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AA1021 BUF-DFW passengers involuntarily downgraded from Paid First Class

AA1021 BUF-DFW passengers involuntarily downgraded from Paid First Class

Old Oct 8, 22, 4:37 pm
  #1  
jqm
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AA1021 BUF-DFW passengers involuntarily downgraded from Paid First Class

I sat near two passengers yesterday, a mother and her son, on a flight from Buffalo to Dallas and their story has really stuck with me a day later. I rarely believe somebody "deserves" to sit in first class, but this is one of those times when somebody should have been up front. These two passengers had paid for first class but were downgraded to coach, despite the fact that two people on the upgrade list were cleared. The mother was going through quite the ordeal, and I am very upset at American Airlines on her behalf.

The first signs of problems was that there was about a 5-minute delay in boarding during group 1. I was boarding in an early group and overheard comments from gateworkers about somebody in a wheelchair causing trouble. However, when seated near them, the more I heard from her side of the story, the more sympathy I had.

She publicly shared a lot of her story to her fellow passengers, but for their privacy, I will keep a lot of that to myself. But for the sake of empathy, you should know she was caring for her child who was just discharged from the hospital, and she was transporting him home. That was the reason she paid extra for first class: to make it easy on him.

She showed nearby passengers with her emailed receipt that she had indeed paid in full for the seats. She had her hands full with two little dogs sitting with them. She knew that getting her kid and dogs home was going to make for a tough trip and had spent hours on the phone getting these tickets and special arrangements for the wheelchair and dogs.

However, when boarding Friday morning, they were assigned separate seats in economy, and had to ask to at least be seated next to each other. While waiting to board, I do recall a few announcements on requests to change seats.

It was clear that they hadn't eaten, and there was no food on board other than cookies. Their ticket said they would have a continental breakfast on board, after all. Apparently the son required food with his medicine. They were instead reliant on only having those Biscoff cookies to eat the whole flight. There were not even pretzels. This flight didn't even have snacks for purchase. The mother asked if she could have any leftovers from first class as she had paid for those seats, but the flight attendant immediately said no, there is only enough food for those seated in first class. I did think that was a little callous. He didn't even attempt to check.

An airline employee did come by to tell them the reason for the downgrade was that the flight was originally a 737 but was downgraded to an A320 with fewer first class seats and the system chose them to be downgraded. This struck me as a little odd since I always watch for plane type, and when I booked this last week it was indeed an A320 at the time of my booking. I do not know when she booked, but I am not completely sold on that explanation myself. They told her she can call to request a refund.

The really odd thing about it was, that I had noticed on the board walking in that two people were upgraded to first class, Seats 1D and 1C. How can that happen when at the same time two other Paid First passengers were booted out of first class? As a semi-frequent flyer, I do not know how that could happen. Even if those two who were upgraded were AAdvantage whales, how can you not give those seats back to this mother and her son?

Last edited by jqm; Oct 8, 22 at 4:55 pm
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Old Oct 8, 22, 5:14 pm
  #2  
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Did she say why the gate agent took away their 2 F seats? Did the arrive late? If so those seats are up for grabs.
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Old Oct 8, 22, 5:19 pm
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Wow. Just....wow.

I know what I'd do as soon as I saw 2 upgrades on the list - bring it up with the GA, pointing out I was paid F.

Infrequent travelers, I've seen, are unsure about what's due to them, and, causing a scene.

I'm just sayin'. I thought paid F was the top of the pecking order.

All the best, James

Originally Posted by enviroian View Post
Did she say why the gate agent took away their 2 F seats? Did the arrive late? If so those seats are up for grabs.
At first blush, it sounds like she boarded in, or before, Group 1....?

All the best, James

Last edited by JY1024; Oct 11, 22 at 7:59 pm Reason: merged consecutive posts
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Old Oct 8, 22, 6:44 pm
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Right. They boarded early on or around group 1, and I heard them moving seats around about 15 minutes before boarding. But I do not know how late they checked in.
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Old Oct 8, 22, 7:06 pm
  #5  
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Given that it's a flight to Dallas... my guess is that every other passenger in F had status and there was an aircraft swap from a 16F 737 to a 12F A320. AA will downgrade no-status passengers before status passengers (it's basically reverse upgrade list order). The downgraded passengers should have been listed as DSR, which would have put them above almost anyone else on the upgrade list.

The AA and airport employees should have demonstrated more compassion -- it sounds like a manager came by to tell her the reason for the downgrade, and told her that she can request a refund. However, that manager should have told her that she could wait for the next flight with F seats!
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Old Oct 8, 22, 7:17 pm
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I 100% agree itís unacceptable but some gate agents just donít care or realize why this is unfair.

