Archive for March, 2012
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.,
Yes it’s true! American Airlines announced today that the double Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) promotion is back!
Well, actually it never really went away. It was scheduled to expire on March 31 — they’ve extended that to June 30. That will allow more than enough time for me to earn enough miles to reach Executive Platinum status!
The plan basically remains the same: earn double EQMs and double redeemable miles on flights between DFW and Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO), and also on flights between Chicago O’Hare and LAX, SFO, and an addition, Orange County, (SNA) California. Oddly, the bonus to SNA is only from ORD and not from DFW.
For all the details, visit the AA promotion page.
I have two mileage runs currently scheduled, one to SFO later this month that will earn double EQMs, and one in April to Portland that will not, but because of the odd routing (to Portland via DFW and Seattle) I’ll still earn more than 5,000 EQMs.
Two more SFO trips by June 30 and I will reach Executive Platinum. Barely, by my math I’ll have 100,011 miles, but more than 100,000 is more than 100,000.
This is an awful lot of flying for me early in the year, but it makes no sense for me to get this close to EXP and not go for it. I’ll fly fewer miles this year to make EXP than I did last year to make Platinum. This would not have happened without AA’s promotions, so to AA I send a huge THANK YOU!
My last mileage run went very badly; I had problems checking in, problems with gate changes, flight changes, equipment changes and numerous delays of my flights to/from Los Angeles. I was not happy with the way things turned out, so, the day after the trip, I went to AA.com, clicked on Contact AA, then went to Customer Relations and selected Compliment/Complaint/Comment.
A new window popped up where I entered the relevant information (name, flight number, date, PNR number, etc.) and then began my note, I had 1500 characters to tell my story. The three items I wanted to focus on were:
- My problems checking in at the airport when the iPhone app would not display my boarding pass, forcing me to turn back from the front of the TSA security line, and then the self-serve kiosk would not let me check in either.
- The numerous delays of my flights to/from Los Angeles. It’s one thing to say a flight will be delayed, it’s something else when you change the departure time, then change it again, and again, and again, and again — that only serves to make your passengers more frustrated than they already were.
- And finally, I wanted to know why I had a reservation for flight 1113 from DFW to Austin, but ended up on flight 1550.
I sent the message, and received a reply the following morning. This is how the issues were addressed in my reply from AA Customer Service:
Problems checking in: “I know it was frustrating to not be able to use your mobile boarding pass to get through security. We will continue to work to improve this feature to avoid such incidents. Your feedback will help us to do just that.”
That is a good response. I am glad to know they are working to improve the app, and that my feedback will help. Good job!
Numerous delays: “Also, we recognize how important on time departures and arrivals are to our customers, and we are committed to spending the resources necessary to achieve substantially higher levels of as scheduled departures. Still, with so many variables affecting our operation, there will be occasions when delays are encountered despite our best efforts. I especially regret that you experienced two such disruptions.”
I don’t know if the customer service reps have pre-written letters that they use, but that paragraph sounds like it came from one. I’ve sent a message about delays in the past and received a reply that actually explained what went wrong, There may have been a mechanical issue, a crew member was late, whatever the reason they at least tried to explain it to me. I got none of that this time. Bad response.
Change from flight 1113 to 1550: not even mentioned in the reply, very bad response.
“As a gesture of goodwill, we have added 5,000 bonus miles to your AAdvantage® account. This adjustment will be reflected in your account very soon.” Thank you, I appreciate that.
And finally “I assure you that we will continue to strive to focus on on-time flight departures. When you travel with us again, we will do our best to get you to your destination as scheduled.”
So, I was happy with their response to the problems with check-in, think they could have done a better job of explaining the flight delays, and appreciated the 5,000 bonus miles. I was not happy that my final question was ignored.
So, I waited a few days to see if I would hear from them again and when I did not, I wrote back. I thanked them for working to improve the iPhone app, I thanked them for being devoted to on-time service, and I thanked them for the 5,000 bonus miles. I then pointed out that I had not gotten an explanation of why my reservation was changed without me being notified, and I wanted to know why that occurred.
Three days went by and I did not receive a response to that message. Now I was getting annoyed.
I wrote a third time, pointed out that my previous letter had been ignored, and asked when was my reservation changed, why was it changed, and why wasn’t I notified? I had a reply the next morning.
“Thank you for contacting us again. Our records (show) that the change from flight 1113 to flight 1550 was a change in schedule, made on December 25. (Emphasis added) We realize that schedule changes can be an unexpected — even unwelcome — event for those of us who carefully plan itineraries and count on the airline to operate as scheduled. In fact, most schedule changes are negligible; flight times are often recalculated by just a few moments due to seasonal fluctuations in weather patterns or as more direct routes of flight open up. On the other hand, we must occasionally realign flight schedules altogether. In all cases, we try to work with our customers to minimize any inconvenience, and I am sorry we weren’t more successful this time. I regret, too, that you were unaware of this change.”
So, my reservation was changed two months before departure — yet AA did not send me an email, text message or robo-call to let me know. Nothing was highlighted on the website to indicate a change when I pulled up my reservation, so I continued to believe that my itinerary would match the written confirmation that AA had sent me when I purchased the ticket. I really don’t care that “most schedule changes are negligible,” if my change was negligible I wouldn’t be writing. There is an important phrase in this message, a phrase that will seem very important shortly, “On the other hand, we must occasionally realign flight schedules altogether.,”
I was still not satisfied with this. How often should I double-check the flight number and departure/arrival times on my reservation to be sure there had not been an unannounced unexplained change?
So, I called the AA Platinum Desk, asked for AAdvantage Customer Service and when I was connected to them, asked to speak to a supervisor. They placed me on hold for a moment and then connected me to a supervisor named Steve. Steve was great!
I explained what happened and said I did not understand why my flight had been changed and why I had not been notified. Steve looked through the records and confirmed that the change had indeed happened on December 25, but now he was puzzled. “Whenever a change like this occurs, ” he said, ” there is normally an explanation — the flight was changed due to a change in equipment, need for a larger/smaller aircraft, changes to AA’s flight scheduled, etc. There is no explanation here as to why your flight was changed.”
I was glad to hear this seemed odd to him too. And then he added, “Your original flight, 1113, was not cancelled, It flew that night and in fact left DFW late so you might have even been able to make your original connection if the change had not happened.”
If my original flight was not cancelled, what did “we must occasionally realign flight schedules altogether” mean? There was no realignment! My original flight was not cancelled! The original reply with this comment was not worth the paper it was not written on!
I heard Steve type for a while and then he said, “I am a supervisor. I am supposed to be able to solve problems and get answers. But in your case, I am sorry that I cannot give any answer, I have no explanation of why your flight was changed and why you were not notified. This is not the way we should treat our valued customers.”
Thank you Steve, I appreciate that, and I appreciate the fact you were honest with me and did not give me even more meaningless answers.
I learned some important lessons from this trip:
- Don’t trust that your original itinerary is correct. Check and re-check your schedule as your trip approaches
- Don’t use the iPhone app for your boarding pass, get a printed boarding pass instead. (If you have to call AA Customer Service about your trip afterwards, they may ask for your ticket number. That’s not available on the electronic boarding pass, but is printed on the paper boarding pass.) I’ll have more comments about the iPhone app in a future post.
- If you are not satisfied with the answer you receive, ask again.
I have another mileage run at the end of the month, I hope it goes more smoothly than this one. And, if AAdvantage customer service reads this, I hope they will take my comments to heart and look to improve their service.
Disclaimer: I own stock in AMR Corporation, American Airlines’ parent corporation. The value of my holdings is less than $100.