Commentary

Want a Better Airline Seat? Trust the App

Channels of commerce aren’t always totally in synch.

A while back, I booked an American Airlines flight from Boston to Chicago for the MediaPost IoT: Beacons conference being held tomorrow.

As anyone hearing or seeing any news recently is aware, the Boston area has been getting a bit (read: hammered) of snow recently.

I had booked a Monday flight to arrive the day before the event.

Then the latest storm news came along, predicting a multi-day snow event starting Saturday and going into Tuesday. Ugh.

Time to switch flights to get out of town ahead of the storm. And that’s when we started playing multi-phase, omni-channel roulette.

As any frequent traveler knows, there are killer penalties airlines impose for changing a flight. They also likely know that once disruptive weather comes all bets are off and airlines issue what they call waivers, so that a flight can be changed without penalty.

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As usual, I had booked my flight through American Express, my go-to travel central command.

I called Amex to check on the possibility of changing my flight to a day earlier without penalty. No dice. They checked and found that Delta, Jet Blue, Alaska Airlines and United had issued waivers, but nothing from American.

The Amex agent told me that an American Airlines agent told them they had canceled all kinds of New York flights for the last mega-storm that never hit New York, so were going to wait this time to make sure it really snowed.

I pointed out that we did get those three feet of snow in Boston from that storm, but no matter.

American got burned in New York so now I moved into the wait and continual check process.

When a travel disruption occurs, American, like other airlines, lists it on their website (talk about an opportunity for push messaging, but I digress).

Without the waiver, changing the flight from Monday to Sunday would more than double the original ticket price. And watching the weather map, I had little doubt the waiver would be coming.

While on the phone with Amex during one of my many checks, I kept refreshing the American Airlines website hoping for the waiver announcement. Totally coincidentally, the waiver came along while on that call.

The waiver still had not hit the Amex system, which is intriguing since they are tied into the American Airlines system. The agent quickly found the waiver, but it didn’t include a code necessary for Amex to change my flight.

The Amex agent called American Airlines and they made the flight change with no charges or penalties. And then things got interesting.

I regularly use the very functional American Airlines app to monitor flight details and often to change my seating as well as get a mobile boarding pass.

The first seat issued was near the back of the plane so I changed it through the app to the available 16C, no problem.

Then I got the regular American Airlines email advising me to check in, which I did through the app.

On a later app check for better seating (my personal preference is closer to the front of the plane), seat 13D became available, which I selected and got confirmed.

Checking the flight status online later that evening, I noticed the website had me in seat 16C, and my app had me seated in 13D.

I called Amex, who in turn called American Airlines and we went total multi-channel.

On the phone with the two agents, I noted that I had seat 13D but the website had me in 16C.

Both agents said I did not have 13D, no matter what the app was telling me.

The American Airlines agent told me that since I had already checked in I could no longer change my seat. I told her that it was American Airlines, via email, that told me to check in without any notification about not being able to change seats.

She called the department that handles seating to see if they could make a change. Meanwhile, the Amex agent and I pondered an airline having a department that handles seating.

After holding a bit, the attempting-to-be-helpful American Airlines agent came back on the phone and said the seat control department said it could not be changed since I had already checked in through the app.

I suggested they check me out so I could start over but American Airlines said that would cancel the ticket, so we obviously didn’t do that.

So figuring I would just ask for a different seat at the airport, I gave up on the phone. At that stage, the website gave me an error as I tried to change my seat, no matter how many times I tried.

Amex couldn’t change it, since American took over the record to enter the waiver code, which hadn’t yet been sent to Amex at the time.

On the way to the airport Sunday morning, I opened the app to check my flight status and lo and behold, my seat was 13D, just as I had selected on the app the day before. My electronic boarding pass also listed my seat as 13D.

Maybe someone did something behind the scenes without telling me, but the bottom line is that the mobile app selection I made won out over phone and website activity.

A slight irony in all of this is that I got to the airport early and wait listed for the flight just before my scheduled flight.

At the last minute, I got the last seat on the earlier flight.

And the technology gods had their last laugh on me, as their hardware spit out my new boarding pass and new seat: 28D.

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You coming to the MediaPost IoT: Beacons conference on Tuesday?

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