8.”

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American doesn’t make customers re-enter their email address to confirm it was typed correctly. A verification step can slow down the purchase by a few seconds, but would have likely signaled to Abbott that he needed to make a correction.

I asked American if Abbott had provided a phone number with his booking. “It doesn’t appear they provided a phone number,” American explained.

A phone number would have been good — American does provide flight notifications by email, voicemail and text messaging. If you opt into text updates, you can get information right on your phone.

And speaking of phones, couldn’t Abbott have installed the AA app on his phone? The app also provides notifications.

In fact, in this day and age, there are so many ways to find information about your flight that it seems tough to blame the airline for not proactively providing it, in particular when it likely tried to.

When I explained this to Abbott, he was appreciative, but still didn’t understand American’s version of the facts.

“I couldn’t have given them the wrong email address,” he offered. “I received a reminder email to check in the day before the flight.”

Sure enough, Abbott forwarded me the email reminder received from American on May 7 telling him he could check in online. Abbott said he didn’t read that email at the time — but it does include the 4 p.m. departure time.

OK. If you get an email from your airline, you have to read it. A complaint that the airline doesn’t do enough to contact passengers is weakened significantly by someone who fails to open and read airline emails.

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American did offer Abbott a little consolation in the way of a $100 eVoucher. It said the voucher was an exception to its policy and in consideration of the inconvenience caused by a schedule change.

I imagine the mysterious email typo will never happen again to Abbott. And he’ll probably double-check his flight times in the future as well. But it serves as a reminder for all of us to do the same, lest we become a victim of our own carelessness.

Who is right?

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Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

  • Rebecca

    So if I’m understanding correctly, he’s complaining that he didn’t receive an email from AA indicating the schedule change. It turns out he DID receive an email the day before the flight indicating the schedule change. But somehow AA should have known he wouldn’t pay attention and called him, and this despite the fact he didn’t provide a phone number? I call shenanigans.

  • Lindabator

    Exactly – you DO have to take SOME responsibility for checking the emails after all. Ass/u/me is a dangerous word!

  • Michael__K

    The email REACHED HIS INBOX on May 7th. That doesn’t mean he was online between then and his departure time to read it. Also, people read the Subject of the email to gauge what it’s about. If it’s a 24-hour checkin reminder, one doesn’t expect to find schedule changes inside.

    I call shenanigans that AA says they didn’t have his valid email address before May 8th yet he has proof he received an email from them on May 7th…

  • Jeff W.

    Unless you are an ultra-super-elite traveller, airlines will never, ever call you. (Especially when you do not provide a phone number.)

    It is always a good idea to have an e-mail address, phone number (for texting), and the app installed. When a schedule change or flight delay occurs, airlines will often communicate using multiple methods. So if one method is not working, you will still get the message. Assuming you read it…

  • Joe_D_Messina

    “Abbott doesn’t buy that explanation. He is sure that he received a confirmation email upon booking, but unfortunately, he can’t find it.”

    Didn’t have to read any further after this little nugget. Wish it had been higher up in the story.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Why anybody would NOT give a cell number to get text updates is beyond me.

  • M B

    I’m not a very special American elite flyer but they did call me to tell me of a schedule change this week. In fact, they call both numbers in my record locator as one wasn’t answered.

  • michelek

    Sorry but in the scenario, it says he put in the wrong email address in February and the flight change occurred right after that. Then he changed his email in May and he got the email to check in but didn’t open it. It also appears that he didn’t check in online the day before but waited until he got to the airport? This is not AA’s problem.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Not sure how American works but lots of companies will run email addresses through standardization to fix common errors like .net being entered as .ney, etc. So, American could be absolutely correct that he’d entered the address wrong but he still could have ended up receiving email from them. Though since he admits to getting that email it pretty well destroys his whole case, any way.

  • Chris Johnson

    If you give American Airlines a phone number to call you at when you book, some sort of robodialer will call you to tell you if there is a schedule change. It may not always work seamlessly for everyone, but I’ve gotten automated calls from American when my flight was cancelled or departure time was changed, and they called far enough ahead.

  • Michael__K

    According to AA, the email was incorrect until May 8th. Yet he has proof email arrived successfully on May 7th…

  • Alan Gore

    Everyone should have a second notification option – text or voice – so that a fragile email is not the only way you would be notified of a problem. Too many carriers do not offer this option, and too many passengers do not use it when available.

    Further, all email entry fields should use the enter-twice convention, with paste inhibited so people can’t get lazy and copy the same error into the field twice.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Sorry, regardless of the email flap, the responsibility falls on Abbott here.
    – He states he got a confirmation e-mail after booking the flights, but “can’t find it.”
    – He states he got an e-mail asking him to check in, which shows the correct departure time, but “he didn’t read that e-mail at that time.”

