To redeem a paper voucher on American Airlines, you must call the airline's 1-800 number, where — on one day last week — you might wait 50 minutes for an agent to answer.
When she picked up, you would explain your situation. You cancelled a refundable ticket last year, and wanted to use it to pay for another trip. The cheery agent would take your information, ask which flight you wanted to book, and issue a new confirmation number.
But it did not end there.
She would then spend a minute giving instructions. You would mail the voucher to an address in Pensacola, Florida, including a paper with your name, date of travel, and flight number. On the envelope, under your return address, you would write your travel date. That information would help American decide how quickly to open your mail. And while American was saving space on your preferred flight, it would not ticket the reservation until a human processed the paperwork.
You then learned you someday would do this again. Because you hadn't used the entire voucher, you discovered American would mail you a new one with the residual amount. Redeeming it would require the same process.
This happened to me last week. I'm a sophisticated traveler and even I was shocked at this time warp to 1985. How can American still rely on paper vouchers?
I called American to find out. I learned American uses electronic vouchers for customer service issues — if, for example, your business class seat is broken, it might give you a certificate you can redeem online — but for most ticket exchanges, paper is still used. Travelers can, in some cases, have credit returned to the original form of payment, but I hadn't selected that option.
I asked American spokesman Ross Feinstein why this is such a time-intensive process. Most other airlines now have electronic vouchers. I learned American would like to copy its competitors, but since its merger with US Airways in 2013, the world's largest airline has prioritized other IT projects. It just recently started allowing customers to rebook themselves on the mobile app during irregular operations — functionality Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have had for a long time.
"We know this is not a great experience for customers," Feinstein said. "This is on a priority list to get done. We plan to focus on it in 2018."
Are you surprised American still uses paper? Do you think this is a disservice to customers? And how time-consuming do you think this process is for American employees?
Let me know your thoughts by sending me an email — firstname.lastname@example.org — or a tweet. I'm @briansumers