Shame on you, American Airlines.

I’ve always believed that you learn more about a person (or a company) when things are bad than you ever learn about them when things are good.Like many others, I’ve complained about American Airlines in the past because of their poor treatment of their customers.

Today, however, I was more disgusted by this company than I’ve ever been by any company I’ve ever done business with. Since 2000, I’ve flown 578,814 total miles. I’ve spent literally tens of thousands of dollars with them. I’ve defended them to my friends, and continued to choose them when other airlines were (significantly) cheaper. I’ve cut them slack for poor customer service, for canceled flights, for marginal on-time delays, and hours spent on tarmacs waiting for gates to open up. And through it all, I continued to choose them, continued to spend extra money to fly with them.

Last night my grandmother died.

I have a committed trip to DC and NYC (ironically to speak about the Cluetrain 10 years later), which is fine since the family and funeral aren’t happening until Thursday. I needed to simply change the departure from NYC to Dallas to be one day earlier at a different time.

I called American and politely explained my situation. They had an open flight at the right time. They were willing to waive the typical $100 change fee (with a copy of the death certificate), but they were unwilling to waive the $359 fare difference. (UPDATE: I was more than willing to provide a death certificate and/or the number of the funeral home for the waiver of both fees and told them so) They had a chance to turn a terribly sad chapter of my life into a story about what a great company they were, and they passed it up.

Again I politely explained that I have nearly 600,000 miles flow, I’m a loyal customer, that I’ve been Gold or Platinum for years now. “Can we waive the fare difference?”, I ask. I’m not changing the flight, just the times of the flight, after all. The answer from both Mrs. Gibson and her supervisor, Irving was this:

“American reviewed the policy a few years back and decided that since funeral homes, doctors, and clothiers don’t discount their rates, we shouldn’t either.”

First of all, I was asking for them to waive an unnecessary fee, not give me a discount. Secondly, that’s a stupid comparison. Doctors and funeral homes don’t work on a sliding scale. Clothing is reusable. I could go on with how stupid this quote is, but it’s just not worth the time.

When I told Irving, the supervisor, that I’d been a loyal customer for years and that I felt that the “fare difference” (i.e. we charge more for certain times of the day for the exact same overhead) should be waived if for nothing else than because it was the best way American could return the loyalty I’d shown them over the years he said:

“I’m not here to argue with you, sir.”

And I’m not here to argue with you either, American. In fact, I’m not here to fly with you, defend you, or support you. Not only have I lost interested in maintaining our quasi-relationship, I’ll now actively work to find alternatives to using you. (Hard to do when you live in Dallas, but absolutely not impossible). I’ll encourage others to think twice about using you. All because you were more interested in potentially getting an extra $359.

Bravo.

You stuck to your principles, now it’s my turn.

(By the way, I’ve included a picture of Pat McKee, my wonderful grandmother as a way to remind American that this issue is not about policies, it’s about real people) I decided to remove the photo from this post, simply because it’s getting some surprising activity and my grandma would smack me upside the head if she knew I was using her photo in something this well trafficked. Thanks to everyone for your warm response and thoughts. I love you guys. The huge amount of support has meant the world to me.

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