When a flight delays, airlines almost always blame weather. Factors outside of their control mean they don’t owe you anything, like a hotel to spend the night in or meals at the airport. But American Airlines CEO Robert Isom now says that when his airline fails to recover from problems, that’s on them and they owe their customers. That’s a sea change, following on the Southwest Airlines debacle over the holidays. But not everyone in the company’s customer service department may be ready to change.
Southwest Started Blaming Weather, But Eventually Took Responsibility
Southwest Airlines kept saying that weather was the cause of their holiday meltdown, and in a sense it was true. Without bad weather there wouldn’t have been the stresses on their system that revealed understaffing and IT problems. Their phone systems wouldn’t have collapsed. They wouldn’t have lost track of crew. Agents initially used weather as a reason to deny covering costs for stranded passengers.
Flight cancelled. No flight for three days. No voucher, no compensation. #Southwest says it's not subject to Department of Transportation when cancelling. pic.twitter.com/IsSGOT6x5U
— b (@thelamiam) December 26, 2022
I wrote that weather was no longer plausible as an excuse days after weather had improved, and other airline operations had fully recovered. And whether because of self-interest (preventing long-term damage to their reputation), because they realized it was the right thing to do, or because of pressure from the Department of Transportation, Southwest still talked up weather as instigating their problems but also stepped up to say they would cover reasonable hotel and alternate transportation expenses for passengers (results of this have been a mixed bag).
Now Industry Rhetoric Is Changing
Southwest’s about-face has shifted rhetoric in the industry over what is owed to passengers and when. At 7 minutes 10 seconds into American Airlines CEO Robert Isom’s CNBC Squawk Box interview on Thursday he said that when a delay or cancellation is the fault of the airline – including when “we don’t recover the way we should” – “we owe the customers.”
.@AmericanAir $AAL CEO Robert Isom this morning with @Lebeaucarnews @SquawkCNBC on 4Q guidance, @FAANews and recent operational performance and customer rights. "When it's our responsibility, and we don't recover the way we should, we owe the customers." https://t.co/HJ5sIzSHoR pic.twitter.com/NABENK1wXU
— Ross Feinstein (@RossFeinstein) January 12, 2023
Airlines Should Take More Responsibility Than Just Blaming Weather. Tell American This.
When your airline blames weather, and passengers look outside and see clear skies, they don’t understand what the airline is talking about. It might be weather where the plane is coming from, or along the route!
But just as likely the airline means that there was a delay with the same aircraft, two or three flights earlier in the day, and that was because of weather. The airline didn’t recover from their earlier delay, and weather in completely unrelated cities is the excuse not to take responsibility for inconveniencing passengers because those passengers had the bad luck of sharing a plane (or crewmembers) in the airline’s operations.
American’s CEO says they’re responsible for recovering their operations. That is likely news to American’s Customer Relations team. If you send in a request for compensation due to a delay that the carrier stretches to call ‘weather-related’, respond with this clip from their boss’s boss’s boss saying “not so fast, when you don’t recover your operation Robert Isom says you owe your customers!”