Want to fly between the UK and the US with American Airlines for some reason? Unfortunately, many AA flights between the US and the UK are now operated by British Airways, as they are airline partners.
If you’re determined to avoid BA and only fly on AA flights, you’ll have a very limited (or impossible) choice, depending on where you’re going.
Is that an issue, though? What’s the deal with American Airlines and British Airways flights?
This is the second part of a two part post series about why you should avoid this flight combination if at all possible. The first part deals specifically with British Airways and why they are now an absolutely awful airline. I suggest you start there.
But AA aren’t that great either, to say the least. Like British Airways, they score an average of 1.4 stars on Trustpilot. In 2019 they were voted worst airline by UK passengers, coming just behind British Airways, who were voted second worst.
This was before the pandemic came and gave companies excuses for sucking. Poor customer service, shoddy IT systems that don’t communicate with each other, rude staff, and overall incompetence make booking AA and BA flight combos a sad experience indeed.
The following are four reasons why you should think twice about booking BA and AA combination flights, as well as reasons to avoid American Airlines specifically.
1. American Airlines give out crappy vouchers
When my BA flight from London was delayed and made me miss my connection, I got stuck in Austin, TX overnight. As BA staff were nowhere to be found, I turned to AA for help.
I could do this because I’d actually booked all my flights on the AA site and the BA flight was a codeshare flight with AA. AA was therefore what’s called the “marketing airline” (as opposed to the “operating airline”, which was BA in this case, as it was their plane I flew on). Thankfully, AA took responsibility where BA didn’t and did provide me with some vouchers, though these were very poor, as will be detailed below. But first, a quick note about Austin.
“Austin-Bergstrom International Airport” is, as it turns out, a very poor international hub. I’d be ashamed to call it “international” anything if I were in charge. I wouldn’t recommend flying to Austin unless your final destination is Austin. Apart from a very substandard set up for international arrivals (which would shame many developing countries, if I’m honest), there are simply not enough flights to less popular destinations in the US to make it a reliable hub in this climate of flight delays and cancellations. It also seems hugely understaffed and absolutely not set up to deal with the volume of international arrivals they want to put through it.
In this case, my late BA flight landed just as my connecting flight was due to take off, so I was already screwed. I can absolutely imagine some passengers getting stuck at immigration / security for hours and missing their flight because of that, though. Hell, why imagine when you can just read actual customer reviews?
Staff must also be grossly underpaid and poorly treated across the entire airport, as everyone seems really grumpy and rude. But I digress. Let’s get back to the rest of this shitshow.
There were no flights going to Reno (my destination) that night from either Austin or DFW (the “proper” hub, an hour’s flight away). As a result, I was reluctantly booked onto a next day early morning flight to my destination and provided with a hotel voucher for the night, a “generous” meal voucher for the princely sum of $12, and a couple of taxi vouchers to get me to and from my “luxurious” hotel.
Here’s why these vouchers sucked:
The crappy business hotel was in the middle of nowhere and very disappointing. I have pretty low standards for hotels – a comfortable bed and a hot shower is all I really need. I got neither there. At least the cold shower woke me up.
I could, in theory, have used my meal voucher at the hotel bar (the only place on site still open at the apparently ungodly hour of 9pm) to get a soft drink or a single nacho or something (I was only given $12, remember?), though I was jetlagged and tired and just wanted to sleep. The voucher said it was valid the next day, so I tried to use it at the airport before my flight so I could get my money’s worth out of AA. I then discovered that in order to use it, you need to manually type fake credit card details off the voucher into the fiddly card reader at the shop / restaurant instead of just handing it to the cashier like a standard voucher. Apart from being an absolute pain in the ass, it turned out this didn’t even work and my fake credit card kept being declined.
Now, I must admit that my last experience of missing a connecting flight because of a delay was well before the pandemic, but I recall being given enough money for a proper dinner, including drinks. Even if this lousy voucher worked, it would only get me a packet of crisps and a can of coke. Not quite what I expect for a forced overnight layover.
Meanwhile, the taxi vouchers were only valid for three specific taxi companies. I had no trouble getting a ride to my hotel from the airport, but none of these companies were answering their phone at 5:30am when I needed to leave my hotel to catch my flight. It was AA who booked me on the early flight and gave me the vouchers. Do they not know their partner taxi companies aren’t active at those times? The reception staff at the hotel kept trying the phones for half an hour but got nowhere. I had to make alternative arrangements to get to the airport, even though AA were supposed to get me there for free.
Would British Airways have provided me with better vouchers? I guess we’ll never know, as they didn’t even bother being there to offer any assistance. Somehow I think not, though, considering what happened to other people in similar situations (check out the reviews here, here, here, and here, for some choice examples. That poor family!).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I wasn’t left to sleep on a bench in an airport terminal (or die in a ditch as BA would have it), but this isn’t a low cost airline I flew with. Surely they can do better than this for an AAdvantage member (or, frankly, any passenger).
2. American Airlines can’t track orders made on their own website
Here’s a fun one! Even though I’d booked my flights through AA’s own website, including the extortionate (though now somehow socially acceptable) hold luggage fees for my entire journey, this information was not available to AA check in staff.
When I rebooked the flights to my final destination (there were two flights now, not one, as I needed to get to DFW first and then fly on to Reno. Joy!), I didn’t even think I needed to doublecheck that I had hold luggage booked, as why wouldn’t I? After all, I’d already paid AA for it on their own website.
When I tried to check in to my flight the next morning, though, I had a nasty surprise when the self-service machine tried to charge me an extra $100 for the bag I’d already paid for.
