Here is an open letter to American Airlines about multiple system failures we found on a recent trip. I hope this letter is helpful, fun and… actionable! Please let’s work together to make flying better in the 21st century. I still have a lot of the world left to see!!!
Dear Mr. Isom,
Hello, I am Su Wang Entriken and I go out of my way to fly with American, often at extra expense, and I hope you can please go out of your way to address an ongoing issue with American, specifically related to international flights with international customers.
Why are there redactions in an open letter? Well I’m also sending them those extra details in a private letter.
My account number is
REDACTED, I have been flying with American for 10+ years and am currently at Platinum Pro status. I have been married for almost ten years, my birth name is Su Wang and I am Chinese, living in Philadelphia. Living here permanently, with my husband, we have two daughters (also just took their first flight at 4 and 1 years old, an American code share!) After my latest trip I now fear flying international with your company in the future. Please allow me to share this story with you along with advice to correct this preventable issue. Although this is a simple fix, it requires attention from you, at your level in the company, and I hope this letter is welcome.
This story regards my booking (
REDACTED ITINERARY CODES), originally scheduled to fly PHL > MIA > EZE flying AA 900 and AA 2987 departing Friday 2023-07-14 with my husband William Entriken (
REDACTED ACCOUNT CODE). American had rescheduled my flight to the following day Saturday 2023-07-15 and this story begins at the ticketing counter in PHL that Saturday.
My husband and I entered the priority ticketing lane and spoke with the attendant there to check in for our flight. He inspected our documents including for the domestic segment departing PHL and also for the international segment (including my Argentina visa, and return flight) for entering Argentina. My flight was ticketed with PNR in my name Su Wang Entriken, as always.
I had all the correct and proper documents. This includes my passport and my Argentina visa. My birth name is Su Wang. And on page 2 of my passport it shows my “also known as” name of Su Wang Entriken, which is my married name. My Su Wang Entriken name is legally recognized in the United States (i.e. it is on my Pennsylvania driver’s license, USA permanent resident card “green card”, and is how I file taxes to the IRS). My Su Wang Entriken name is also recognized in China, as signified by the “also known as” name endorsement on my passport, shown below.
Photo page (first page of passport)
Observations page (second page of passport)
In China (and much of the East) it is not customary for a woman to change her name after marriage. Authorities in China and other places understand this custom in the West, and do have the official process of adding the “also known as”.
The observation photographed above reads:
The name of the bearer of this passport is also spelled/written as ENTRIKEN, SU WANG.
You are probably reading this letter in an office. On plain reading of this sentence, I expect that you can probably understand that China recognizes SU WANG ENTRIKEN as one of my names. I have also flown in and out of the US dozens of times since my marriage under this name (often on American) and every time customs agents have acknowledged this name. However I understand that your staff on the ground are maybe in a more stressful environment than you right now and can have difficulty reading and interpreting one new sentence written on an official document. (A note on tone: this is written with sympathy and not sarcasm.)
After I showed him all the required documentation including the observation page, the agent, Dennis, identified my documentation as a problem and said “the system can’t take it”. It is apparent that Dennis was not trained on married women/name changes. He proceeded to call the “AA help desk”. Dennis waited on hold for 20 minutes to connect this call. Another staff agent on site, a woman, after thoughtful review on her own, identified that I had ticketed everything properly and she recommended the ticketing proceed as-is. After consultation between Dennis, this other staff member, and the “AA help desk”, the general consensus was that probably nobody will get in trouble if I am allowed to board the flight. This took us all another 15 minutes and he printed our tickets.
During our PHL > MIA segment, midair, the AA app notified me that there will be a problem connecting onward so my husband and I used the app and clicked the orange suggestion to change to a different MIA > EZE segment. However, we could not get boarding passes using the app. Please do not be distracted by this specific deficiency. I have tabulated this and other preventable issues into an appendix. Frankly, that page can be sent to and handled by somebody at a lower level than you. The focus of this letter is the larger issue that makes me and people like me afraid to fly American, please read on.
