American Airlines truly annoyed passengers. Then it made things worse

When your systems are said to be melting down, it's best not to overhype tech you think customers will like. Especially if it isn't all that, after all.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

It may have taken off 12 hours late. But, hey, 30 minutes of TikTok.

Screenshot by ZDNet

It's been uglier than a blobfish after one too many pints of lager.

Attempting to fly around America recently -- on more than one local airline -- has been akin to volunteering to eat only Cheetos in a windowless room for 10 consecutive days.

The champion, perhaps, has been Spirit Airlines, which seems to have undergone a painful implosion.

In the same explosive discussion, however, is American Airlines. It's canceled hundreds of flights. It's claimed the weather has been severe in its inclemency. It's created thousands of unhappy customers. And that's just on Twitter.

I know this because one wrote: "After being diverted to OKC, my brother (and rest of the passengers) SAT ON THE PLANE for 12 hrs with NO food & no explanation! Flight finally made it to DFW to find not a single employee working. No idea of where bags are or how to get to his final destination. WTF @AmericanAir."

And that was famed presidential associate Stormy Daniels.

I also know things were really bad because someone else opined: "You can't blame the weather on everything. The system is collapsing on the passengers, gate agents, and pilots."

This system, this person said, is "antiquated." And anyone with awareness of hardware and software systems will likely know that antiquation is not a good characteristic.

The person revealing the alleged system failures was Dennis Tajer, spokesman for American Airlines' pilots union. You'd think he might know something about what's happening.

At times like this, it's worth focusing entirely on mollifying your customers, telling them how you might offer them compensation, even promising that you'll introduce new systems that will make things better in the future.

Less wise, perhaps, is crowing about something that is -- for some -- marginally exciting and then the fine print reveals that it's not so exciting at all. (Which some might describe the airline ticket-buying experience over the last 18 months.)

You see, in the midst of the mayhem, the tears, the promises never to fly American Airlines again, the airline offered a press release last Monday.

Its headline clutched at excitement with the tightness of a man who's slipped over a cliff and is being held from the depths by our movie's hero: "American Airlines Takes TikTok to New Heights with Free Inflight Access for Customers."

The subhead made it even better: "Only on American."

Wow, I hear at least three of you cry. This is good. This is cool. This is, well, something. And the kids all love TikTok, right?

This was my initial reaction too. Sadly, I made the error of reading further.

First, there was the quite large proviso that the free TikTok would only be available on narrowbody planes equipped with Viasat Wi-Fi.

My optimism narrowed, but still throbbed for those passengers who are on such planes and appreciate what American calls "an entertainment platform powered by a global community of creatives." (And there you were thinking TikTok was just a lot of questionable dancing videos and exposés of bad conditions in fast-food restaurants.)

But then I read the painfully defining print. This exciting offer actually gives you a mere 30 minutes of free TikTok. After that, you have to pay for the wifi which, as so many travelers have learned, costs actual money.

It's understandable that this is a promotion. I fear, however, it feels like a promotion that tries to get kids to pester their parents to pay for wifi. Because who can go to TikTok and only stay for half an hour?

Perhaps in more pleasant flying times, such an announcement may have earned a ripple of favor. Sometimes, though, it's worth withholding your excessive excitement -- and your press release -- until your customers stop screaming at you for wrecking their trips, their last nerves, and costing them, in some cases, a lot of money.

A lot of wonderful people work for American. Many, especially gate agents and flight attendants, are having to deal with hellbound passengers every day. Many say it's far worse than it's ever been. To then undergo entirely uncooperative weather and computer systems seems the height of cruelty.

So I wonder how many, over the last week, encountered passengers delightedly thanking them for 30 minutes of free TikTok.

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