16-Hour Delay on My American Airlines Flight, with a Happy Ending

In the last two posts, I hinted at my frustration with American Airlines. But it’s nothing new. I had been a loyal customer for a number of years, averaging 100,000 to 150,000 miles a year. Am I a big spender? Probably not compared to other business travelers whose employers pay them to travel in Business or First Class — I travel on my dime.

In this series:

Initially, I planned to spend a day in Kathmandu shopping, start my return journey home on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong, and connect on to American Airlines flight to Dallas, then Washington D.C. — it was one of the biggest and most expensive trips I’ve ever taken. Despite many positioning flights I took, every single one of them went smoothly, except for the final one on American Airlines.

I got a notification on my phone that my flight has been delayed for 16 hours — not including the 9+ hour layover in Hong Kong I was originally booked on. So getting stuck in Hong Kong for over 25 hours — no thanks!

It ruined my lunch because now, instead of enjoying my meal and the shopping spree, I had to scramble around calling AA customer service to get rebooked on alternative flights. The problem was, it was a holiday season. Almost every single flight with First Class cabin was sold out. Since I was ticketed in First Class using Systemwide Upgrade, I wasn’t willing to take a voluntary downgrade to Business Class.

First Round of Calls: At the Restaurant in Kathmandu

My first several calls were “successful” — well, at least one of the agents I spoke to was willing to help, while others said the usual “There is nothing I can do”. Instead of flying through Dallas, I got rebooked through Los Angeles. The problem was that I still had to endure the 14-hour layover in Hong Kong, not to mention that the redeye flight from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. would be on a narrow body with standard recliner seats. If I routed through New York, I would be home a day later. Either way, neither options were great, but at least I secured the seats.

After lunch, I went out a bit to get my shopping done, and then return to my hotel and started looking at ExpertFlyer to see if there were better alternative flights.

Second Round of Calls: At the Hotel in Kathmandu

I saw Qatar Airways flights were departing in the evening before my Cathay Dragon flight. Qatar is part of Oneworld Alliance, so I thought I’d give it a shot because airlines are typically willing to accommodate during irregular operations.

I called AA again, and this time, it was a guy, and he didn’t sound very friendly. He was one of those “There is no availability” kind of agent — to give a context, these are agents who won’t even try, or willing to help. The easiest way for them is to say, “There is no availability”.

Since I have the inventory pulled up in front of me on ExpertFlyer, I guided him through, and he was finally willing to create a booking on Qatar Airways. Although Qatar doesn’t have First Class cabin, I thought a downgrade to “QSuite would still be much better than American Airlines First Class.

As he was putting the reservation together, I refreshed my AA page and noticed the reservation was being created. I was like, “Yasssss!” I was actually excited, even in Business Class, since I never tried QSuite!

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long. The agent said he couldn’t reissue the ticket — the system wouldn’t allow it. Despite multiple attempts to convince him to help me, he said no. I got me the usual “There is nothing I can do”.

Alright then — I guess I had to suck it up, book a hotel room in Hong Kong, and lose another day of work.

I finally made it back to the airport. Current itinerary: KTM-HKG-LAX-DCA. I saw Qatar Airways check-in counter was open, and for some reason, I was still curious. I thought I’d give another shot.

Third Round of Calls: At the Airport (KTM)

This time, the agent was very helpful! She said she could definitely rebook me on the Qatar Airways flight. But unfortunately, Business Class cabin was already sold out, and it was too close to cut off time for check-in. Should the previous agent be willing to help, I would have gotten the seat! Ugh!

You see how annoying it is. I honestly didn’t know precisely the business rule, but during irregular operations, agents are empowered to do whatever it takes (sometimes even if it’s not in the runbook) to provide a reasonable alternative.

Again, I was stuck with my current itinerary. I proceeded to the check-in desk to get my boarding pass — that’s when Cathay agent informed me that my ticket wasn’t valid. They couldn’t check me in on my American Airlines flight, which means they couldn’t issue an AA boarding pass and check my bag through. They advised me to check with the AA transfer desk in Hong Kong. Since I couldn’t check my bag, they let me take two cabin bags.

Fourth Round of Calls: At the Lounge (KTM)

In the back of my mind, I knew what the problem was — The ticket had never been reissued. I even gave another call at the lounge, and the agent assured me that I was good to go. So I finally decided to deal with it when I landed in Hong Kong.

I arrived in Hong Kong on my decent but restless flight, which I reviewed a few days ago. Suppose you are familiar with Hong Kong Airport. In that case, the arrival hall is on the lower level and completely separate from the departure lounge, unlike in some airports such as Kuala Lumpur International Airport. You have to either re-clear the security or clear immigration, go to the departure hall, and exit the country again. However, you can only do either option only if you have your onward boarding pass in hand — that’s the problem!

Fifth Round of Calls: At the Arrival Hall (HKG)

Relying on the free wifi, I tried to call AA customer service again. I spoke to several agents. Some tried to help, and some just kind of shrugged their shoulders. With no other alternative but sticking with the last booked flight via LAX, I would have to spend nearly 14 hours in Hong Kong. What’s worse, there wasn’t anyone at the transfer desk to assist with issuing the boarding pass!

After spending a couple of hours in the arrival hall, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I decided to clear customs and immigration, at least there will be some food at the main terminal because I was starving.

Moments later, I made it to the main terminal, hoping there would be someone at the check-in counter to help. There was no one there to help as the only scheduled upcoming flight would be mine, which was 7:55 pm — and it was only 10 am there!

At this point, I was exhausted, frustrated, and angry about how AA handled the situation.

Two hours passed, and there was still no one to help. I kept checking ExpertFlyer to see if any First Class inventory on Oneworld airlines opened up. All of a sudden, I saw a few First Class inventory opened up on several U.S. bound flights. At first, I thought I entered incorrect dates or city pairs. I reloaded the page, and sure enough, Cathay Pacific opened up first seats an hour before the departure!

Sixth Round of Calls: At the Main Terminal (HKG)

I quickly phoned up AA again. As usual, I got the “there is nothing I can do” agent. She even said I would have to accept voluntary downgrade. I knew where this was going, so I just hung up and called back.

Final Round of Calls: At the Main Terminal (HKG)

Finally, the last agent was super helpful. He listened to my frustration and quickly understood and took the necessary action to resolve it. I fed him the route and availability of the flight I was looking at, and then he put my on hold for a few minutes while he was working on getting me rebooked.

Minutes later, he returned and informed me that I had been rebooked on CX884 HKG-LAX in First Class, with less than two-hour connection in Los Angeles, and 46 minutes in Dallas. The new itinerary got me home even earlier than the original flight!

I checked-in, got my boarding pass, and breezed through the immigration. With 10 minutes to spare, I stopped by the Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge for a quick shower.

Fifteen minutes later, I made it to my suite 1D.


The entire ordeal was extremely exhausting and frustrating. American Airlines does have excellent employees, while others simply don’t care. In the end, it all worked out. I am glad and thankful that I made it home safe and sound. I wish I got the names of the few agents I spoke to because they went above and beyond and deserved recognition.

Despite the drama, it was a happy ending!



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