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I'm looking at a few different business class itineraries on the American Airlines Website and all of them are flagged with a warning

The class of service you searched may not be available on one or more flights

For this route (ORD->BOG) the warning shows up on every single option regardless of date or routing.

There are plenty of seats available on all legs and I can even select them, but the warning still carries through the booking process.

  • Why is this warning displayed ? What's the purpose?
  • How can one tell (without having to check seats) whether business is available or not?
  • Does this warning give AA the right to downgrade me later if they feel like it ?

Edit based on comments

  • I'm searching on AA.com
  • The warning is displayed for ALL routings and ALL dates
  • Plenty of business class seats available on all legs
  • Specific example below. ORD->BOG one way, business/first, Dec 8 (see below)

What's confusing here is the word "may". What's that supposed to mean? Either it's available for booking or not.

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    Are you searching directly on aa.com? I couldn't reproduce this message, but i would assume that it relates to US domestic legs, since the US carriers still have the scheme Economy/First Class instead of the usual Economy/Business/First Class (except for some premium routes). So if you specifically search for Business class, it's technically not available on domestic legs, but you will be seated in the First Class seats there.
    – dunni
    Jul 31 at 11:30
  • Does it show up as actual business on all legs? This type of message usually means that you can get business on one flight (usually the international/long haul segment), but not on another flight (usually shorter domestic ones which don’t have 3-class service). Depending on the airline, site or booking engine, it may provide a higher (first) or lower (coach) class of service on flights where there’s no business class. You should be able to find the information at time of booking (Google Flights shows it, doesn’t seem obvious on the mobile version of aa.com)
    – jcaron
    Jul 31 at 11:32
  • You say “Plenty of business class seats available on all legs” then “business/first”. It’s not business on all flights… The trigger for the warning must be simplified to “at least one leg is not business” and not have an ordering of first > business > premium > coach (contrary to the booking engine itself). As long as they sell you a specific class of service of each flight, you should be able to trust that (barring of course the usual last-minute operational issues with the intended plane replaced with another, but that’s completely independent of the message IMHO).
    – jcaron
    Jul 31 at 21:38
  • @jacorn: maybe. I tried the search with economy and still got the warning on every single flight. To be precise: AA doesn't let your search just for "economy". The only choices are "show all" and "business/first". So it gives the warning before you have even chosen a class.
    – Hilmar
    Aug 1 at 1:34
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Why is this warning displayed ? What's the purpose?

The message says exactly what it means: a seat in the requested class may not available on one or more legs of the flight. The cabin may be sold out, or more likely, a cabin is not available on one or more segments because the aircraft assigned does not have it.

When you search for flights, you are arguably searching for fares, rather than a particular seat. You can buy a business class fare, but if the aircraft you are on does not have a business class cabin, then you will receive alternative accommodations, and provided it is the regularly scheduled aircraft, you would not receive any compensation for it.

After all, like its competitors, American Airlines offers multiple types of business class on different routes (Flagship Business International, Flagship Business Transcontinental, and short-haul international Business), and does not guarantee you will get any particular product even when there is a business class cabin. More generally, what a business class (or premium economy or business-first or whatever) product consists of in general is a matter of marketing, rather than any kind of regulated standard. On the domestic segments, you would most likely be seated in the domestic first class cabin.

For flights within North America, as with flights within Europe, it's relatively rare to find airliners with three or more classes of service; most people (or more to the point, their employers) will not pay for premium service on shorter flights. In Europe you generally have economy and intra-Europe business class. In North America you have economy and domestic first class, as is the case with AA's 737-800 (seat map 1, seat map 2) and A319 (seat map 1), and two of the three A321 layouts (seat map 1, seat map 2). I do not know if any aircraft using the third A321 layout are deployed on South American routes.

How can one tell (without having to check seats) whether business is available or not?

You can't, unfortunately. You need to check the scheduled aircraft type against what is reported at places like SeatGuru. You can search by aircraft type/model, but even then, you can't always tell which cabin configuration the aircraft will have, especially as cabin upgrades are rolled out as aircraft are cycled in and out of service. And of course, there can always be last-minute substitutions.

This is why there have been so many FlyerTalk threads asking about specific tail numbers and the routes where they are deployed and chancing about whether someone will get the newest seat or pod or entertainment system. (For what it's worth, there isn't a reliable way to search by aircraft registration either.)

Does this warning give AA the right to downgrade me later if they feel like it ?

It depends on what you mean by "downgrade." If an international business class cabin is not present on the aircraft, but a domestic first class cabin is, you'd likely be booked into domestic first. If you are on a regional jet that doesn't have any premium cabins (I think only American Eagle Embraer-145s are still configured as all-coach), then you would be assigned a seat in economy. This is not a downgrade in technical terms, though it may feel like it.

I remember scoring an upgrade to business class on a United LAX-IAD flight a few years back. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, however, and presumably to increase capacity, they swapped out the 3-class 767-300 for a larger 2-class 777-200, and I was seated in crummy old domestic first, with the domestic first seat and domestic first meal. First World problems and all that. Still, it was a good lesson about managing expectations.

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    Excellent answer! Concerning your point about regional jets, I wouldn't expect that to apply to the OP if they're flying ORD-MIA-BOG or ORD-JFK-BOG. But it's good to include that information for other folks who might come across this answer at a future date. Aug 2 at 16:01
  • @MichaelSeifert Thanks. I was remembering the bad old days of Ted, and some poor guy complaining about his paid F fare only getting him into Economy Plus on the way to Orlando, and thinking a maniac who pays F fares on United might be in need of an intervention.
    – choster
    Aug 2 at 17:41

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