Let’s face it, this is the age of the smartphone, A March 2012 survey by Pew Research says that nearly half of all American adults are smartphone owners, an 11-point increase since last May. As the number of smartphone users continues to increase, a company that does not have a smartphone app has, as the old saying goes, missed the train.
I’m glad to say that American Airlines is on that train. Their app was one of the first I loaded when I bought my iPhone and it is one I use regularly. It is an outstanding application needing only a few tweaks to take its grade from B+ to a solid A!
As you can see, the opening screen provides several options (including Sudoku!) Click on the “My Account” tab on the bottom to go to the AAdvantage Account screen.
The Account Summary screen gives you a quick snapshot of the important numbers in your account. How many miles do you have? How many EQMs, segments, miles with expiration in 2013? It’s all there, accurate and current.
Last week the app displayed incorrect information about the number of miles that would expire in 2013, but in less than a week since I posted this review, they have updated the app and fixed the problem Well done! And that is why I have changed their grade from a B+ to an A-.
I know that AA is working to improve the app. In January I sent a list of errors to AA.com and the most egregious was corrected within 24 hours. Do you see where it says I have 74,120 EQMs and 32 segments? In January they displayed the EQM number for both EQMs and segments, so it showed that I not only had more than 23,000 EQMs in the account, it also showed that I had completed more than 23,000 segments in January alone. That’s a lot of flying! It even said I had already achieved Executive Platinum status because I had flown more than 100 segments in 2012. Thankfully they quickly corrected that, just as they quickly corrected the problem with the miles expiration.
The mobile boarding pass provides a lot of information: flight number, date, boarding and departure time, gate number, AAdvantage elite status, and PNR record. (That’s the 6-character confirmation code AA assigns, for this trip it was BOWXBX.) I’ve never had a problem going through the TSA security line, they scan my phone’s screen and get the information they need. I have however had problems when boarding an aircraft with this mobile pass, I’ll explain that shortly.
If you need to purchase a ticket but are not near a computer to make your purchase online, and don’t want to call in and pay the telephone booking fee, you can use the app to purchase your ticket.
“Hey HappyFlier, let me make sure I understand you. I can use the American Airlines iPhone app to buy tickets, review schedules and itineraries, check flight status, and get gate numbers. I can check-in electronically and the earlier I check in, the less chance there is that I will get an involuntary bump. I can get an electronic boarding pass, so if I have no luggage to check I can go straight to security check-in when I arrive at the airport. I can review maps of six of AA’s largest domestic terminals, and I can find out whether or not WiFi will be available on my flight. I can buy a one-day pass to the Admirals Club. and I can play Sudoku! Is that right?”
“Yes you are right, the app provides all those features, and has an attractive design too.”
“Then what’s with the A-? Sounds to me like they deserve an A!!”
I’d give it an A if it were not for problems that I have had with the app. These problems are, in my opinion, easy to fix. I may be wrong about that but they seem easy to me.
Problem #1. I’ve detailed all the problems I had when I did my Mileage Run From Hell. The first problem occurred when I tried to check in at the airport. I had already done an electronic check-in for my flight using the app, all I needed was my electronic boarding pass to show to the TSA screeners. I got on line, brought up my reservation, and kept clicking on the Boarding Pass link. Nothing happened. Maybe I was doing something wrong, so I closed the app, reopened it and again tried to get my boarding pass. Again, no luck. By now I was at the front of the line, the TSA lady had called “next” and motioned for me to come forward but I couldn’t do that without a boarding pass. I had no choice but to leave the line and go to the AA counter to check in, where even the kiosk could not issue me a boarding pass — I had to have an AA representative print one out for me. I took it and got back on the TSA check-in line where the first officer said to me, “Sir, we noticed you left the line a few moments ago instead of checking in. Was there a problem?” I explained the what had happened and they allowed me to go through, but I did not appreciate being put in a situation where I drew that much attention to myself.
Recommended solution: If, for some reason, a passenger cannot use the app to get their boarding pass, don’t provide that as an option on the screen. Instead, grey it out or display a message telling the passenger to check in with AA at the ticket counter. That message would have saved me at least five minutes when I checked in that morning; not a big deal to me since I was so early, but those five minutes could be the difference between making a flight or missing it for someone else. The more information you can provide passengers about their status, the better. I received none that morning.
Problem #2: The electronic boarding pass has flaws. Take a look at the message I received one day when I tried to board a flight at DFW.
I got this error message when trying to board a flight, that the flight “is” (should be “has”) “already departed.” There was just one problem with that: it hadn’t departed! It was still sitting at the gate and I was trying to board!
Here is what happened: my 9 a.m. flight was delayed until 10 a.m. The app correctly displayed 10 a.m. as the new departure time but when I tried to board at 9:25, I got the error message above. Apparently the boarding pass part of the app did not know that the flight had been delayed. Did this cause a problem? Yes. I got to the front of the check-in line and had to explain to the gate agent what had happened. She was the only GA working that gate and had to step away, go to the counter, pull up my itinerary on the computer, and then print a boarding pass for me. In other words, the flight boarding process came to a complete halt for everyone while she took care of me. If there were other passengers on that flight using the app, the same thing happened to them. A problem with the app should not cause the boarding process for a flight to come to a halt.
Recommended solution: fix this issue. If the app knows that the flight is delayed and is correctly displaying the new departure time, it should know that the flight has not departed. There is no reason to get a message like this during the boarding process. The turnaround time for flights is short enough as is, the boarding process should not come to a halt because a passenger is using the app which shows that the flight “is departed.”
Update: The American Airlines iPhone app was updated to version 1.4.0 on March 26. They have fixed the problem that I had written about earlier when it said I had zero miles expiring in 2013. They also removed details about a sweepstakes that ended last September. I’m glad they took care of those things so quickly! What about the two issues I’ve listed immediately above? I don’t know if those have been fixed or not, and unless they happen to write to me to tell me that they have made the fix, I won’t know until I try to board a delayed flight or show up at the airport when there has been a change to my itinerary of which I am not aware.
I visited the App Store and read the description of the iPhone app and really appreciated the final comment from American Airlines: “We are developing our plans for future functionality to be included in our American Airlines app. Please send us your feedback. We are listening.” (emphasis added)
I can attest to the fact that they are listening. That is something that should happen with every company’s product, but sometimes it seems that it rarely does. Bravo to the American Airlines mobile app team for being so proactive and customer-centric!
Summary: No one gets it perfect on the first try, Apple and Microsoft are always sending me updates, fixes and patches. The American Airlines iPhone app is an extremely well done application. It is obvious that the designers and engineers put a lot of thought and effort into designing an outstanding customer service tool for AA’s customers. They have updated the app to make it even better than it was before. But it is not quite all the way there yet. A fix to those two issues I spoke of will easily make this an A+ application that I will recommend to every AA passenger.
Disclaimer: I own stock in AMR Corporation, American Airlines’ parent company. The total value of my holdings in AMR is less than $75.,