    Can I bang my head against the desk?

  • John Baker

    So he got an email with the correct time but didn’t read it … but its not his fault
    He never check on his itinerary in the months since he made the booking … but its not his fault
    He didn’t check in from home 24 hours out… but its not his fault.

    What happened to personal responsibility…

  • Chris_In_NC

    Regardless of the e-mail flap, the blame falls on Abbott here.

    E-mails and phone calls are not infallible. AA or any airline does not have the resources nor should they monitor whether every e-mail or notification is received. That is an unreasonable expectation. Abbott had numerous opportunities to get the information. What happened to reconfirming your flight schedule 24 hours before? He admits to NOT reading the e-mail asking him to check in with the CORRECT departure time. I would say AA did everything reasonably here.

  • Michael__K

    AA’s Customer Service Plan states (as it must state per DOT Regulations):

    American Airlines and American Eagle commit that we will advise you of any changes to your itinerary in a timely manner and will contact you via contact information which you provided in your reservations for any changes to flight schedules after booking.

    It’s ironic that the same people who are quick to invoke “personal responsibility” against the customer are quick to claim technical fallibility and resource limitations to hand-wave away one of the few written commitments that the customer has from their air carrier.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “…before May 8th yet he has proof he received an email from them on May 7th.”

    Some companies do updates in batch mode than real time; therefore, it is possible for the OP to change their e-mail on the 7th but does not show up in the reports until the 8th (if they do a daily batch). There are some companies that do a weekly batch for ‘non-essential’ data.

    Some companies have systems that ‘record’ a change when there wasn’t an actual change. For example, a person goes into their profile retype the same data in one field and save their profile…it will show as a change but none of their data has changed. A good audit trail should show the data before and data after but you will be surprised how many audit trails in systems that don’t do this.

    Also, some companies use a specific time zone for their website. For example, I have made online transactions between 9:00 PM and 11:59 PM but since I live in Arizona, these transactions had transaction dates of the next day since these companies used Eastern Standard Time as their time zone.

  • Michael__K

    We know he didn’t correct his email before May 8th because he had no reason to believe it was incorrect before May 8th.

    And his itinerary was entirely in the same time zone, and the checkin reminder would have been sent at 4pm ET on May 7th.. You are grasping for straws.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I was pointing out the possible technical reasons why a consumer could have one date and the company has another date.

    Last month, we cashed in miles on my wife’s AA account for some reward tickets. I updated my wife’s e-mail address before the transaction. My wife didn’t receive the confirmation at her old e-mail account or new e-mail account; however, she received the ‘check-in’ e-mail. Of course, there are bugs in the AA’s systems…there are bugs in almost every company’s systems…I can’t tell you how times in a month I find ‘bugs’ in companies’ systems.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Our last flight on AA was delayed twice (a total of three hours)…I received two (2) phone calls while we were sitting at the gate telling us of the delay.

  • Dutchess

    Wow, talk about not taking responsibility. How do you NOT check your flight at least 24 hours in advance??? So many holes in his story, he didn’t receive a schedule change update, except when he did and didn’t bother to read it. Airline owes him nothing here, and the $100 voucher was a nice peace offering for a customer’s mistake.

  • Dutchess

    Well, sometimes when I fly international I don’t ask for text updates. When my last international flight was delayed by a couple hours I must have received 10+ texts from united, and 3 phone calls which all incurred international charges. So I think twice about asking for text updates, and make sure I diligently check my reservation for changes.

  • sirwired

    Your contact may not be willing to dig into any more cases with a headline like that.

  • Noah Kimmel

    I feel really bad for Mr. Abbott. But unfortunately, I can’t advocate on his behalf. We know he has an email from them with the new time sent 24 hours in advance! Next, AA offered him a seat next the next day (it seems). They shouldn’t have to pay for his travel on Delta, especially from another city.

    Word to the wise:
    1) always check carefully before you hit “submit” and examine all confirmation emails in detail again.
    2) periodically check online. If he had logged into his account, downloaded the app, checked-in, etc. he would have seen the time change. It is imortant to have a frequent flier account for this reason
    3) Online check-in—would have shown new time within 24 hours of departure
    4) take responsibility. Sadly, cases like this make it harder for legitimate ones to get proper servicing

  • Joe Farrell

    He can’t prove anything – he can’t even prove he received the confirmation email.

    If he could show me the confirmation email – maybe I’d believe him.

    But his claim he’s ‘sure’ he received the email is not worth the paper it is printed on

  • Bill___A

    There are many ways nowadays to ensure that you have the correct flight information. Since it is going to affect me more than anyone, I do my utmost to make sure that I know. When I haven’t been told about a flight change, it has been my fault – and I corrected the problem.

