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American Airlines Slammed for "Bad" New Upgrade Policy

The change follows pilots' approval of a new four-year contract .

Airline policies are constantly changing, bringing about regular updates to passengers' booking and boarding experiences. Southwest was the latest to make waves last week with updates to its EarlyBird Check-In and same-day standby policies. Frontier landed in hot water as well, thanks to a new lawsuit regarding its All You Can Fly Pass. Now, American Airlines is entering the fray, with a new upgrade policy it's instating. Read on to find out why the airline is making the change, and why some say it's "bad for customers."

RELATED: Travelers Are Boycotting Southwest Over Boarding Change.

American Airlines pilots recently reached a new agreement.

pilots walking through terminal
YIUCHEUNG / Shutterstock

According to View From the Wing, American Airlines passengers may not see as many upgrades as they have in the past.

The carrier's pilots recently approved a new four-year contract, which ups their pay, but also gives them an advantage when they're deadheading—that is, when they're traveling with the airline as a passenger to get somewhere between segments they're working.

One Mile at a Time gave the example of a pilot who is based in Charlotte and needs to start his trip flying out of Dallas. He would then deadhead on a flight from Charlotte to Dallas. This process is different from commuting, which occurs when a pilot has to travel to the airport that they're based out of.

As One Mile at a Time explained, pilots commute by choice—if they decide to live outside of where they're based—while deadheading is typically part of their "trips" while working.

And when it comes to the seats they get on these flights, American Airlines pilots will soon have earlier access to upgrades.

RELATED: Delta and American Are Cutting Flights to 5 Major Cities, Starting Next Month.

Pilots will be given upgrades before elite members.

crowded american airlines flight
Samuel Ponce / Shutterstock

According to One Mile at a Time, pilots who deadhead are assigned the "highest class of service" for transoceanic international flights, flights to Hawaii and Alaska, and flights that are south of the equator. However, for other routes, they're assigned to general economy seating.

Where this starts to affect customers is when it comes to upgrades. If first-class seats are available within 24 hours of departure, the new contract says deadheading pilots originally assigned to economy will be at the top of the list to get them.

Prior to this agreement, American Airlines elite members—like Concierge Key and Executive Platinum members—were at the very top of that list. Pilots actually had to wait until all members had the opportunity to upgrade before they were bumped up to first class.

According to View From the Wing, "It's a union bargained perk, for better quality of life at work." The outlet noted that when contacted for a statement, American directed them to a press release confirming the new contract.

"Today is a really great day for our pilots and airline," American's CEO Robert Isom said in the release. "This agreement will help American immediately expand our pilot training capacity to support under-utilized aircraft and future flying and provide our pilots with more opportunities to progress in their careers."

Best Life reached out to American Airlines for comment, but has yet to hear back.

RELATED: American Is Cutting Flights to 5 Major Cities, Starting Oct. 29.

The change was met with some criticism.

In response to the news on X, user @CXjuggernaut criticized the change, writing, "Good for pilots, bad for customers. Of course, most frequent fliers will tell you upgrades are now few & far between."

In the comment section of One Mile at a Time's article, another frustrated flyer wrote, "They are treating their employees better than their customers? There should be a win win situation not one where the customers look or feel as if they are not treated well."

Others criticized American's loyalty program in general.

"The whole loyalty program has become hollow," a comment on View From the Wing's article reads. The traveler listed changes they've observed, including "useless standby lists" and quicker expiration of miles and points.

The customer added, "Feel like I'm chasing my tail so [airline] employees can rub my nose in it!"

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Others voiced their support for the change.

pilot flying plane
Sunshine Seeds / Shutterstock

In terms of benefits, View From the Wing noted that the change "promotes well-rested pilots." In first class, they get to enjoy more comfortable seating and relax, which is something several travelers supported.

"Put me in the category of people who are not bothered by this. It will be a small number of flights," a commenter wrote in response to the View From the Wing article. "And almost every flight leaves with someone who was next on the upgrade list. As others have said, just buy the [first class] ticket and then you have zero worries."

In response to One Mile at a Time's take, another wrote, "Flying is [exhausting] even though you are just sitting. Pilots need to be upgraded because they have to work once they arrive and need to be rested for the safety of their next flights."

In fact, one commenter said that this should apply to flight attendants as well, while someone else simply wrote, "Not sure how anyone could be against this [to be honest]."

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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