There’s no airline with more potential to be better than it is today than American Airlines. That’s been true at least since US Airways management took over nearly a decade ago.
However they’ve lacked a clear mission and that’s led to employee confusion, are they competing with low cost carriers or Delta? Are they trying to deliver a premium experience or a basic economy one?
With their high costs, they need to earn a revenue premium in order to generate a profit, but they’ve been reluctant to make investments that would help to deliver the premium product.
As a frequent customer, with Executive Platinum status for over a decade and even briefly a ConciergeKey member, I’ve observed many of the pain points at the airline – many of which could be improved at low cost, or are bare minimum investments they need to make to remain competitive and continue generating revenue. So in the interests of helping American to deliver both a better and more profitable product, I share 12 realistic ways they can improve the customer experience.
- Roll out their new Admirals Club template.. rapidly. Actually make the capital investment. So far we have only the Washington National E concourse club, and it’s gorgeous. We’re supposed to get Denver, Newark and Austin (though Austin was announced in 2021 no work has started, and though no further official word has come out I’ve assumed it’ll change locations to the West Gate Expansion project which won’t complete until end of 2026).
- Add digital capabilities, but really. Vasu Raja says by the end of the year American will offer a 100% digital experience, but I do not believe this is true. We should be able to process mileage and systemwide upgrades online, no need to speak to reservations. Partner awards should actually be searchable online and the truth is partner inventory often doesn’t come up even when it’s available.
Award travel should be ticketed instantly, too, like at many other airlines – at American you can wait over a day to get a ticket issued, and you never know whether something was set up incorrectly forcing the reservation to fall out of the ticketing queue. You call back, agents just say “oh, they’re really backed up, just keep waiting” but you should always call back if it’s been two days – I’ve never seen an award ticket itself after more than two days – and agents are always wrong about this.
- More premium seats. Boeing 777-300ERs and Boeing 787-9s are going to go more premium heavy, but US Airways management selected a paltry 20 business class seats for 787-8s and actually took business seats out of 777-200s. You often can’t buy a business seat. And domestically the Airbus A319 just doesn’t have enough, and is often on premium routes with sold out (paid) forward cabins days before departure.
- Revamped credit cards. The Citi Executive card was alright when it launched, but it’s been a dozen years and competitor products have passed it by. Sadly surveys I’ve seen have them considering making it worse, raising the fee and making authorized user card access more costly, while relying on third party merchant-funded style offers to appear more attractive. Meanwhile earning Loyalty Points (credit towards status) creates a reason to spend on the cards, but they’re otherwise low-earn products that have taken away trip delay and similar protections so you get penalized for actually putting American Airlines airfare spend on their cards when things go wrong with American Airlines.
- Fix the smaller narrowbody fleets. The Airbus A319s need the same bigger overhead bins that 737s and Airbus A321s have. The old legacy US Airways A320s have had virtually nothing done to them and are in desperate need of an interior refresh. It may be an open question whether these stay around, but that’s been the case for years.
- Better wifi in regional jets. There was a time that you couldn’t do satellite internet in a large Embraer 175, so you had to accept air-to-ground (Gogo’s “Slo-Go”). That’s no longer true. In fact regional jets with 50 or fewer seats can have satellite wifi now, while American’s have none. I book away from these flights, and book away from American if I have to, in order to avoid hours of unproductive time in the air.
- Reduced price internet and re-consider seat back entertainment. Delta and JetBlue don’t charge for internet. American views JetBlue as a ‘seamless partner’. Other airlines hover around $8 for internet, while American can charge $20 per flight. Their internet is good, but not better than Delta’s, and others will catch up. They’re just charging more than competitors for a similar product.
Meanwhile it may have been defensible to go without seatback entertainment back when (1) wired entertainment was a huge cost (they can stream wirelessly to the screens now) and (2) United was ditching screens too, and they could forfeit the premium end of the market to Delta – but now even United is adding screens back in leaving American alongside Southwest.
- Lounge food. Selling food from vending machines in the lounge is just sad (and the vending machines often don’t work, along with the coffee machines). Delta and United both have more robust food offerings compared to American. There’s no excuse for this, especially when American’s guacamole and avocado toast efforts have even been funded by Mastercard rather than coming out of their own pocket.
Credit where it’s due, though, the baklava now available in some clubs is sinfully good.
- Offer competitive lifetime elite program. Delta lets you earn up to lifetime Diamond, United lets you earn lifetime Global Services. United gives your partner the same status as you when you’re a lifetime elite. In contrast American AAdvantage tops out at lifetime Platinum, their second of four public tiers. And while status-earning is based on Loyalty Points (miles from most source) lifetime is still based on miles flown.
It’s hard in a way for American because up until a dozen years ago, all miles earned counted towards lifetime – all card spend, all initial bonuses even – so they people not just with 3, 4 million miles but with 70 million lifetime miles and more. So what do you do?
- Take current lifetime miles earning and add loyalty points to it, make it twenty times or even twenty five times the qualifying level for a tier to earn that level of lifetime status. Say lifetime Executive Platinum at 5 million points.
- And if the model shows too big of an elite pool, impose a second criteria that you need to have earned a level 10 times before getting that level for life. E.g. 1 million points and 10 years of Gold or higher for lifetime Gold; 2 million points and 10 years of Platinum or higher for lifetime Platinum; 3 million points and 10 years of Platinum Pro or higher for lifetime Platinum Pro; 5 million points and 10 years of Executive Platinum or ConciergeKey for lifetime Executive Platinum. Then really drive value to the program with lifetime ConciergeKey at 8 million points (double United’s number for Global Services, but the points can be easier to earn).