  • SusanV

    I have received both text and robocall notifications from United when my flight was changed. I’m far from an elite anything! (I am a Mileage Plus member but fly only occasionally.)

  • MarkKelling

    AA says that the email was changed on May 8th. The word “correct” was thrown in there. Do they have any proof of what the email might have been in their system before that or that they don’t have some sort of email corrector to change mis typed domains like ney to net?

    I recently had to change my email address on file with United because, after over 20 years of working perfectly suddenly parts of their system confuse an underscore character with a dollar sign and they were trying to send emails like schedule changes to “mark$kelling” instead of “mark_kelling” and I was losing the more important emails from them yet others came through without issue. The AA situation could have been something similar even though the OP admits to entering the wrong email at booking time.

  • Annie M

    I take it that he didn’t do his online check in the night before because his new boarding pass would have had the times printed on it. Even though he got an email telling him to do it that he didn’t read. Am I right? Mistake #3 for Douglas.

  • Annie M

    Abbott said he didn’t read that email at the time — but it does include the 4 p.m. departure time.

    And apparently he didn’t check in online and print his boarding pass which would have had the correct time too. How many excuses can you make for the guy?

  • Annie M

    But if he checked in online and printed his boarding pass as he is supposed to do, that would have had the correct time.

  • Michael__K

    “As he is supposed to do?”

    I didn’t know that online checkin was required. It’s a convenience, but it’s not always practical for everyone, especially when away from home.

  • Michael__K

    Not making excuses for him– why are we making excuses for AA?

  • AAGK

    So he got the notification the day before. Had he received notice in feb, he wouldn’t have read it anyway. I always feel badly when someone’s “proof” is what hurts them the most.

  • AAGK

    Well he should have been.

  • AAGK

    I’m not sure. I wouldn’t have opened it either but I would know I was wrong. It is weird to have a plane leave an hour early. While I wouldn’t have opened the email, I would have been tracking the flight for delays on flight aware so I would’ve found out about the time.

  • AAGK

    I don’t open airline emails but I track the flight for delays starting that morning so I would’ve caught the change. Back in the day, my parents would call the morning of to see if the flight was on time so that is still an option, I suppose. They never missed a flight and didn’t check email.

  • AAGK

    I feel so bad, I was rooting for him until he presented his evidence- that he reviewed the info. Poor guy

  • JewelEyed

    And that’s why I use TripIt. It pulls travel update info straight from your email and sends you notifications and puts stuff on your calendar. It’s free.

  • jmiller45

    Duchess thank you for your post which reminded me to get an international calling plan for my travel starting Monday. It’s good for one month unless more time is needed. As far as the post goes I always check my itinerary for changes. I also check in online 24hrs before the flight.It’s also a good idea to check junk or spam folder.

  • mbgaskins

    Anytime the airline changes the schedule they should be 100% responsible for any errors or problems. They won’t let the passenger change their schedule without hefty fees so the airline should be responsible to the passenger for the same.

  • joycexyz

    The responsibility is on the passenger. When a company sends you an email, read it!

  • joycexyz

    Why wouldn’t you open the email? Changes do happen.

  • joycexyz

    You don’t really need to get text messages. Just check the airline’s website for your reservation. Any changes will be there. And check frequently as the travel date approaches. When you have the opportunity to check-in online, do so!

  • joycexyz

    There are many valid reasons for an airline to change its schedule. But it’s up to the passenger to stay informed. Personal responsibility!

  • jim6555

    Not everyone has a cell phone and some who do have cell phones don’t text. There are cell service resellers like “Jitterbug” whose target market is the elderly. Their phones are similar to the flip phones were sold in the late 1990’s. Customers pay for voice call packages and texting is an extra cost option.

  • cscasi

    Well, if he did not receive a confirmation email, he certainly should have checked by contacting AA the next day. He says he got a confirmation but can’t find the email. Did he or didn’t he? We will never know.
    Anyway, since he is allowed to check in 24 hours in advance, had he done that he would have seen the time change; assuming he looked at the information provided.
    It always pays to check on one’s reservations now and then to ensure nothing has changed; like your seats got changed or the flight time changed.

  • mbgaskins

    I don’t disagree with personal responsibility but that is not the question here. There are many valid reasons for an individual to change there schedule too but the airlines always make you pay for that privilege. I think the airlines should be held responsible for creating confusion with their schedule changes just like-passengers are held accountable for their changes. Fair is fair.

  • cscasi

    I am not making excuses for AA. After all, it was not its fault. It was Abbott’s for not reading what AA sent him.

  • cscasi

    So, Abbott still didn’t read it.

  • Michael__K

    AA has no responsibility for carrying out what it promises in its Customer Service Plan?

  • Michael__K

    He was supposed to receive ‘timely notice’ and AA’s explanation for why he didn’t doesn’t add up.