Some infrequent cash paying customers just donít get how to explain it either. This pairing combined donít match well with the agents who just tell them to contact customer service. Itís a bad situation Iíve seen it before too. It shouldnít be possible to happen , you would think AA would have logic built in but they donít.
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Old Oct 8, 22, 7:20 pm
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Originally Posted by VFR View Post
However, that manager should have told her that she could wait for the next flight with F seats!
I'm pretty sure that AA operates only one nonstop a day on the BUF-DFW route. And with a child in a wheelchair (and two dogs, to boot), I would not want to have to take connecting flights.
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Old Oct 8, 22, 7:21 pm
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Originally Posted by VFR View Post
Given that it's a flight to Dallas... my guess is that every other passenger in F had status and there was an aircraft swap from a 16F 737 to a 12F A320. AA will downgrade no-status passengers before status passengers (it's basically reverse upgrade list order). The downgraded passengers should have been listed as DSR, which would have put them above almost anyone else on the upgrade list.

The AA and airport employees should have demonstrated more compassion -- it sounds like a manager came by to tell her the reason for the downgrade, and told her that she can request a refund. However, that manager should have told her that she could wait for the next flight with F seats!

That could be right. It was the reason given. And I only bought one week earlier so it may have changed before I bought it. But it does not explain why two others got the open seats as upgrades.

My personal theory is that the dogs couldn't be placed in the front row as it is a bulkhead. And, since those were the seats assigned on the upgrade list, 1C and 1D, their system disqualified her with dogs and put two others in there instead. Still, it feels like a human could have looked at this situation and made a better call. Move around the other paid Firsts.

Last edited by jqm; Oct 8, 22 at 7:32 pm
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Old Oct 9, 22, 8:51 am
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Originally Posted by guv1976 View Post
I'm pretty sure that AA operates only one nonstop a day on the BUF-DFW route. And with a child in a wheelchair (and two dogs, to boot), I would not want to have to take connecting flights.
you are correct, one nonstop a day. Either theyíve recently moved the departure time or they dropped a nonstop, tho, because I flew this route back in August, and my nonstop departed ~2:30PM.
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Old Oct 9, 22, 9:10 am
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My understanding, and I've never actually needed to or tried to do it, is there is something called the "Special Accommodations Desk" that you can talk with in advance if you are booking seats for a person with significant physical limitations, and they will notate the record accordingly. I guess it is still around and available. Might, maybe, have helped. I suppose the multiple dogs could have been a wildcard (and I might not understand why they were even along for the ride).

Last edited by jayer; Oct 9, 22 at 9:44 am
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Old Oct 9, 22, 9:11 am
  #11  
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Originally Posted by jqm View Post
That could be right. It was the reason given. And I only bought one week earlier so it may have changed before I bought it. But it does not explain why two others got the open seats as upgrades.
I just realized that if you go from 16F to 12F, you have four seats downgraded, so the other two upgraded could have been DSR as well. In that case, the list is ordered by AAdvantage status, followed by time and date of request, so it's possible those two had some kind of elite status or had been processed earlier.

I feel like WCHR passengers that have booked F should get special treatment in downgrade situations, since they may have booked F because they needed the extra space.
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Old Oct 9, 22, 9:31 am
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Originally Posted by VFR View Post
Given that it's a flight to Dallas... my guess is that every other passenger in F had status and there was an aircraft swap from a 16F 737 to a 12F A320.
With the caveat that this entire story is coming from a third party, I find it pretty unlikely that a BUF-DFW flight would have 12 paid F passengers. My money is on a majority of the 16 pax originally holding seat assignments in F being upgraders.

AA will downgrade no-status passengers before status passengers (it's basically reverse upgrade list order). The downgraded passengers should have been listed as DSR, which would have put them above almost anyone else on the upgrade list.

The AA and airport employees should have demonstrated more compassion -- it sounds like a manager came by to tell her the reason for the downgrade, and told her that she can request a refund. However, that manager should have told her that she could wait for the next flight with F seats!
If AA prioritizes ANY upgrader over ANY paid F passenger on the Priority List when DGs happen, that's a huge problem.

On the plus side though, two dogs were kept out of F!
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Old Oct 9, 22, 10:32 am
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Originally Posted by Herb687 View Post
With the caveat that this entire story is coming from a third party, I find it pretty unlikely that a BUF-DFW flight would have 12 paid F passengers. My money is on a majority of the 16 pax originally holding seat assignments in F being upgraders.

If AA prioritizes ANY upgrader over ANY paid F passenger on the Priority List when DGs happen, that's a huge problem.
I believe that AA's policy is that if you get an upgrade to F before day of departure (e.g. at T-48 for a PLT) you are treated the same as paid F passengers for downgrades and such.
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Old Oct 9, 22, 10:34 am
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Originally Posted by VFR View Post
I believe that AA's policy is that if you get an upgrade to F before day of departure (e.g. at T-48 for a PLT) you are treated the same as paid F passengers for downgrades and such.
If true, that's a horrible policy.

Paid F should be prioritized over upgraders in the case of downgrades. And that should be true regardless of how far out the upgradee was upgraded.
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Old Oct 9, 22, 10:59 am
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I travel in paid first class regularly and in case of an issue, having paid for a first class fare makes no difference. AA staff seems to just figure that all first class tickets are free upgrades.
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