American Airlines has a “contact us” feature on its website; it lets users send a compliment or a complaint to Customer Service. After everything that happened on my mileage run to San Francisco I used the feature three times. Two messages were compliments, one for Captain Don and one for the wonderful ladies at the Boston and Los Angeles Admirals Clubs who helped me so much. The complaint, obviously, was about the missed connection in Boston when they would not hold the plane for 4-5 minutes so that I could make the flight.

I sent my complaint message on Sunday, and received a reply from AA on Monday. The quick reply is appreciated.

The letter began with an apology for all that had happened, and let me know they were putting additional AAdvantage miles in my account. I thank them for that.

The customer service representative explained the problem with the late departure from Dallas, saying the ground crew had analyzed the situation and, with the information they had, thought they could fix the problem promptly; thus, other flight arrangements were not made. Anyone who has ever tried to fix their car only to find that something else was causing the problem can certainly understand that.

The rest of the letter dealt with the missed flight at Boston. The representative explained that AA has received a lot of feedback from passengers explaining how important it is that the airline operate on time. To make this happen, they have established a 15-minute cut-off time that says you must be at the gate and checked in 15 minutes before departure (30 minutes for an international flight) to keep your seat. This is done to give the airport staff time to complete important last minute details before departure.

The letter said that the whether or not to hold a flight for a connecting passenger is one of the most “troublesome decisions” they have.

“We take into consideration the inconvenience to those travelers who will miss their flight, as well as the impact to those customers who are already on board, the possible “domino effect” on subsequent flight assignments for the aircraft, the downline misconnections that may disrupt a greater number of people and the chance that we might miss our takeoff assignment, which could lead to a substantial delay for all the customers on board. Weather conditions, as well as air traffic congestion, also influence our actions. It is unfortunate that in this particular case our decision caused you such difficulty.”

All of that from a 4-5 minute delay? If 5 minutes can cause that much trouble, can you imagine how much havoc the pilot of my DFW-AUS flight on Sunday caused by having us leave 25 minutes late?

“We certainly don’t want to leave customers behind and I’m sorry things worked out like they did on this occasion. At the same time, however, we are doing everything we can to make sure that we operate our flights on time. Like our customers, we believe that everyone is best served when we maintain our schedules.”

Let’s take a look at AA’s comment.

They say I needed to be checked in 15 minutes before departure so that the ground personnel could complete the last minute details. I believe that if they knew what incoming flight I was on, knew when it was due in, and knew that it would be at an adjacent gate, they could have checked off every detail they needed with the knowledge that I would be boarding 4-5 minutes after scheduled departure. I once had a late connection in St. Louis. They held the plane for me and I was the last person to board. As I entered the aircraft they closed the door behind me, and by the time I found my seat, put my carry-on in the overhead compartment, and sat down and buckled in, they had already started to push back from the terminal. That could have happened here.

As far as all the additional potential problems listed above, I can certainly see that for a flight that is delayed 30-90 minutes. I find it difficult to believe a delay of only 5 or 6 minutes could cause that much trouble.

Early this year AA announced they had adjusted their schedules to allow more time for ATC and ground delays. The adjustments worked: every single flight I had taken since February (and that includes transcons and trans-Atlantic flights) arrived early. Building spare time into the schedule was a good idea. Apparently, there was not enough spare time though for me to make my connection.

I guess AA and I will agree to disagree on this one.