Strategies for Responding to Today’s American Airlines System Problems

Scott Mayerowitz wrote a piece for the Associated Press on what to do if you were stranded by American Airlines today.

I’m fortunate that I wasn’t flying today and I’m grateful not to be caught up in the mess, so far about 20% of the schedule cancelled — and even though systems are back up no doubt the final total will be much higher due to out of position aircraft and crew who ultimately time out.

Certainly my thoughts go out to everyone affected by the delays and other inconveniences that in many ways mimic the effects of a big snowstorm — not what you expect in April.

And of course I felt like I had a bit of egg on my face after writing about how important it is that a merged American-US Airways adopt American’s computer systems! Although I’d still strongly maintain that’s the best possible course. But I recognize the irony.

In situations like this my usual approach is to:

  • Figure out who else might be able to get me to my destination. Flights are full and expensive, but sometimes there are options and availability changes constantly. Just get on the flight.
  • Determine where there are hotel rooms available if I think I’m going to be stranded. I tend to lock in my room early.
  • Scrap the trip if I can, if I’m not already enroute.

These things are easier said than done. When you’re on a business trip and billing the expenses to an employer it’s easier than when coming out of pocket. It’s a lot easier in situations like this to solve the problem and solve it quickly rather than relying on someone to solve it for you (they’re overwhelmed, busy, it takes time – while seats disappear and hotels fill up). But that means fronting cash and trying to get reimbursed later.

Scott suggests asking for a hotel discount voucher, and that’s a good idea to get the best possible rate, if lines are long go down to baggage claim and ask there because when planes aren’t moving there’s not a ton of baggage (although aircraft enroute did continue to their destinations, it was takeoffs that were held).

American’s policies under the circumstances have — at least as announced — been very customer friendly:

  • They’re rebooking onto other airlines.
  • They’re honoring difference in fare to do this.
  • They’r providing no charge cancellation with full refund for travel today

They’re suggesting things will be close to normal tomorrow, though I’m skeptical. Word is there will be extra flights running tonight and overnight aircraft repositioning. They need to do this of course, but there will still be crew and planes out of position and those who time out, as well as those arriving at destinations very late and needing minimum rest before turning back around tomorrow and that’ll cause delays too. So I expect that tomorrow will be a messy day as well. And then it’ll be back to normal.

Things happen in travel, one hopes the travel provider responds well, and the best thing to do is take charge as much as possible of your own destiny – resources allowing — rather than waiting for someone else to do it for you.

Best of luck to everyone delayed and displaced today!

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, 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. Gary – can you provide any insight to these system outages? From my basic understanding, their computers aren’t working, so they grounded most of their fleet? Seriously? What are they doing, restarting the system?

  2. It is sad to hear about people yelling at the agents. They cannot make the systems work and can do nothing much without their system.

  3. I am been sitting here in Las Vegas since 11am today. My flight got cancelled as they rebooked me now on a later flight to LAX. Now delayed on the new confirmed seat, now departing around 8 tonight, rather than 515pm. None of the AA flight status were on the flight screen with the other airlines and thankfully, with the technology in place, I was alerted via tripit and flight status. I am An Executive Platinum and the wait time when I called the EP 1-800 desk was 25 mins as I didn’t feel like waiting in line at every (in the gates) AA counters with the gate agents inside the security. I wished we had an Admiral Club here as they could have taken care of it. Now my second flight to MCO tonight looks delayed as well. I am doing las-lax-mco-mia-sju-mia-las without a mattress run today and tomorrow. Hope the flights tomorrow are oversold so I can get some nice AA cash (:

  4. i never have been able to redeem my AA miles for long time. They don’t list their partner flights online like united does. I called to book international award flight, but it takes forever to get an agent and than the agent don’t have patient to look for availability info. total of 3 hours wasted for nothing. I later booked the flight on without wasting a minute on phone.
    Aadvantage program sux

  5. I spoke with friends about the AA IT problems today. The trouble originated at the Sabre data center in Oklahoma. Reportedly, a network device failed. Network redundancy routed traffic over alternate systems but they could not deal with the demand. That demand had the AA reservations network bouncing up and down. Its going to be an expensive outage for AA and their vendors.

  6. In flight right now. The computers were down when we checked in at PHL. They had us hold in the penalty box for about 10 minutes due to ground delay at DFW but they did let the flight go. I got on wi-fi and got a connecting flight cancelled notice from Orbitz and confirmed it on flightaware (inbound plane was still in SFO). Meanwhile the AA flight status and flight notification systems were still showing on time. I quickly booked a hotel room with 6 PM cancellation just in case. At about 4:15 cdt the notice went out saying they would refund customers booking on other airlines (very customer friendly, I shall remember the way they handled it), right before we had to shut off electronics so I couldn’t book new flights. We landed, I called reservations (40-100 minute wait so I asked for a callback), and I sprinted to the AA club. Line was only 10 deep. It grew longer. They put us on an earlier flight that was delayed and on a decision. I went to the gate and cancelled the hotel reservation since it was likely we would leave. I got the callback right before we were to board. I really lucked out. In flight right now, and just a few minutes later than the cancelled flight would have been.

    Good luck everyone!

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