After landing at MIA, we ran to the new flight’s gate. And the attendant there informed us that we must verify our travel documents for this international flight. When reviewing my passport, observation page, and green card, she explained that the system “will not accept” this and she “cannot let [me] board” with this ticket and needed to call a manager. Our conversation was friendly and I explained how Dennis already cleared our travel documents. This attendant did not rely on Dennis’s assessment because “he was only concerned about checking us in at PHL for a domestic flight” and she explained that American will be fined if I am allowed to land with this ticket for “Su Wang Entriken”. We began this discussion before the flight started boarding. Ultimately, they held the flight from leaving so William and I could be the last to board, and they made a quick fix before boarding us. This required the attention of me, my husband, and four American staff for 30 minutes each. American staff proposed these possible solutions at various times:
Guess which one of these was the biggest affront and caused my husband to invest so much time helping with this letter.
- Book separate tickets outbound (Su Wang) and inbound (Su Wang Entriken) for all my international flights going forward using different names.
- Perform alternating name changes before I board each leg of my flights.
- Change to a US passport (i.e. give up my Chinese citizenship).
- Change my name on my Chinese passport (i.e. convince President Xi Jinping to change the country’s policy on how citizens are named).
- Give up my legal married name.
Upon entering the United States, it is necessary for me, and people like me with permanent residency and a married name, to have a ticket issued with PNR in my legal name which is Su Wang Entriken. I’m not sure if this is the official policy, but at least it was my experience.
The quick fix was that they changed the name on my ticket from Su Wang Entriken to Su Wang without confirming with me. The attendant and the “AA help desk” explained (I overheard) that later it will be necessary for me to call again to change the name back before my return flight otherwise I cannot return to the USA. Of course, the correct action is that my ticket should be, and originally was, made in the name of “Su Wang Entriken” and American staff should recognize this swiftly without assistance, or at a minimum after I point out the “also known as” page in my passport.
The end result for this trip is my husband and I made it to Argentina safely. And then I required several more hours to fix this situation with American so that I could return home to USA.
Because of this sudden, concerted misunderstanding among American staff at multiple levels and in multiple physical locations, it is my understanding that all or some of my flights in the future will also have these problems—hours of delays, potentially missed flights, and hours of additional phone calls after each flight. I fly frequently internationally (in business class) with American and now I fear booking these flights with your company in the future.
There is a simple remedy here, I respectfully request from you.
You could write me a letter, on letterhead, personally signed, and with your cell phone number, which you commit to answer 24/7 when I travel. Although with all due respect, I think your authority on this letter would not be recognized by American field agents. Alas, some things that work in the military (my husband tells me) just don’t work in corporate America.
Even if you were to train all relevant staff on this issue (which should be done), I cannot verify they were properly trained, now and continually for new staff in the future, and thus it would not address my fear. It does not allow me to take control and have agency in the solution when this undoubtedly happens again.
A better solution, which addresses my fear and fixes the issue for me as well as others in my situation is if you can please publish a web page explaining how American staff are to handle this situation in future. I understand that it is not typical for a company to publish actionable policy directives for staff on a customer-facing website. Please, let’s look forward for 21st century solutions here. I have included such a draft web page that you can use and also explain the salient requirements of this page in case your staff should like to deviate from my exact proposal. This is included by enclosure.
I hope you find my letter to be constructive and please take this corrective action. We have put considerable effort into this letter, a cold call, to the CEO of a large company that I frequently use. But even this is less than the many hours wasted on this trip by preventable issues with American and the continual hours we expect to be wasted each time I fly internationally with your company.
Su Wang Entriken & William Entriken
- Draft proposed webpage/service policy
- Additional actionable notes
Pull request everything, lol
Appendix A—proposed web page
Salient required features of this page.
- This page should clearly explain that a passenger ticketed for a flight may board that flight if the passenger presents with acceptable identification. It should explain that for passport identification, a name may be presented on the photo page of passport or on an official “also known as” endorsement on the passport.
- This page should be published or hotlinked at a short, easy-to-remember URL. Some day it will be necessary for me to remember, speak aloud, and some support agent, to hear and type, this URL.
- This page should be indexed on Google on a publicly available web page.
- This page should include, somewhere, exactly the words and phrases “married,” “married name, “boarding,” “gate,” “check-in,” “ticketing,” “also known as,” “woman,” “women,” “nee,” “name,” “passport”, “endorsement,” “observation.” This is necessary so that somebody searching with these words using Google can find this page.
- This page should include as specific and helpful a reference as possible so that a ticketing agent can confirm, with information already available to them, that this is a true and effective policy. I.e. don’t make them tie up manager/”AA help desk” resources to act on what they are reading.
- This page should be minimally succinct, showing American branding, the required information and the other requirements above. An agent on the ground will be very busy, joyfully staring at queues of people that need help. So any extra words on the page which distract from the mission risk a costly error that will cost many people many unnecessary hours of effort.