- Better standby and same day confirmed change policy. American has the most hubs and biggest domestic network, but customers can’t use it. In order to make a confirmed same day change to get home earlier, you have to keep the same number of connections (no switching from a connecting itinerary to non-stop or vice versa) and you have to connect through the same hubs. Routing changes aren’t allowed, but that often means there aren’t flights you’re eligible to change to. There may be open seats that would get you home early, but you can’t use the flights because they’d connect you through a different city. No other major airline is as restrictive.
- Stop selling unrealistic connections. 25 minute minimum connecting times in Phoenix are unrealistic – a 10 minute delay and passengers start blowing connections. The next flight is boarding when they land even when their inbound aircraft is on time, and the airport is more sprawling than many expect. Charlotte is overscheduled, not just for the terminal facility (at peak times you can barely move down the concourse) but also for the taxiways, and it’s not uncommon to sit and wait on arrival.
In a sense I’m actually torn about this – I know what connections are risky to book and I prefer having the option to book them (or not)! But for the median passenger these connections too often end up in a bad experience – a missed connection, standing by for a later fight that’s already full, and missed events on the other end.
- Allow CLEAR in terminals they control. Delta and United own stakes in CLEAR, which uses biometrics to identify passengers and expedites airport security. American, which doesn’t own a piece of the company, won’t allow it to operate in terminals that they control. There’s no CLEAR in the American Airlines terminals in Miami, New York JFK, Charlotte, Chicago O’Hare or Dallas for instance.
American would argue that this isn’t a long-term solution to security challenges, and they aren’t wrong, but CLEAR benefits travelers now and should be allowed to operate in the short-term rather than passengers being denied the option and forced to wait for a better future (which may never come). The airline could actually earn money allowing CLEAR to operate.
I’d love a bigger international route network, but American retired their Boeing 757s, 767s, and Airbus A330s. Japan Airlines doesn’t get them enough Asia, and not every European city should be reached through Heathrow. But those are bigger asks than I’d make here.
And if I had my druthers American would promise never to serve a turkey sandwich again in first class, and restore meals to competitive ‘exception markets’ shorter premium routes. There are just fewer flights that offer meal service today, and in many cases the meals aren’t as good still as pre-pandemic let alone pre-merger (even if their food has been better than Delta’s and United’s). I also wish first class legroom wasn’t so tight in the airline’s new configuration. They don’t seem like they’re trying anymore for the premium business (I don’t recall how long it’s been since I was offered a mint in first class, let alone a blanket or pillow).
However here I’m focused on clearly smart business decisions that are wins for the customer. Nicer lounges and better lounge food would sell more credit cards, and also keep American competitive with Delta and United. Upgrading their co-brand cards with bank partners, keeping up with the competition, is crucial for their profitability. Bigger overhead bins in the smaller narrowbodies contribute to on-time performance (avoiding time wastes of gate checking bags) plus they’ve already made the investment in most of the fleet.
So I think it makes sense to prioritize items like these. What would be on your list?
I recall flying from CLT-BNA last year, and sitting on my seat in F, as a hand written note, thanking me for being EXP- this has only happened once, and I found it odd, yet it was honestly a nice surprise.
( Unexpected, of course )
As long as there is Delta, who needs American or United?
I never agree with Gary but for once we can agree on something. This is a comprehensive list and it’s a good one. AA has tremendous potential. Only adjustment I’d make is about inflight entertainment. I don’t think seat back entertainment should be prioritized. I fly United and only half the plane uses it at best. What a waste of money. Times have changed. The technology is always changing.
As an aside, I just flew AA from MSY-DFW…no food/drink service, not even water. Really???
I’ll start with one that should not be as hard as you indicated (but probably is)
not every European city should be reached through Heathrow. But those are bigger asks than I’d make here
Madrid is part of the same group (IAG) so why can’t AA’s ticketing system bring up that option more than it does. Iberia has decent flights throughout Europe.
As far as lifetime status is concerned any idea why AA is considering? Personally like your lifetime status ideas to add discriminators like years as an EP or CK if that allows them the ability to offer the expanded status. Had to look up the status benefits again to see what goes away when I lose EP status. Know that one thing I’ll miss when that comes is group 1 boarding (which I did not see on the list of status benefits for an EP). I suspect that status based multiplier change is what drives former EP and CK’s to consider becoming a free agent. Not so much actual loss in miles or loyalty points (presumably they are former status royalty) but the loss of the multiplier makes trying elsewhere less impactful.
@Jeff Winter —> Presented in the FWIW Mode: I have status with AS, and through that am oneworld Sapphire. When I book European trips using AS miles, Iberia used to come up far more frequently, but (it seems to me) that has shifted recently to bring up BA more often, and LHR. One example, I was “scouting” business class tix to Paris via the AS website and every option was BA via LHR except for a couple of flights on Finnair via Helsinki. Iberia didn’t show up once.
AA will need a plan to retrofit at least all their existing Dreamliners to match the new cabin they teased. If UA got criticized for inconsistent cabins, then so should AA. I’m in fact more lenient than what UA faced becauseI do not expect them to retrofit older planes (like A320s and 772s)