WN vs AA: A personal story

I am going to depart not only from my usual approach to this blog but also shift from the editorial “we” to a personal “I” for this story. The point of the story is not my personal family issue but an illustrative point about Southwest Airlines and American Airlines.

As readers know, I live in Seattle. I have family in the Chicago area. My family had a developing situation that required that I go to Chicago to deal with it. The plan had been to attend the ISTAT meeting and US Airways media day in Phoenix earlier this week, fly back to Seattle for a day and then on to Chicago Friday. I had booked Southwest for the SEA-PHX-SEA trip and American Airlines for the SEA-ORD-SEA trip.

I truly don’t like flying Southwest because of the boarding process and the lack of an assigned seat. I’m a lifetime Gold Advantage member of American, with all the perks that implies.

I chose WN for the PHX trip because my business partner was joining me and she had to check a bag–and bags fly free on WN. I chose AA for Chicago because of the aforementioned Gold status and perks.

On Tuesday evening–the end of the ISTAT meeting but before the US Airways event–I received a call from my brother indicating the family situation had become critical; I need to fly to Chicago directly from PHX on Wednesday. WN changed the ticket (charging for the fare difference). I called AA to cancel my Friday reservation. The ticket was, as I knew, non-refundable but I also knew I could apply it for a future trip. For the fare difference and, as I also knew (regrettably), a $150 change fee. (Besides which AA also charges for the baggage check, which wasn’t applicable in this case but nonetheless contrasts ith WN’s policy.)

The situation in Chicago has now stablized for now but for the near term, I will buy WN to Chicago for family follow-up for the flexibility of being able to change tickets without a change fee. Tom Horton, take note: a lifetime Gold member is on your rival for now. I might be able to claim mileage to exotic places on AA and oneWorld compared with Lubbock and Little Rock on WN, but this doesn’t matter. Gary Kelly, also take note: good policies in place in these circumstance–even if I still despise your damn open seating.


12 Comments on “WN vs AA: A personal story

  1. Yes I, too, wish the best for you and your family.

    But the point of your story was the vast difference between not only WN and AA, but most airlines in general. Each of these fees adds up at the expense of that airlines customers, and the lack of fees also adds up in attracting customers.

    In your case, and perhaps thousands of other cases, this highlights the differences in business practices, and the lack, or application, of understanding the needs of the customers because of personal needs or events that cause that need.

  2. Best wishes to you and your family! I.too,recently had a family crisis and had to unexpectedly fly to my childhood home. It seems like there is too much callousness with the needs of experienced, “gold standard” regular business travelers-especially when special circumstances warrant extra care and concern from the carrier. I have become so disgusted with the fees added and no refund policies etc. that I don’t enjoy flying like I used to 40 years ago. I used to look forward to enjoying hassle free flights where all passengers were treated with consideration and perks for regular fliers really made a difference!

  3. I’m bewildered to discover in this post that some US legacies are charging for a check-in luggage. I didn’t know that. It’s a typical cheapskate policy that I’d only expect finding in LCC… Sad that we’ve nearly hit the bottom.

  4. I am also in the Seattle area and have been MVP Gold on Alaska for a number of years. It has been 18 months or so since I have had to change a ticket. But then even with the cheap non-refundable fare Alaska rebooked me giving me a full refund and charging the cost for the new flight with no cancellation fees. As MVP Gold I have 2 bags checked free, also if I book the flight for someone else I can select seats for them as if it was me without an upgrade charge.

    I can understand the airlines have a real problem differentiating themselves other than price on the internet and need to do these added fees, but most airlines do seem to treat their frequent flyers like dirt. Then they wonder why they drift away.

    • How expensive is frequent flyer service for the airlines ?
      ( not just in lost revenue from perks but in administrative effort.)

      I see a trend ( not really limited to airlines or transportation in general ) to view customers
      as “nonrecurring” or at least “blank” entities. Goes with the MBA mindset.

      Even with small trades here I see changes :
      If you ask for an offer that is not of immediate interest you are ignored, no call back, nothing.

  5. will take WN any day ;and avoid legacy carriers; they have old thinking staff who do not have sense of humor as well as commitment to the orgaization ; they are still part of the entitlement culture.
    I donot have an issue with the seat allocation , WN is the way of the future. Cost effective, fun and no delta fares for baggage and generally more reliable.

  6. Southwest is LUV….the people at the company are amazing from top to bottom. The culture is terrific. The “people gap” between Southwest and legacies is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

    The way around Southwest seating is to either pay a bit more (OK more than a bit) or get your boarding number exactly 24 hrs in advance. In Scott’s case that may have been impossible for this trip as it was unplanned.

    Best wishes to your family.

  7. The fee schemes are creating enormous systems, training and customer service complexity. Think of the software spaghetti that all of the if statements require, if *g or skyteam this, then do that, else and so on.

    I arrived early for a WN flight at Love field last year. I slid my credit card into a kiosk to generate a boarding pass and try to take an earlier flight. Southwest kindly offered an earlier departure and said that it would be $10 less. A credit was forthcoming. How often does that happen?

    Southwest has the right idea: simplify and improve processes…..

  8. Customer service in the airlines now is mainly defined if you happen to run into a ramp agent, flight attendent or flight crew who are nice or are having a good day -It’s on a personal level. And I have experienced some genuinely nice people.
    By an large real customer service and satisfaction no longer viewed a part of a profitable business model. I no longer have any loyalty to any brand.

    If the FAA allowed it we probably all would be flying in C-130’s

    My flying since the 1950’s and I remember when PanAm made the Going Great and Western was the Only way to Fly.
    I dread ticket purchases, airports and the airline experience now. How the fun and adventure got sucked out of this mode of travel is sad.

  9. I would suggest taking advantage of the early boarding product on WN (early bird). You spend maybe $10 or $15 bucks and although you don’t have an assigned seat you basically are able to choose whichever one you want.

    The U.S. network carriers call onerous change fees and ridiculous baggage fees “ancillary revenues”. They are unimaginative and completely out of touch with their customers.

  10. Hey, Scott, am thinking of you on your ORD situation. I actually like the open seating at LUV. Ultimately what will be available for “free” on legacy carriers for a lowly non-mileage junkie like me will be middle seats. No thanks. If you game the LUV system and check in early on line you get a position that will likely net you the seat you want — i.e. as far forward on the aisle as possible — with overhead bin space.

    My gripe these days is that for a lot of points LUV is now a high fare carriers — witness the fares from/to Albany NY which often drove me to mainline carriers. Hated that because of all sorts of reasons not the least of which was assigned seats and nonsensical boarding policies. Kelly has the boarding process down pat and it is as simple as what you learned in kindergarten. Cheers — Kathryn

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