American Airlines sits right with this passenger

The world’s most complained-about airline just did something really nice for CiCi Williamson on her red-eye flight from Philadelphia to Paris.

With ample unsold premium seating toward the front glaring at her and the less fortunate economy passengers crammed in steerage, the flight attendant offered an unused seat to weary Williamson for no extra cost.

Without even asking.

It has been years since I’ve seen that happen, and I forgot that once I too had that opportunity. On one flight to Europe so long, long ago, we were actually allowed to freely mingle and rotate our seating among the leftovers. Everyone was pleasant and polite.


Williams, a seasoned traveler from McLean, Va., agrees. “I am an ‘old bird’ flying for decades having visited more than 100 countries, all seven continents, and all 50 States,” she began. “In the past if any airline was half to two thirds empty, the attendants let you move to the more spacious seats,” she says.

What happened, airlines?

There is no real reason for an airline to prohibit similar class seat changing once airborne other than to send a message to any repeat fliers that a better seat will cost you more money. Period. And if an airline wants to spend the entire flight deliberately dangling unused preferred seats in front of you for no other reason than a form of consumer torment just on principle, they will do it just because they can.

Which is exactly what her return flight carrier did.

Nice. But that is another story.

After becoming the most complained about company in America, American didn’t rest on its laurels, but rather continued to widen its complaint lead. And their profits are not hurting.

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American even overthrew Comcast, which once had that non-airline title, and also was the subject of previous juicy topics.

The bottom line is most of us, as Williams did, need to suck up a long-haul cattle car class flight in return for an affordable fare, which many are prepared to do. We can take it. But there is no need to rub our face in it by guarding empty seats for imaginary passengers.

“On an overnight flight, I had a seat in the back coach cabin along with all the other ‘peons’ who didn’t want to pay twice for a better seat,” she said. “This is another airline money grab.”

Gosh, American Airlines. You have a lot of PR work to do. Williams is right.

Wait…this is supposed to be a good news story, and I am becoming a downer. Let’s get back on track and give American its due. The Good News Guy is also a fair guy.

“After take-off, the front economy cabin was virtually empty,” Williams noted. But before she had a chance to ruminate over completely wasted comfort so close and yet so far, something wonderful happened.

“When reaching flying altitude, not only did the flight attendants let us move to an unoccupied row in the front economy cabin to stretch out and sleep, one attendant actually came to my seat and asked me if I’d like to move up to the “extra cost” seats for no extra charge.

Now that would make me patronize that carrier more, and isn’t that what the company would want? As Williams said, “apparently the logic of treating passengers well so they will appreciate that airline and be a repeat customer has ‘flown out the exit row.’”

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We all need to do our part, as Williams did, to encourage exemplary customer service by complimenting even the biggest of the big guys with the same vigor as complaining. It’s not that hard. You can do it.

“I had a terrific flight and arrived in Paris refreshed,” she concluded. “Kudos to American!”

Well done. Let’s keep it going.

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Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

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