Appendix B—other improvements
Over the course of my itinerary I encountered several preventable issues that American can address in various situations. Frankly, these do not specifically require the direct attention of the CEO and so I have moved them to an appendix. These will measurably reduce expenses and increase revenues. Please find below specific issues and recommendations, and do with them what you will.
- At the time our itinerary was changed unilaterally by American from Friday 2023-07-14 to Saturday 2023-07-15 we were already en route to PHL airport with our driver. The American app offered us to cancel this itinerary, or select a later date on the same route. The American app should have, but did not, provide additional flight options to arrive earlier such as the PHL > DFW > EZE route on the same day.
- When calling the AAAdvantage [sic] Platinum Desk, and inputting/confirming my AAdvantage number with the computer, I did not receive expedited priority in the support queue, and estimated wait times were 1.5 hours, which is longer than the car ride from PHL to my house. American should, but did not, provide priority queuing for members with higher member status when they call any American support phone number and provide their AAdvantage number. Or, if this is higher priority queuing then lord have mercy on the people that queue without priority.
- The website https://ssc.aa.com/siebel/aaedocsENU/aae_servicedeskinfo.htm should, but does not, properly spell AAdvantage each time on the page.
- All phone numbers on the American website should, but do not, use “tel:” hyperlinking so that they are clickable to make a phone call.
- At the PHL American business priority ticketing area, the staff did not demonstrate a level of experience or friendliness that is typical of other American ticketing areas or other airline’s ticketing areas. Priority ticketing areas should, but did not, utilize staff which are the most preferable of the available staff.
- At the Philadelphia American business priority ticketing area, and several other locations, the staff did not demonstrate an understanding of how to handle passports with an “also known as” observation. Staff should, but did not, demonstrate an understanding of travel documents from persons with married names legally recognized on passports (applies to staff at ticketing area in PHL & MIA, managers to MIA, and “AA help desk”).
- At the PHL American business priority ticketing area, the staff did attempt to call the internal “AA help desk”. This call required 20+ minutes to connect. The “AA help desk” should, but did not, have staffing available to support operations as required in the field. And calls placed from the priority ticketing area should, but did not, receive expedited priority for answering calls. Or, if this is higher priority queuing then lord have mercy on the other ticketing staff that queue without priority.
- The support agent Dennis indicated that “the computer won’t let me do this” when reviewing travel documents for boarding with an “also known as” name. However after speaking for an extended time with the “AA help desk” and without the “AA help desk” providing an override authorization code or (from my understanding) intervening in the booking Dennis printed our boarding passes. This contradicted his previous statement. Support agents should not, but did, make inaccurate statements about what a computer is and is not able to do.
- At all the support areas (ticketing, business lounge, at the gate) we visited, American staff are using computers with a monitor facing the support staff which is not visible to the customer. This indicates that the interaction is negotiable at the whim of the staff, it is unclear whether staff are unwilling or unable to help. This reduces customer faith in American staff and places American staff and customers literally in a position of negotiation rather than collaboration. All interactions with customers involving a computer should, but did not, have the computer screen equally visible to the customer and agent. Please redesign these interactions, be bold, think about the future.
- During our PHL > MIA flight, midair, we changed the second leg of our trip (the MIA > EZE leg). This switch was from the MIA > EZE AA 907 flight to the MIA > EZE AA 931 flight later that same day. These flights are from the same origin to the same destination on the same day for the same passengers. The American app prevented me and my husband from proceeding to retrieve boarding documents and selecting seats and we were required to reverify travel documents at the MIA boarding gate. When a passenger has a boarding pass for an international flight (i.e. documents are already verified) and then that reservation is modified to a different flight with the same origin/destination/similar date of travel, then the new reservation should, but did not, automatically mark as documents verified.
- At the MIA boarding gate, the staff failed when attempting to call a manager (much later one randomly did show up). American should, but did not, have managers on-duty to assist staff when called (maybe even “shared” managers not necessarily dedicated to that location).
- In MIA, when boarding our second leg of the flight, a boarding gate agent was processing our travel documents. We asked them about the status of our checked bag, originally destined for Argentina but through the earlier AA 907 flight. The agent used non-verbal communication which your accountant might use if you asked them to remodel your house. This indicated that American flights and bags are handled by different groups of people, possibly even people so far apart as to live on different planets. All customer support agents should, but did not, have authority to inquire/handle all common aspects of passenger flight, including checked baggage.
