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Jim Goldman Headshot

The 'Un'American Way?

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I'm writing this from an overly crowded bus taking me from American Airlines' "remote terminal" back to the main terminal at LAX. I wish I could say I was coming in from some place exotic to warrant this far off drop-off point, but Austin, Texas hardly qualifies.

It should have been an easy terminal-to-terminal trip. Instead, as we were taxiing, the attendant came on the overhead to tell us that construction has limited the gate availability and we are being forced to park far, far away.

Tonight though, my surprising, 20-minute bus ride following, extra-long taxi time and an excruciatingly long couple of days of work merely punctuates the sad decline -- and my increasing frustration -- with American Airlines. I've almost 2 million lifetime miles with these guys and I travel a fair amount, but the last few months have unfortunately -- and deeply -- tested my loyalty.

Maybe I'm being a brat. Entirely possible. But this all started a few months ago when my American Express Platinum card no longer afforded me "free" access to the AA Admirals' Club, an absolute oasis for busy travelers looking for any edge to recharge. It was the single most important perk to me that justified the $450 annual membership fee. With the USAirways acquisition, American decided to dispense with this perk and offer it to a new crop of Citibank Platinum card holders instead.

Also, most first class travel on American in the U.S. no longer qualifies you for Admirals' Club entry either.

And, over the past few weeks, American has quietly instituted a new policy for main cabin seat upgrades. Yes, there are "upgrades" within the main cabin, and better seats will now add another $50 each way to the already ludicrous $840 roundtrip airfare I'm paying. (Some aisles cost more, bulkheads, seats toward the front of the cabin that have a couple of extra legroom inches, that kind of thing.)

Keep in mind that prior to April 8, if you had any kind of status, you were given those main cabin seat upgrades for free, certainly a nice perk, because you were valuable to the airline. Now, even if you're Gold level‎ (traveling a minimum of 25,000 miles a year on American), American expects you to cough up at least half the cost of those seat upgrades. Funny how something so expensive can feel so cheap, and in the worst possible way.

Sure, the new USAir routes are nice, connecting through Phoenix as one example, providing a few more options. But ultimately to cover the costs associated with this deal, American may be striking a more expensive bargain than it counted on: Tapping the wallets of its most loyal clientele.

Where's the communication? Where is the open letter to its most valued customers? The op-ed about changing times and the need for these adjustments to policies we'd all gotten used to and so appreciated (it's the little things, right?) A blog post informally, candidly sharing what went into the decision in the first place? It's just good business. And it could've been good PR.

True, American hasn't gone the route of charging for blankets and overhead space (yet?), but it's becoming "that." Rather than compete with Delta and United Airlines -- and offer a real "service" alternative -- or strive to be customer-service-oriented like JetBlue, Southwest and Alaska Airlines, American is making these small, yucky, incremental changes and building walls instead of bridges; reaching deeper into its customers' wallets without bothering to reach out along the way.

It's a shame that American seems to be squandering what should be one of its most valued assets: The loyalty of its most valued customers. I tried, American. For over 1.7 million miles, I tried. So disappointing. What a shame.

Oh, and just how long was this bus ride? We're just coming up on Gate 45 at the main terminal, forcing an end to this rant. #Frustrated. Good night.