Some people react to stories about an airline with pure mood affiliation. Most of the reports I’ve seen of this Christopher Elliott piece from USA Today — asking ‘why people are avoiding American Airlines’ seem more like a rorschach test for one’s own opinion of American than any kind of thoughtful response to the piece itself.
Because the actual article is practically incoherent.
Since I’ve seen discussions across frequent flyer forums, and clogging up my Facebook feed all day, let me explain.
The article opens with the story of a customer who says he’ll pay more money to fly Delta or United. Why? Because he doesn’t think American cares.
Wolff’s reason for staying away from American is common. He feels as if the company doesn’t care. Wolff says he tried to complain about its service, writing a detailed account of what went wrong on a recent flight.
“When I submitted the actual account, the airline’s website wouldn’t allow it,” he says. “I could only use up to 500 characters. That’s really what sent me running away.”
Perhaps this customer will consider going back to American upon learning that their form to email customer relations actually allows up to 1500 characters (not 500, as the article suggests). Complaints should be succinct in any case.
But does this one customer’s experience mean what the article leads with, that people are trying to avoid American? The article itself concedes it does not:
In a sense, having people say they’re avoiding American doesn’t really matter. The fact is, they’re not.
Indeed, American’s load factor last month was 81.6%. Their load factor on domestic routes was 85.6%. Overall loads are down from 82.9% last April, driven largely by weakness on transatlantic routes.
Nonetheless, the piece makes its case with DOT complaints.
The Department of Transportation received 3,083 service complaints about American Airlines in 2014, up 546 from the previous year. It’s the third most-complained about airline, behind United Airlines and Frontier Airlines.
So customers prefer flying United over American, because American has fewer DOT complaints than United?
Sometimes DOT complaint data is meaningful, often it is not. Most customer service complaints don’t get sent to the Department of Transportation. And many that do are ludicrous.
The article makes suggestions for how to avoid American. Get this:
- Fly out of a less convenient airport. If you used to use O’Hare, use Midway instead.
- Take the bus… because you’re looking for good customer service, and Greyhound is where that’s at?
- Move. Because you hate your airline enough to uproot your family, leave your job, and incur significant transaction costs. Even Elliott’s lead complainer was only willing to spend an extra $360 for a ticket. So I’m not sure whom this suggestion is meant to help.
The author has chosen bad arguments that do not support the claim that customers are booking away from American over customer service issues. And the piece offers bad advice for how to do so, in case someone decides that they really do want to. That’s too bad.