- In MIA, the “AA help desk”, in consultation with a boarding gate agent, modified my reservation’s name from Su Wang Entriken to Su Wang, without my permission. Staff made much ado about not charging me a fee for this change. At this time my ticket was no longer associated with my AAdvantage account. And therefore my flight did not accumulate AAdvantage miles on my account. Agents which perform a name change for a ticketed passenger where that ticket and passenger have an AAdvantage account attached to the ticket should, but did not, have and use an option to keep the ticket on that account for accumulating miles. (Use of such option should probably also kick off some manager exception review as well.)
- In MIA, when the “AA help desk”, in consultation with a boarding gate agent, was reviewing the applicable policies for my travel documents they were speaking on the phone. The boarding gate agent explained the situation and the “AA help desk” provided consultation. I had felt that I could better explain one aspect of the situation to the “AA help desk” in addition to how the agent articulated it. I asked the agent if I may address the “AA help desk” directly, the agent asked the “AA help desk” the same and the help desk replied “I prefer not, this is an internal line”. American “AA help desk” staff should, but did not, invite direct conversations with passengers. This is especially true in PHL and MIA where I observed that no manager was available within 30 minutes of a request, and therefore the “AA help desk” is the de facto manager. This is also especially true when American staff are using computers with a monitor facing the support staff which is not visible to the customer, indicating an adversarial posture, and the agent is not sufficiently empowered to help the passenger. This is because the passenger will not know the agent is insufficiently equipped and could blame them personally.
- In MIA, when the “AA help desk”, in consultation with a boarding gate agent, modified my reservation’s name to Su Wang, all parties involved understood that it will be necessary for me after landing to change the name on my ticket back to my correct legal name, Su Wang Entriken, in order for me to return back to USA. (Because that is my full legal name, which is on my passport, and my permanent residency documentation “green card” inspected by the US Department of Homeland Security upon arrival in USA.) These agents did not offer, and refused when requested, to schedule and perform that action. They advised that I must initiate such action on my own. (I did later make such a call which required three hours of waiting and interaction.) This is “eye-to-eye” service, which means service ends when you break eye-to-eye contact. Which is a like an a used car “parking lot warranty” which ends when your car leaves the parking lot. Agents should, but did not, have/use an ability to commit American to follow-up service for an incident and provide a tracking number for such follow-up service.
- I checked my luggage at PHL “all the way” for flight through PHL > MIA > EZE. Then during our PHL > MIA flight, midair, we changed the second leg of our trip (the MIA > EZE leg) on recommendation from the American app to a later MIA > EZE flight. We landed and made the new flight. (And at no relevant time was that new flight rebooked/modified by anybody.) At the time the plane touched ground in MIA, American staff touched my checked bag and at that time it was or should have been knowable to that staff where the bag needs to go. When the flight landed, American staff should have, but did not, forward our bag to the correct onward flight. However, American’s action here may have been correct if it was American’s understanding that I was not cleared for that flight.
- Our bag was checked at PHL “all the way” through MIA to EZE. At some point shortly after we arrived in MIA, American staff must have handled the bag. At all times when a bag is scanned, if the passenger ticket system shows that the passenger owning that bag had already boarded an onward flight, and that bag was not on that onward flight, an email notification should, but did not, immediately trigger to inform the passenger. And also conversely at the time a flight departs (cabin doors closed, i.e. exit not permitted) but the bag tracking system indicates that all passengers bags are not on that flight, an email notification should, but did not, immediately trigger to inform those affected passengers. Apparently, this may require faster-than-light communication across planets, an exercise left to the reader.
- After landing in EZE, I visited the luggage claim agent to track my luggage. At that time the agent identified that the luggage was in MIA and was already scheduled to be sent to EZE with no further action required by me to get that bag to EZE. This means, logically, that somebody or some system at American identified my bag in MIA and decided to send my bag to EZE, presumably during the time I was midair flying MIA > EZE. At the time that a bag is found and American staff/systems decide to move that bag, an email should, but did not, immediately trigger to notify that passenger of same.
