American Airlines Flight Attendants Will Start Offering Onboard Compensation This Month

Years ago whenever I’d fly United Airlines I would test my seat immediately upon boarding. If my seat was broken, wouldn’t recline, they’d swap me for another seat before the doors closed. But once we were on our way, nonrevs would get to keep the working seats and paying customers would have a problem.

I actually used to hope for smaller problems like burned out reading lights. That’s because United had really cut back on maintaining non-crucial items. They found it better to compensate customers who complained than to actually fix problems. Flight attendants had a pack of cards onboard referred to as ‘SkyKits’ they could give out, apology cards customers could use to claim compensation (generally miles or a travel credit and miles were usually a better deal).

A broken arm rest on a United 777 flying Frankfurt – Washington Dulles circa 2010 was common:

The idea of compensating customers onboard is hardly new. You can contact customer relations after a flight, you can even get a proactive email from an airline after a flight, but the immediacy of onboard compensation can quell problems while you’re still stuck in a metal tube and frustrated.

American Airlines is rolling out this capability next month, loading iSolve software onto flight attendant tablets.

All flight attendants are getting ‘de-escalation training’ (“dubbed ‘apology training'” by some). They’re also getting tools to offer more than words.

The new software will allow flight attendants to offer on-the-spot compensation in the form of AAdvantage miles when specific inconveniences happen inflight — that is if the passenger in question is enrolled in AA’s frequent traveler program.

Those inflight inconveniences might include such things as inflight entertainment issues, broken seats or meal shortages.

Some worry “that when passengers learn that they could get additional miles by complaining” there will be more complaints. I certainly went looking for those burned out reading lights on United, but that was a function of the generosity (which varied on flight distance and elite status) rather than the method.

Lower effort required to obtain compensation may matter at the margin, although some customers would certainly prefer the anonymous email to customer relations. However Delta has used their own version of this for several years and it doesn’t seem to be a significant problem there. On the whole Delta flight attendants already provide somewhat friendlier and more polished service.

I actually expected something like this to be rolled out about five years ago. Flight attendant tablets were supposed to enable a great deal of functionality, including integration with AAdvantage, for instance inflight upgrade opportunities when the doors are closing with empty premium seats. American has prioritized other things in IT, like changing award charts, reducing mileage-earning for flights, and introducing new restrictive basic economy fares instead.

I look forward to hearing stories about American Airlines inflight compensation — what issues arise, whether flight attendants are proactively offering it (and whether they’re responsive to requests for it), and how much compensation is given. It would be cheaper for American of course if flight attendants would just address customers by name and offer pre-departure beverages.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If anything, one should be more circumspect in person vs online.

    UA is still very comp happy. I picked up just over 1k in vouchers last year from writing in. Heck, a few times I didn’t even ask for anything!

  2. Sometimes I don’t even complain because I don’t want to be on the complain list but I’m getting but luck on most of my flights!!

    I got 10K last week after complaining about a 3hs delay for my flight in mid December, which ended up like a 4hs or more because I arrived at EZE at 9:30am, which is the time when most of wide-bodies arrive from US/EU and immigration became a chaos.

    On my return I had an exit row on a 77W and the IFE couldn’t hold he upright position, my wife at least had the silver duct tape around the arm so she was able to enjoy the movies.

  3. Considering that half the time I still have to explain to the FA that I’m EXP (when asked to pay for a drink), I’m not holding my breath re: tablet functionality.

  4. Bort is right. Last time I was in coach, not only did I have to explain that I’m EXP, the FA had to go back to F to get the wine and the First FA didn’t bring the right little bottle (red instead of white). By the time the both of them got it sorted out we were on final approach. If they can’t communicate correctly face to face for a simple drink order while in the air . . .
    Besides, it’s probably not a good idea to hold one’s breath at 30,000 feet.

  5. Update: I sent a complain regarding the IFE from my last flight, were the arm could hold upright the IFE screen and they just responded me that my wife and me will get a $100 E-Voucher each for the trouble. I’m usually get miles and this is the first time I get a voucher.

  6. To Federico- Amazing, in November business class MAD-SJU AA cancelled MIA connection, put me on a flight scheduled prior to our arrival in MIA, requiring a hotel and AA customer service said they had no responsibility for that. Thanks AA

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