American Airlines Stranded Passengers

FILE- In this March 12, 2018, file photo, operations proceed outside the American Airlines facility at LaGuardia Airport in New York. A new policy at American Airlines could leave more coach passengers stranded after delays or canceled flights. The airline is telling agents to avoid rebooking economy customers on other airlines, with a few exceptions like people flying to a wedding. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

DALLAS (AP) — American Airlines is telling employees to think twice before rebooking stranded customers on rival airlines, and regular economy-class passengers are the most likely to suffer when there are long delays or canceled flights.

A new policy at American directs airport agents not to rebook economy passengers on competing airlines — with no stated limit on how long they must wait for a seat on another American flight. A manager can make exceptions in a few cases, such as people flying to a wedding or funeral and those who would be stranded overnight with no hotel room.

Agents can still put economy passengers on American’s international partner airlines, but that won’t help customers flying within the U.S.

By contrast, American told agents in late September to help the airline’s best customers get to their destinations quickly, even if it means putting them on Delta or United.

Elite-level members of American’s frequent-flyer program and people who bought a first-class or business-class ticket can be booked on another airline if they face a delay of at least five hours — or sooner for the highest level of elite customers.

The policy highlights the growing divide between airlines’ best customers and everyone else. It also shows how, for many travelers, flying on the biggest airlines is becoming more like taking a discount airline, with cramped planes, fewer perks and more extra fees.

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