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I had only been back home in LA for a few days before it was time to fly out again and make the same journey back across the Atlantic that I seem to do so very often.
On this occasion I was routing via Dallas as I was using up my last American Airlines systemwide upgrade from last year and the only upgrade availability at the time of booking had been on the Dallas – London sector.
I wasn’t prepared to go on the upgrade waitlist for the non-stop flights between LA and London as, since American changed the way it treats upgrade priority, my upgrade chances have become a lot less certain and I didn’t want my systemwide upgrade to go to waste.
Until the end of the month I will hold top-tier status with both British Airways (Gold) and American Airlines (Executive Platinum) – both of which are equivalent to oneworld Emerald status – and it was shortly after I arrived at the airport for my flight to Dallas that my airline status made life easier for me.
Passengers holding oneworld Emerald status on international itineraries are entitled to use the Flagship Check-in facility at LAX….
….and, after I’d been checked in by one of the Flagship agents, an American Airlines associate took my passport and boarding passes and escorted me up one level to the TSA PreCheck security line……which was pretty long.
Without breaking step he walked me to the front of the line, handed my boarding pass and passport to the TSA agent, waited for the all clear and then took me to the front of the line at the scanners (I was bright red from embarrassment at this point but I wasn’t about to turn down the special treatment).
I was through security in under a minute while, at a guess, I’d say that everyone else would have taken between 20 and 30 minutes.
I never, ever expect special treatment….but I enjoy it when I get it 🙂
It didn’t take too long for my airline status to come to my aid once again.
My flight to Dallas was to be operated by an American Airlines 787 Dreamliner and I had chosen this flight very deliberately.
By booking the 787 I made sure that if my upgrade cleared I would have a lie-flat Business Class seat all the way to Dallas and, if my upgrade didn’t clear, I would have a seat in the aircraft’s international Premium Economy cabin (another benefit my airline status gives me when booking an Economy Class seat on a domestic route operated by an internationally configured aircraft).
The itinerary I’d booked gave me a 90 minute connection in Dallas (which should have been plenty of time) but, this being American Airlines, things didn’t go to plan.
We boarded on time for a 14:03 departure but around 5 minutes before we were due to push back the Captain announced that there was a maintenance issue “with a valve” which he said “should be resolved pretty quickly”.
30 minutes after we should have pushed back the Captain announced that anyone who wanted to disembark was welcome to do so but that a maintenance team was working on the issue and he’d give us another update in “30 minutes or earlier if there was more news”.
I took this as a bad sign and started to make alternate plans.
T-Mobile service was terrible onboard but I managed to ascertain that I was already booked on the last flight to London out of Dallas and it was looking increasingly likely that I was going to misconnect.
I called up the American Airlines Executive Platinum line and, after a 12 minute wait, got a helpful agent (thankfully!)
At first I asked the agent to protect me on the first Dallas – London flight the next day (I had every intention of booking the Hyatt Regency DFW and using the insurance from my Chase Sapphire Reserve card to overnight in Dallas) but then I realised I wasn’t thinking straight….
Why was I asking the agent to protect me on a flight out of Dallas (for the next day) when I could be asking her to get me on either one of the the AA or BA non-stop flights leaving LAX later in the day?
Somewhat sheepishly I asked the agent to cancel my original request and to see if she could get me on one of the later non-stop flights…..which she did.
I snagged a window seat on American’s 777 flight departing LAX at 18:35.
I had to go to the Flagship lounge to have all the paperwork done (I was re-ticketed) but that took all of 15 minutes and one of the very good lounge agents took care of it for me while I got on with some work.
On this occasion my airline status helped out in a number ways:
- It allowed me to use Flagship check-in and, as a result, helped me avoid a long line at security
- It allowed me to use the Executive Platinum line to contact an agent where the wait time was almost certainly a lot shorter than the wait time for non top-tier status members.
- It ensured that I got to speak to an agent who was (a) empowered to help me and (b) keen to help me
- It allowed me to use the Flagship Lounge after I had disembarked where a great lounge agent took care of all the paperwork.
I’m not saying that someone without status or with low status wouldn’t have been able to get re-routed if they found themselves in the same situation….but I’m not sure their requests would have ben handled as quickly or as efficiently as mine were.
I was not about to get off my LAX-DFW flight without knowing that an agent had saved me a seat on a non-stop flight to London so, had I been kept on hold for longer and then had to deal with an agent who wasn’t quite so motivated to help, there was a good chance I wouldn’t have had been able to disembark before the doors to my delayed flight were closed.
Eventually I would have arrived in Dallas, probably missed my flight, have had to stay in the Hyatt overnight and would have eventually arrived into London 19 hours late.
As it was, I arrived into London a little over 90 minutes after my original flight was due to land and I am very, very grateful to the two fantastic American Airlines agents that made that possible….and I’m very thankful to my airline status too!
To play devil’s advocate, the status was only of use because of AA’s other issues. If AA had better upgrade availability (on the LAX-LHR nonstop), and/or if they could operate flights on time (as with LAX-DFW), then you wouldn’t be reliant on your status to protect you.
That’s true…but the point I was trying to make was that without my status these issues would still have happened but things probably wouldn’t have resolved themselves in the way that they did. Having good status helped me out.
Based purely on personal experience, only about 50% of the use that I get out of airline status revolves around perks (like lounge access, bonus miles etc…) the other 50% revolves around what kind of service it gets me when things go wrong.
12 minutes waiting for someone to answer? United 1k line has never taken more then one minute to answer my call regardless of when I call. Even Turkish (on whom I just have Star Alliance Gold status) emailed me within a few minutes of my flight from Houston to Istanbul being delayed and within 15 minutes of emailing back and forth they had me re-booked from Istanbul to my final destination. To be fair I was booked into business class so that helped! How long do you normally have to wait to get someone to answer the phone with AA?
I had been considering switching to Delta or AA but now I am not so sure since I have heard horror stories about upgrades being impossible to get on both. And bad phone service would put paid to the idea for AA for sure for me. Thanks!
This was an unusually long hold time for me. Outside of major disruptions the EXP desk normally answers my calls in a minute or under.
I haven’t checked but I suspect that a storm was playing havoc with flights somewhere in the network and that was putting pressure on the phone lines as passengers were doing everything possible to get home.
Upgrades are definitely harder to get on AA than they have been in the 10+ years I’ve had status with them and the switch they made in how upgrades are prioritised (https://travelingformiles.com/american-airlines-upgrades/) has definitely hurt flyers who don’t splash out on airfares.
I wouldn’t let my phone experience put you off…but I do recommend doing your research before you decide to switch – the grass isn’t always greener on the other side
This excellent article illustrates what I’ve always had in the back of my mind. If there’s trouble, your status will help. I just gave up United Silver … it stopped being very helpful several years ago, but I hung on (I fly out of SFO so it was not difficult) just in case of trouble. Now it’s gone and I feel quite vulnerable!
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