American Airlines cracking down again: this time on travel agents

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Gary Leff at View from the Wing reports on an American Airlines memo shared by Twitter account JonNYC that indicates that American Airlines is expanding upon their mission to discourage customers from getting the best possible deal for themselves by warning travel agents not to issue “hidden city” tickets or those that they otherwise perceive to be against their terms and conditions. On the one hand, a pandemic that has more or less wrecked the air travel business seems like poor timing for American to dig its feet in the sand in positioning the airline’s customers as adversaries, but this stance isn’t particularly surprising for anyone who has followed along with AA news over the past year or two.

American of course previously shut down many loyalty accounts without notice (and in many cases mid-trip, cancelling return tickets during peak holiday travel) just over a year ago when they decided that some members had abused their generous credit card offers. It’s not worth rehashing that debacle but to say that while some folks surely knew that they were playing with the matchbook if not the fire itself, others got caught up in shut downs for what seemed like relatively minor offenses despite being otherwise good customers.

In the latest memo, American makes it clear to travel agents that they are instituting automated systems to catch those who book “hidden city tickets” (a practice where a customer books an itinerary from A to B to C and simply gets off the plane in City B because it is cheaper than a direct A-to-B ticket) and other similar techniques for reducing airfare. They further note that they will add remarks to the reservation, presumably with the intent of confronting the passenger at the airport.

On the one hand, the airline will argue that these types of behaviors are against their contract of carriage. There is no doubt that pricing airfare is a complex endeavor, but what an odd industry it is in that airlines can sell you a ticket and then dictate that you must use the whole thing or none of it. Imagine if you ordered a large soda at McDonald’s and they told you that you need to consume the whole thing or else they’re going to have to charge you more for consuming less than you paid for — and then they had someone checking the garbage can at the door to make sure you didn’t have any soda in that cup you threw away.

But this is the reality of airline ticketing. If you engage in practices that the airline doesn’t like, they may take action against you (there have even been reports of American demanding to be compensated for their “losses” by some serial hidden city ticketers). With this notice going out to travel agents, I imagine that the airline will also make an effort to deter repeat agents from offending again.

As before, I don’t imagine that doing this once or twice is likely to draw much attention, but those who regularly engage in this type of behavior should probably reconsider whether they want the potential hassle here should they do it with American Airlines.

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