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American Airlines

American Airlines Reveals How They Track Customers That Complain Often

American Airlines Reveals How They Track Customers That Complain Often


When you head up in the air, there are certain annoyances and inconveniences that come with the territory. Like seats that don’t recline or air vents that don’t blow air. Now American Airlines is letting flight attendants give bonus airline miles to help alleviate the minor suffering that comes with dealing with the issues, according to But now that the program is in place, some flight attendants are concerned that passengers will take advantage of it and want to make sure that such passengers aren’t rewarded.

It turns out that the same technology that allows flight attendants to give rewards also allows them to track passengers that take advantage of the system. And flight attendants can withhold payouts.

Jill Surdek, American’s vice president for flight service, explained it all on a recent episode of Tell Me Why an American Airlines podcast meant for airline employees. During the podcast, she addresses flight attendants that are concerned about customers taking advantage of the program. It seems that the iSolve system that gives out rewards points also tracks customers by reservations and social media so that if a passenger is taking advantage and complaining too often, then American will know it right away and be able to revoke points.

Surdek reminds concerned flight attendants that the percentage of passengers that would overuse the system is very small. And it curious that flight attendants would care one way or the other about how many airline miles a passenger earns.

Although having flight attendants being able to address concerns from the air is reassuring for passengers, it would also be nice if things like seatback screens always worked to avoid issues in the first place.

View Comments (12)


  1. Artpen100

    February 13, 2018 at 8:15 am

    I don’t know what they mean by “taking advantage of”. I fly over 125,000 miles a year or so, and if something does not work, I file (usually online) a factual compliant -electrical plug not working, wifi not working, IFE not working, forgot to load food, and so on. And I usually get miles or a small e-cert. Probably happens 2-3 times a year. I have always assumed they do track it, but also confirm that, in fact, wifi was not working on that flight or whatever the problem was. I would think that is the way it is supposed to work, since there was a problem with the plane. (That said, I don’t file on subjective things like the food was not good or the FA inattentive.).

  2. eng3

    February 13, 2018 at 9:24 am

    “Surdek reminds concerned flight attendants that the percentage of passengers that would overuse the system is very small” If it is such a small number, how much money are you really losing versus the amount of time and money you are expending to catch these people. Talking about spending dollars to pick up pennies. If one is frequently “abusing” the system, then they must frequently fly. I would think you want fliers happy. Not spend time and money thinking of ways to make them unhappy. That time and money could be better spent actually fixing the issue so you don’t have to give out the money in the first place.

  3. amanuensis


    February 13, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    As I see it, the reason to track frequent complainers is because any complaints take time to address, even if tracking is not performed. Tracking will allow seeing who is complaining far more often than other flyers similarly situated. Quit giving a never-happy customer miles and perhaps he will switch to an airline he finds more “empathetic” as a result. From a business perspective, “firing” your 0.01% of customers who are responsible for, say, 5% of overall complaints, might be a good idea for the bottom line.

  4. spinkid000

    February 14, 2018 at 12:54 am

    Since this was a podcast for employees I think I understand the motivation behind her comment that it is a very small percentage of people who take advantage. I’ve worked in retail for many years and I still see a trend where employees will sometimes get stuck in some gray area of making the customer happy or The Customer is always Right policy vs what a store policy might be for something like returning an item or error in signage, or wording on a coupon and instead of just making the customer happy by overriding a computer they “follow company policy” as if they personally are being penalized for an extra 10% off or giving out 5,000 or 10,000 miles.

    By reminding FA’s that very few abuse the system it reassures them to just go ahead and hand them out, because they can now spot a trend if someone actually is abusing the system so to speak (now what that threshold is, that’s another story)

  5. BeantownDisneyFan

    February 15, 2018 at 2:02 am

    Funny that the members of American Airlines flight attendants union all of a sudden give a damn about AA’s passengers; isn’t that special. I’d encourage American Airlines, and their flight atttendants, to look towards one of the greatest customer service organuzatiins in the world, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. At The Ritz-Carlton, every lady and gentlemen (staff member) is empowered to spend up to $3000.00 per guest, to make a “guest opportunity” right, with no fear of being quarterbacked by their supervisor. How often do you think one of the ladies or gentlemen has to reach for that service recovery tool – – rarely, but it’s there for when it’s needed. And, of course Ritz-Carlton tracks things like how often the same guests hust so happen to trip and fall in their lobbies. To the American Airlines flight attendants, I say: it’s time (long overdue) to get real about customer service. And, of course, The Ritz-Catlton very carefully measures those circumstances that warrant a “service recovery.”

  6. k5xs

    February 16, 2018 at 5:00 am

    I have no idea what was in the podcast, but just reading the story it strikes me that the FA concerns of passengers “taking advantage” of the system is just another manifestation of the adversarial relationship so many FAs seem to have with passengers.

    I do not know that I’m right, but it strikes me that, unlike the hospitality industry where guests are treated by those who serve them as, well, guests, many FAs seem to see passengers as nuisances to be endured. So of course they would be worried that they might “take advantage” of broken air vents, IFE systems, etc.

  7. taina2

    February 16, 2018 at 6:08 am

    Some people are chronic complainers and hard to satisfy without them learning to game the system. Of course airplanes that are cattle cars with the honor of being mistreated by TSA will make the most easy going person grumpy.

  8. drphun

    February 16, 2018 at 6:18 am

    Seems like people are overreacting. That few people will try to cheat is the message they are giving, and probably in response to the anticipate question of what to do if they think someone is cheating. I think it is important to track usage and it is also important to take away the incentive to try to cheat the system.

    My wife’s grandfather was a corporate employee for A&P supermarkets and used to shop there out of loyalty. He would also point out problems at the stores to store management, out of loyalty, and they generally didn’t care. Eventually the company went bankrupt. Loyal customers who care may just want to help, and there are a lot more of those people than the abusers.

  9. ZJ3000

    February 16, 2018 at 6:45 am

    As Artpen100 said, the more you fly the odds are you will encounter issues, penalizing frequent flyers for filing complaints is just wrong and doesn’t make business sense.

  10. Bear4Asian

    February 16, 2018 at 7:16 am

    If they want to track customers who complain too much, how about an app that allows customers to track abusive airline employees. Seems fair.

  11. Danwriter

    February 16, 2018 at 7:28 am

    Not surprising. A number of retailers now also track customers who buy and return good (mostly clothing) frequently. They are suspected of wearing items once or twice and then going back for the refund.
    Not a perfect analogy for AA’s effort here, and one hopes they do analyze for rate of complaints vs amount of paid flying. But it reflects a larger pushback against consumers in US business. If anyone doubts that, just read the terms and conditions of virtually any product or service you purchase. Exploding speakers? Germ-laden lettuce? It’s all on you now.

  12. makfan

    February 16, 2018 at 11:21 am

    As a business owner, I do want to make things right when I don’t live up to the standards I advertise. However, I agree with other comments that there are always a small percent who rely on that to take advantage of you. Even things as fungible as frequent flyer miles do add up, and it does take away time for more important things to address petty complaints daily. I do like the fact that they are giving the crew an ability to address things at the moment it is reported, rather than requiring people to write a note to CS. When I write to CS, it is usually to request something where I’ve paid for an upsell and it came up way short (e.g., pay an upgrade co-pay, then get rebooked back to economy after an operational issue.)

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