American Airlines – Worst sign-in experience ever

You would think major corporations would have had enough time to make their sites easy to use and navigable by now. United Airlines has gone through several do-overs since their merger with Continental and now has a very well-designed, comprehensive, and easy to use site. Southwest has had a decent site for years. But American Airlines in another story, at least being able to enter it.

My interaction with American Airline’s website this past week was like a trip down a rabbit hole: frustrating at every turn.  I encountered one of the most ridiculous security walls when I needed to sign in.  It was so bad, it actually makes me contemplate avoiding using the airline again to avoid such nonsense. And I speak as a million-miler flyer and lifetime Gold card holder that once was loyal to the airline.

It all began when my wife asked me to check to see how many miles we had in our account, accrued from our American Airlines Visa card and some recent code-shared trips on partner airlines. I went to sign on to my account from my computer, when I was informed that my Advantage number or password were incorrect and warned me that trying five more times would lock me out permanently.

I tried once more with another password and that too failed. So I clicked on the request that you see on most sites to reset my password.  Instead of emailing me a reset link to my email address that I’ve used for probably 30 years and is well known by the airline, I received a request to answer three personal questions. Now these questions and answers were set up perhaps a decade ago and never used since then: Name my first car, the city where I met my wife and the street where I lived when I was five. I entered all three answers, but got a message saying my answers were wrong. So, I tried a variation on where I lived and again notice I was wrong along with a warning that I would be locked out.  Most other sites would offer another way to identify myself, such as a phone number or social security number, if relying on my email was insufficient.

Being presented with the same three questions time after time was not going to work, so my only choice was to call. OK, not the easiest solution, but a quick phone call might help get me past this barrier.

When I called, I got a recording telling me the wait would be 35-49 minutes, but I could have them call me back if I pressed a button, which I did. I marveled at how precise they were about my expected wait time.

So, I put my frustrations on hold for a bit and waited for a call back. 55 minutes later I received that call. It was a recording telling me to hold on for an agent. So, I held, and held, while they played the most discordant music I ever heard, made even worse over the cellphone’s speaker. The music continued for   another 25 minutes before I was finally connected to a real person.  Twenty-five minutes! When I explained my problem, she almost scolded me for not knowing the answers and curtly asked me to recite the answers to the questions to her, which I did. And she told me one of those was incorrect, scolding me once more, much like a grade school teacher.

Which one is wrong, I asked? Could you tell me? She said the street name where I lived when I was five was incorrect and, thankfully, told me the correct answer.  But that was not enough. I had to recall the last posting of mileage to my account, my mailing address and when I last flew with the airline. I had to remember which of my recent flights were American partners, but guessed and was correct.  I asked her whether that means she can now send me a reset link for my password. She answered no, you’ll need to go to the site and start all over again, make the request for a new password, answer the same three questions on the site, and then wait for a link to be sent to get a new password.

I went back to the site and entered my name and wrong password again in order to get the pop up window asking if I  wanted a new password. When I said I did, up came the window asking for the three answers. This time I got them right and a few minutes later I received the link to reset – two hours after I began.

I finally was able to reset my password and sign into my account. But after all this, I have an aversion to avoid the site, even when it comes to making a reservation. Being treated as if I’m a criminal rather than a lifelong customer is not the way a company should treat its customers. There are better ways to deal with a forgotten password.

What American and other companies should be aware of, is that every touchpoint they have with their customers is an opportunity to create a good or an bad experience, regardless of the nature of the transaction. And American has failed to engender any loyalty or goodwill in this instance. The two touchpoints, the website and the curt customer service representative with demanding rules will forever be remembered along with the near hour and half to reach a live person. But then again, I’m only a lifetime Gold member and not Platinum. I suppose Platinum members get the polite representatives.


by Phil Baker