Off I went to queue up in the “speak to a person” queue, where I was constantly accosted by well-meaning staff members adding insult to injury by suggesting I use the self-service machine to “save time”.
But unfortunately, the people at the check in desk didn’t have information about my hold luggage booking either and were incredibly rude about it, including the manager I asked to see. They kept asking for my “receipt”, which I was pretty sure I didn’t have, as I’d booked the entire thing together, on their own bloody website.
Eventually I realised the “receipt” they were referring to was the stupid piece of paper you get when you check in your luggage. You know, the one you only ever need if the airline loses your luggage. In this case and against all odds, my suitcase actually made it (see here, here and here if you want to know more about British Airways’ record with luggage). I therefore had no reason to keep the so-called receipt, which BA print on actual, flimsy receipt paper, rather than a sticker you can stick on your boarding pass / passport like other, less penny-pinchy airlines.
At this point, you must be thinking I’d thrown the crappy piece of paper and had to shell out the extra $100, but you’d be wrong! By some sort of miracle, the thing was shoved into a side pocket of my bag rather than a bin, and I fished it out and presented it to the rude staff, saving me from being twice screwed.
As their agents struggled to read the crumpled receipt, they went as far as asking me why I no longer had the luggage tags on my suitcase – you know, the luggage tags people sometimes forget to remove and then get eye rolls from airline staff who resent having to remove them before putting on the new one. Want to see my report card from when I was 10 as well? No? OK, fine.
3. American Airlines can’t keep track of your connecting flight number
American Airlines seem to be sharing their IT system with British Airways nowadays. How else would you explain this weird blunder?
On my return leg of this latest awful journey (the one with the delayed flight on the way out), I got a mild case of anxiety, as the email I got from AA about my flights included the wrong flight number for my connecting BA flight. Not a codeshare number, which would have made sense, but actually the wrong number: they used my first flight’s number (AA’s) twice for both my flights.
When I got to Phoenix airport to catch my BA flight home, I couldn’t find the flight on the board / website using the number AA sent. This was stressful as it was a relatively short layover. Thankfully I found it by looking for flights going back to London. There was only one BA flight leaving at the right time. I went to that gate hoping that was the right flight, which thankfully it was or I could have been late for the real one. I wonder what would happen if an older, less experienced travel got an email like that? Surely this is a pretty basic thing for airlines to get right.
4. American Airlines can’t check you in to your connecting flight if it’s a BA flight
Another IT blunder from British Airways? I have no idea, but this sort of issue is not new, it seems. Even though BA and AA are airline partners, they have a tough time communicating and passing details to each other when you book a combination of BA and AA flights. I could not check in online to either of my flights when flying a combination of AA and BA flights from the US, nor could I save a seat on the BA flight.
As mentioned in the first part of this series BA’s website failing to check you in is pretty standard, though usually AA’s website lets me check into their flight at least, so this was particularly poor.
Annoyingly, American Airlines staff could not check me into my connecting BA flight at my origin airport either and I was told I’d need to have a boarding pass printed in my connection airport, during my short layover.
“Thankfully” anyone not already in possession of a BA-printed boarding pass had to do the same, so this time I managed to get a window seat (after arguing with their disaffected ground staff, of course, who first tried to put me in a middle seat out of laziness). Some of the other passengers had boarding passes that had been printed for them by AA, and were pretty upset when told they had to queue up again anyway, instead of, say, grabbing a drink or stretching their legs before their 10 hour flight. No apology was offered to any of us for this bizarre, pathetic failure.
I’m back travelling now and have a reason to be doing a lot more travel to the US. I’m also a member of AA’s frequent flyer programme, so could easily choose AA consistently for these flights, add to my existing airmiles and maybe aim for that coveted “status” that seems to be the minimum required for airlines to give a toss about you nowadays. That said, I will not be flying either AA or BA again, unless I absolutely have no other choice. I suggest you do the same if you want to get to your destination on time and without hassle.
I had a choice of several flights to get me to my destination in the US and in the end it came down to a choice of two. One was a similarly priced Virgin flight that would have had me waiting around at LAX for four hours for a connection to my final destination. Another was the flight I took, booked through American Airlines. I was naïve and thought I could make a two hour connection in Austin and reach my destination earlier for the same price, but BA screwed that up.
I have friends who fly business with BA and are generally happy with the service they get, but I shouldn’t have to pay £3000+ or fly 10 times a year to be treated as a human being by an airline. BA tickets are not cheap (as a friend says: low cost airline with a premium price tag). The ticket for the return journey I recently took cost well over £700, and BA cost me a day of my vacation, made me miss an event I literally travelled to attend, and left me, a solo female traveller, high and dry at a strange airport to fend for myself. This without even talking about their overall lack of customer service and dated website that make booking and flying with them a painful ordeal.
I’m still waiting to hear about my compensation claim from BA and expect to have to argue the toss, as the flight itself was only delayed by about two hours (my arrival at my destination was delayed by closer to one day, though, which still counts). I’m sure that with so many inconvenienced, irate passengers, BA will do anything in their power to shirk responsibility to avoid going out of business. Some of the reviews say people have been waiting for several months for compensation!
Meanwhile, I got sent a lengthy feedback form from BA (who obviously think passengers work for them and not the other way around), asking about my last flight with them. Lots of questions about the WiFi on the plane. I guess some executive somewhere is wondering why more people don’t pay the £5 for 10 minutes or whatever extortionate fee it is they charge. Maybe you should ask fewer questions about overpriced WiFi and more questions about your pathetic excuse for customer service? I did get to give lots of zero out of 10s, though, which felt better than the experience of actually flying with them.
BA / AA, not even once.