- After landing in EZE and speaking with the luggage claim agent to track my luggage, and learning from the agent that my bag will be forwarded to EZE, I checked the American “Track your bags” website to look up the bag. This website indicated only that my bag was “unloaded from MIA”. However it did not indicate the additional information available to the baggage claim agent (whether explicit information because she saw it on her screen that, again, I could not see or whether implicit information because she is a smart woman with experience in her job). Either way, the “Track your bags” website should, but did not, inform passengers of all available details when a bag does not arrive with a passenger.
- After landing in EZE, at the advice of MIA boarding gate staff and “AA help desk”, I needed to call American advantage support to change my ticketed name back to Su Wang Entriken. I needed this resolved right away and I had a busy week ahead in Argentina especially with no luggage and one less day. Upon calling AAdvantage customer support, I was given the option of waiting (“35–45 minutes”) or requesting a call back, I selected option 3 to wait on hold. After about 2 hours on hold with no end in sight, I had other business to attend to. With great fear, I pressed 1 (the original option to request a call back) and then star (*) and then pound (#) and then all the other phone buttons. I was afraid because pressing a button might cause a call to drop and reset my place in queue. All American phone systems which require customers to wait on hold should support next available and scheduled call backs (I assume this is already the case). When a customer chooses to hold on the line, these phone systems should, but did not, periodically offer to switch to a next available or scheduled call back. And also they should, but did not, repeat this advice if any button is pressed while waiting on hold.
I am a passenger with Platinum Pro status, and I am a Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select World EliteTM Mastercard® cardmember (using that card for this reservation), flying on a basic economy fare ticket, purchased with a companion (husband) also with a basic economy fare ticket. The American marketing web pages explain that in this situation my husband (“travel [and life] companion”) is eligible for ticket upgrade:
- My basic economy ticket is “Eligible for upgrades”, and I am “exempt from certain restrictions,” including “Upgrade privileges”. This ticket counts as “Main Cabin” fare. Source: https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/experience/seats/basic-economy.jsp
- My eligible upgrade applies “From any eligible purchased, published fare in the Main Cabin or Premium Economy to the next class of service (Business or domestic First)”. Source: https://www.aa.com/i18n/aadvantage-program/miles/redeem/award-travel/complimentary-upgrades.jsp
- My companion’s eligibility for upgrades is specified as “With 1 companion on the same flight”. And this advertisement does not mention any restriction for my companion’s ticket fare (e.g. basic economy) that would limit this benefit. Neither on the two pages referenced above, nor on a separate terms and conditions at https://www.aa.com/i18n/aadvantage-program/aadvantage-terms-and-conditions.jsp
During my ticketing at PHL, and at the American business lounges in PHL and MIA, staff confirmed that I was eligible for and received a complimentary upgrade (thank you!) However they denied to upgrade my husband citing a policy that “basic economy tickets are not eligible”. American staff should, but did not, grant the full AAdvantage program benefits advertised publicly by American. Or alternatively, the AAdvantage program benefit advertisements should be, but have not been, reduced to reflect any effective and undisclosed restrictions.
- I am a Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select World EliteTM Mastercard® cardmember. When traveling in Buenos Aires, I used this credit card to pay for dinner with my husband. The credit card processing fee/currency conversion fee for this dinner was over USD 200 for a dinner which cost approximately that same amount when paying in the local currency (ARS). In other words, the AAdvantage card charged me approximately 100% [sic] in fees on top of the price of my purchase. My husband’s credit card which is the Chase Amazon Prime credit card in the same scenario only charges approximately 10% in fees. I understand that Argentina has an unstable economy, which is why it is necessary to compare American’s credit card versus another competing credit card. In this experience, having been charged these fees, one does not feel “advantaged,” “selected,” “elite,” or “platinum” nor are they prepared for “world” travel. A credit card branded by American and offered to higher-status AAdvantage customers for world travel should, but did not, avoid exorbitant fees on travel purchases. Or if American will not avoid exorbitant fees then American should, but did not, notify passengers that are AAdvantage cardmembers that are ticketed for travel to Argentina that exorbitant fees will apply.
I hope this letter is helpful, fun and… actionable! Please let’s work together to make flying better in the 21st century. I still have a lot of the world left to see!!!
Reading circle questions
- What is the best outcome you ever had from writing a letter?
- Based on your experience with American, what do you think is the most likely outcome of this letter?
- Do you also have a married/also-known-as name?
Discuss and share this topic anywhere. May we recommend:
- There is no official Twitter thread yet. Hit me up and I will make one.
- Please let me know any other good media coverage I should link here.
- Talk with me live every Tuesday 6pm (New York) at Community Service Hour.