American Airlines is taking some heat after an internal memo leaked telling employees that their first priority during delays or cancellations should be to get elite passengers to their destinations, even if it means using a competing airline, but economy passengers shouldn’t get that option.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline said it issued the memo because the policy, which it described as similar to the rebooking stance of some other carriers, had not been made clear to airport staff and was being executed inconsistently.

“It’s important to note that it is the same policy as other airlines,” American Airlines spokesman Curtis Blessing said.

However, bloggers have complained that American’s move is more in line with discount carriers than with large airlines and further separates elite fliers from everyone else.

Most major airlines have “interline agreements,” which outline how much rival airlines will pay one another to fly a competitor’s passengers in the case of flight delays or cancellations. To avoid writing a check to a competitor, an airline will rebook a passenger on a rival carrier only as a last option. Discount carriers don’t usually have such agreements.

American Airlines’ memo said first priority is to rebook elite members of American Airlines’ AAdvantage program and business-class and first-class passengers. The memo spells out the priority order, with Concierge Key status members at the top.

Fliers in economy or basic economy seats, are at the bottom of the priority list and will not be flown on competitor airlines, the memo said.

Tribune News Service