  • Michael__K

    And when the company promises something in writing and fails to follow through, they have no responsibility.

  • Maxwell Smart

    who doesn’t check their flights a few days before travel ?

  • jsn55

    Whether his email address was correct or not, anyone who books flights in February for May and never verifies anything is asking for a problem. Much better to be pro-active with travel plans.

    After you book, verify your information on the airline’s website a couple of ddays later. Check your res every month … this is one of the huge benefits of the internet, it takes 5 minutes. Don’t expect the airline to take care of you, take care of yourself. If you receive an email from the airline, read it.

  • jsn55

    I think many of us invoke ‘personal responsibility’ because the goal is to have a successful flight, not figure out who’s right or wrong when you are left at the airport. What would be a valid reason for not checking a res you made online?

  • jsn55

    Again, it’s not a matter of right or wrong, nobody needs to be excused. It’s a matter of taking care of yourself so you have a successful trip. Would you rather argue right and wrong or board the plane and reach your destination?

  • AAGK

    Because I take on a lot of needless risk:). I will make more of an effort going forward, for sure. I really like to do the flight stats/aware monitoring. It tells you where the plane is coming from so I can fully see how I’m doing on time. I should open emails as well.

  • Michael__K

    Many travelers figure what they buy is what they get and it doesn’t occur to them that the itinerary could change unbeknownst to them. Everyone knows that flights could be delayed but not necessarily that their flight could be gone by the time they’re supposed to arrive at the airport.

  • Michael__K

    Plenty of commenters here ARE asserting right vs. wrong and selectively making excuses for one side only… Not every passenger knows enough to be as paranoid as they should be about things like schedule changes.

  • Dutchess

    You’re welcome. I’m a heavy data user, and I’ve come to rely on my phone for getting around when I travel. I keep an older unlocked phone (usually 1 or 2 generations behind my current iPhone) for travel. Instead of adding the expensive international plan, I just buy a sim card at my destination (or online in advance) pop it into my travel phone and I don’t have to worry about overages. You can still leave your old phone on, just turn off international data roaming and you can still receive emergency calls if necessary. OR just turn it to airplane mode and only use it when you have wifi. Safe Travels!!

  • just me

    So what was the header (the Subject line) of the email. If it was REMINDER TO CHECK-IN ONLINE – than nobody reads it – as most of the people who check-in online already did it becasue the AA email usually comes much past 24hr window. If it was: CHANGE OF SCHEDULE TOMORROW everyone reads it. Simple.
    This shows the value of your poll question and results. Nobody pays attention to detail that nobody reads the emails to the end on the small phone screen most people have.
    If the Subject does not have proper designation – it does not get read!

  • EvilEmpryss

    Checking the website while traveling (as when catching a return flight) is fine if you have access to the Internet. If your phone doesn’t text, I bet it can’t check the web, either.

    I don’t care if I get a dozen texts about delays: in my opinion it’s better to get too many notifications than not enough.

  • EvilEmpryss

    He knew enough to contact Chris for help.

  • Michael__K

    And? You knew enough to contact Chris for help when you had a complaint. What should we infer from that? That you knew more about the business practice you complained about then you let on?

  • Zann77

    If I hadn’t read this, I could be in this very same situation. I’ve learned something today.

  • Zann77

    Erm….some of us don’t do texts. I only started myself in the past 6 months, although I’ve had a text capable phone for several years. And only because I was forced to by my kids. I’ve found I do like it, but for years I regarded it as yet another layer of technology that I didn’t need.

  • Michael

    I’ve received phone calls from AA about schedule changes, most of the time automated but about twice a year a real person. I ensure that my AAdvantage account has all my info and that it’s in each itinerary. And I find that checking in for my flight 24 hours ahead of time allows me to triple check my alarm clock’s relationship to when I need to prep and leave for the airport (even if it’s late afternoon, only an alarm clock will do).

  • EvilEmpryss

    Nope. That if he knows about Chris, he should have known at least a little more about how the travel industry works than someone who doesn’t know the information Chris puts out in every article… like doing the minimum of double-checking your flight the night before it’s due to take off. So he didn’t have access to internet, he should have called like they did in the olden days. Personal responsibility. I don’t pull a random jug of milk off a shelf, either. Sure, it’s all *supposed* to be ahead of its expiration date, but if I grab the one that slipped through the screening, I’ll be the one put out by having to go through getting a replacement. Saves a lot of trouble in life that way.

  • Michael__K

    People find Chris when they search for help with their problem.

    How far do you want to travel down the street of personal responsibility in one direction only? You could have proactively called your store to ask about the terms of their sales promotion and then traveled to the store to read the online terms… After all, that’s how airline fare rules work. Terms need not be posted anywhere besides airport ticket counters.

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