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American Airlines just lost a customer

So, I recently decided to visit family and friends in bay area for the Thanksgiving holiday. I usually fly American Airlines and mostly book my travel on one of their portals called The interface is a little hard to navigate and is not as intuitive and pleasing to the eye as some of their competitor’s but you usually end up with money saving deals, so I do not mind a little walkabout on that website.


I located the flight search form and input travel information like time and date of flight etc and hit the search button. Unexpectedly, I encountered a message that declared “No flights were found”. The exact message and a screen shot is attached below (Image 1).


Being in a hurry to be in time for a meeting and not wanting to be further frustrated, I found another travel site and booked my travel.


Incidentally, later in the day, I was planning for a business travel and went to the American Airways website again. I entered the required information. Lo and behold, the same message appeared as before. Now I know this is not a functionality issue. I have booked on their website exactly the same way before many times and it works. I tried different destination, dates, originations etc. None seem to work this time.


I kicked the tires some more by selecting flight only, hotel only, hotel + car only and other options available on the drop down on the website’s booking page. Interestingly, all other options worked except the option where you can select Flight, Hotel and a car. This ruled out my suspicion that may be, just maybe they do not have a hotel or a car to offer with the flight.


Really? If that were true there would be severe supply shortage of rental cars at American airports!


Perhaps this is an application error. May be their IT moved a code that broke the search function. As far as I am concerned this could also be a data quality issue. Look closer at the screenshot I attached. On the right hand side you will see a message saying “No flights found”. This is just not true, when you search for the flights only option, you do find a bunch of flights! So there is a type mismatch between whatever the issue is and the message they are conveying to the customer. It gets even more interesting (or frustrating, depending which way you look at it) – there is yet another button on lower-right side of screen that says “Start Over”. Guess what, clicking on that button does not start you over; instead it leads to another cryptic, completely meaningless message that I have shown in screen shot # 2 below.


This whole experience boils down to this – American airlines may just have lost a pretty regular customer who brings additional revenue in fees by booking not only the flight but also the hotel and a car. I don’t know how many other users experienced this, but it may be several hundred if not thousands. And even if a fraction of them decide to defect to another provider, it would represent a significant revenue loss for the company.


What is the moral of this story – I work with customers on data quality improvement initiatives and constantly look out for instances where poor quality hits where it hurts most – for most companies it is the revenue loss, or lack of good will with their customer.  When one hears about data quality, they tend to think it is an internal IT matter that will take care of itself over time, or someone will someday come along and FIX it! On the contrary, with the even big (ger) data, data quality is not only not being fixed, it is also leaving the corporate firewalls and seeping into the interaction your customers have with your products. I just demonstrated a real life example where lack of quality leads to frustration and a sub-optimal customer experience. This is entirely avoidable by implementing a robust, and comprehensive approach to how your applications create, use and manage data.


Though the problem at hand is a difficult one, there are solutions out there. We will continue this discussion and take a look at some of these solutions in next installments of this blog.


So long until then! 






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  • You can not book a seat in their application.  They are all full.  When asked why – it was becuase they may have plane changes.  I don’t know about you, but I like to know I have a seat.  I’m really glad I don’t book directly from Delta.  🙂


    • Michelle,

      I have had the problem you described occasionally. Most of the time they let you choose a seat once you book. Are you part of their frequent flyer program? If you logon to AA website you can change/pick seats.


      • Yes, I am.   And I do get a seat via our travel agency.  It’s just another example of data in the system driving customer service.

        Thank you for letting me know!


        • Absolutely Michelle. I am glad I am not the only one experiencing this 🙂 If enough customers speak up, I am sure that would motivate them to take some positive action.


        • Absolutely Michelle. I am glad I am not the only one experiencing this 🙂 If enough customers speak up, I am sure that would motivate them to take some positive action.


  • Why did you post this as a blog here on SCN and not as a customer complaint to AA?

    If this blog is meant for showing that data quality is useful I’m missing some more information related to SAP …


    • Tobias,

      As a data quality practitioner I like to share my experiences with other professionals in this field. Data quality issues can affect any platform, including SAP.


      • Then don’t write it as a customer complaint.

        So: how can a company running SAP make it better? Where is adding SAP benefit and the little extra?

        (And how do you know that it wasn’t just a web site error or that the server you were connected to wasn’t the error?)

        • Yes – the debate is on!

          How can running SAP make it better?  Well I couldn’t make their system better.  Running SAP?  Do they?  I have no idea.  But I sure can relate when the data is wrong in the system. 

          In SAP we are tracing a “BUG” to fix.  I also remember when we first installed SAP and lost a few customers.  It took a long time to build that trust back up.

          Web site error?  For my example, it wasn’t.  I called customer service.

          Maybe the blog could have been written differently.  But I think the message would have been the same!

          A simple one:
          “Bad Data can cause Major Issues”  including loss of customers.


          • These are some great points to consider. However, bit too early to conclude that running SAP will automatically translate to better application quality. As I noted before, data quality is independent of your technical platform. It does not matter if you run SAP, Oracle or  this and that. You would have data issues and bugs even when you run SAP. Bottom line – if you have a lot of people interacting with a lot of data, you would end up with some form of quality issues.

            You can overcome the bad quality by adopting  a techno-functional approach to these issues. You treat it like any other quality improvement/quality assurance project. Start by defining what is broken or needs improvements,  Initiate a 360 degree assessment of your organization’s data quality woes. Go gather a project team. Install mechanisms of validation and verification via business and functional rules. Rinse and repeat.


      • Excellent – a good debate!  I love those.  Data Quality issues.   I think everyone has a data glitch every now and then.  Your example highlights a “BIG” data glitch.  It shows just how important it is to get the data correct even on a simple booking application.

        Actually my example did go to the customer service.  Hence, I knew that the problem was plane sizing and would be resolved at sometime.  It’s an interesting parallel to what we do day to day.  We have some known bugs.  We have a help desk.  They tell the customer about the bug, and that it will be fixed.  The customer works around it.  In our case, the customer can’t go anywhere… WAIT – they can move data to Excel and other apps to get what they want.

        I found it interesting – Comments Tobias?  Or maybe you already have, I saw some e-mails pop up as I was slowly typing. 

        You know I like a debate and I’m sure Harmeet does as well.