Yesterday I was in New York and supposed to fly home on American’s 5:15pm New York JFK – Austin flight. I decided I really didn’t want to wind up in coach for the Westbound flight which runs about 4 hours, so I plunked down a Business ExtrAA one-segment upgrade when only 2 first class seats were left for sale a few weeks out.
Business ExtrAA upgrades are paper certificates. The one I was using was valid for one segment on most domestic coach fares. The thing about paper upgrade certificates though is that they have to be turned in at the airport. You cannot check-in online or using American’s mobile app.
I had checked traffic and it was looking like almost an hour to JFK. I fired up my phone and grabbed an Uber at 2:50pm. I was in the car at 3pm. Waze said I’d be at the airport by 3:50pm. That all changed as we approached the Midtown tunnel. There was an accident just as we were entering, and traffic stopped.
A 50 minute ride was now showing an hour and 45 minutes. That would put me at the airport just as my flight was boarding — and after check-in cutoff time.
At this point I figured I was simply hosed. Delta has a flight just over an hour later, but it was showing only one (full fare) first class seat for sale. It was over $1100 and I didn’t even get to the point of pricing it as an award. JetBlue has a late flight, arriving Austin after midnight, and it was showing one full fare seat available.
Instead of pricing airport hotels, I went to twitter.
The American Airlines twitter team got a seatmate on a recent flight rebooked before we landed. This was super helpful because inflight there’s no way to call customer service. They once even got my home internet fixed so yeah they can pretty much make miracles happen. And they have a sense of humor, too.
I reached out to @AmericanAir and asked explained I couldn’t check in because of the Business ExtrAA cert.
- Could they downgrade me to coach and remove the check-in restriction? (No, coach was sold out.)
- Could they swap my Business ExtrAA upgrade for an eVIP systemwide upgrade and reissue the ticket so I could check in? (Yes, they could do that.)
I hated to burn one of my 8 Executive Platinum systemwide upgrades on New York – Austin but if it meant saving me from buying a new ticket on another airline or spending the night in New York it was going to be worth it.
They got the upgrade swapped out, reissued the ticket, and told me to check in. It wouldn’t work. I tried the mobile app and I tried AA.com as well. The twitter team couldn’t get me checked in, either. It was going to have to be done at the airport.
American Airlines Airbus A321 at New York JFK
I made it to JFK terminal eight at 37 minutes to departure. (Partway through the trip I thought about just giving up and going here.)
The priority check-in queue had people ahead of me. I got in line. Minutes pass. The twitter team had reached out to the airport, and my boarding pass was already printed. I showed them my ID, booked it over to PreCheck, and I was through security at 27 minutes to departure. I made it onto my flight with plenty of time to spare — which I knew I would as long as I could get checked in on time — and there was even overhead space above my seat. Thanks to the twitter team I made it home last night.
This isn’t just a shout out to the Twitter team as much as I appreciate them for their help. I think there are lessons in how to use them effectively.
- Know exactly what your problem is, and what you need to have happen. I knew my issue was check-in. I knew that collecting the upgrade certificate at the airport was going to be a roadblock (whether I was able to check in before reaching the airport or not). So I asked them to remove it.
- My request was very specific, I tried to make it clear and concise, and it was something they could actually do.
- When it didn’t get the problem solved, I asked for help with the check-in itself. When they couldn’t do it, they have contacts at the airport who can. They were invested in helping already, I said please and thank you. It was a place where a targeted intervention would make an actual difference in whether I made it home.
An American Airlines Boeing 737 Would Take Me Home
I made my asks specific and reasonable. Their intervention would actually make a difference. So it wasn’t just an indulgence either. I’ve seen the American twitter team do things like this for other travelers, though I don’t know whether they’re elite frequent flyers or not. I’ve seen Hyatt’s twitter team get problems resolved on the spot, and Starwood’s too, for plenty of customers without status.
Meanwhile I swear I don’t do stupid things like not leave enough time for New York traffic when heading to JFK and when I have to check in with an agent just for blog content…