There Are 2 Things American Airlines Wants Its Flight Attendants to Do

American Airlines sends out surveys to about 12% of passengers after their flights, and they get a 10% response rate — or about 90,000 surveys back each month. That way they can compare their performance month-over-month.

To compare their performance against other airlines they use metrics from JD Power and Airs@t.

According to American’s presentation of JD Power data, passengers like flight crews of Southwest, JetBlue, and Alaska best. Delta slots in behind Alaska. And American and United bring up the bottom. Those results have been consist year after year.

According to American’s analysis there are (2) things that drive satisfation scores in premium cabins.

  1. Flight attendant serves a predeparture beverage
  2. Flight attendant addresses passenger by name

If flight attendants don’t do either one, scores really plummet.

Shockingly American says customers report receiving predeparture beverages 86% of the time today. My own experience it’s less than 20%. And American wouldn’t be sending this out to flight attendants if they believed that number.

A couple of years ago American was reminding flight attendants about the importance of predeparture beverages.

But they were talking out of both sides of their mouth, reminding flight attendants that on-time departures are more important, at American D0 is always an excuse for not completing customer service tasks even including upgrades.

And while there are many fantastic crew members at American, I’ve been inundated with comments from flight attendants who hate the company and hate their customers. They claim:

  • They aren’t being paid until the door closes, so why should they do ‘extra’ work before then?

  • ‘Entitled’ customers don’t deserve it. They pay for the seat and get the seat, flight attendants are there for safety.

  • They’re often mis-catered and that eats up time they could have served beverages.

There are great crew, and crew who will do the opposite of whatever management asks them to do. And there’s really no process in place to change that.

And ultimately I think the focus on predeparture beverages and customer recognition by name as action steps miss the point. Great crews do things things, poor crews do not. So whether or not these happens is a proxy for a whole lot of other things they do, and overall attitude throughout the flight.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve been noticing an uptick in pre-departure beverages on American domestic first over the past few weeks. Lately they’ve been offering a tray of water, orange juice or “champagne.” Even though the quality of the sparkling wine is poor and it’s served in plastic cups, proactively offering it makes the service feel more premium. I hope this is the new normal!

  2. I’m an EXP who travels mostly domestic. I would sum up my observations of AA’s pre-departure beverages this way:

    1) PDB happens less then 50% on mainline
    2) When PDB is offered on mainline it’s typically juice or water offered – no choices
    3) I typically receive PDB on regional partners 90% of the time
    4) When I am offered PDB on regional partners it’s 100% of the time with my choice of beverages
    5) I flew DL in First a couple of weeks ago on a full flight for the first time in a long time (sample size of 1). With 1 FA working the cabin of 16 (and 1 FA controlling entry at the door to enable it) all passengers were offered their choice of PDB.

    I find it tough to come away from all of this with anything other than the conclusion that AA mainline FAs do not see this as a part of their job, and even when they feel compelled to do it they are ‘phoning it in’ with OJ and water trays – with no passenger choice.

    This is an important aspect of the service. It does give frequent customers pause when considering is it worth maintaining business with American. If you consider a trip in isolation where you purchase an F seat on AA or DL, then the answer is not AA. If you are a frequent traveler then in the short term the answer may be yes – until you can figure out how to unshackle yourself from AA.

    This needs to fixed – at the core cultural level of the airline.

  3. As another EXP flying domestic, I notice a very low rate of PDB. This past Friday, it occurred twice, surprisingly. Some airports seem worse than others. PDB out of ORD rarely happen (except on regionals at times). And when they do, it is water or oj choice on a tray. I cannot recall getting a choice out of ORD. And the crazy thing is there usually is plenty of time for the crew to do so. Perhaps the ORD crews particularly buy into the idea of “we don’t get paid til the door closes so why bother.”

  4. Wow, all this concern for 5% of the passengers. No wonder the airlines are clueless. Back in steerage we’re just happy to physically get into a seat and find a space for our carry-on. We BYO because we know airlines are incompetent.
    In steerage we are just self loading freight hoping to get to our destination within the scheduled hour of arrival same as most premium cabin flyers who just have a shorter walk to their seats.

  5. Very interesting ! In my experience, DL is by far the best at PDB , and also provides a small water bottle. I find that UA is fair with PDB but a number of UA flights seem to resort to the easy PDB of water or water and juice. I My experience with AA is I either get offered the drink of my choice or nothing. Had a recent ORD-BWI flight on a S80 – boarded on time , no offer of PDB BUT superb service in the air. As always , YMMV.

  6. Ive never once been denied when they bring the tray of water oj n sparkling wine asking and getting the pdb of my choice.
    I think FAs do the tray because they are lazy and know that 90% of people are sheeps and wont buck the system.
    Just like a fee years ago 20/20 or one of those showd did a series on how people will do anything someone with percieved power tells them. They put someone in a security guard uniform on so back road on the boarder of texas n new mexico. That person flagged down every car and told them Texas is closed today come back tomorrow. All but one person turned around… Sheep.

  7. I find that the large majority of the times I am offered PDB’s are with former US crews. On former AA flights/crews, it is more 50/50, and when offered it is usually the tray of OJ and water cups.

    Regional flights I am almost always offered PDB of my choice.

  8. It’s (still) the tale of two airlines.

    Legacy US I’m like 95%+ PDB of choice – full bar open. Sometimes even refills. The only time or two they’ve missed one has been a PHL based crew. CLT and PHX crews are usually excellent despite the fact they’re working in those terrible LUS 321s without power or IFE

    Legacy AA is really hit or miss. Dallas crews tend to be better than others – but I’d say 25% I get the full PDB like LUS, 50% I get what I call the LAAzy PDB of orange juice or water and 25% nothing.

    Even when flights are full and delayed DL manages a full PDB. And caters mini Dasani bottles, pillow, and blanket at every seat. If AA is serious about monetizing first class they’re going to have to get these basics right.

  9. I’ve been reading about the AA PDB more and more. Its amazing to me how the airlines have small differences. On United I’ve never not been given a PDB. If if things are running late they will offer the standard water/juice.

  10. I guess I’m an outlier. I couldn’t care less if I get a PDB, I can wait 15 minutes till the flight is aloft to get served and 1 alcoholic drink on the flight is my limit. And I actually prefer if they don’t use my name. They don’t know me, they usually mispronounce my last name and it is clearly a contrived customization.

  11. @Johhny, if it were 15 minutes, it would matter less. But F boards 30 minutes before departure. Then comes the taxi out, and at a busy hub airport, a queue for takeoff which may add another 30 minutes between gate departure and wheels up. Then the climb out before service begins, and then the time to get served, especially if you’re in the last row of F. I’d say it’s not uncommon to have 90 minutes elapse between boarding and the first in-air drink.

    But I agree with you, I’m indifferent whether the FA uses my name.

  12. Definitely concur regarding usually getting the PDB from the legacy US crews vs. the legacy AA crews. Softens the blow of having to ride in those awful pmUS 321s without power or seatback entertainment for us PHL folks. I always thought US worked to get you a little more sloshed than the other airlines so you’d forget you had no power, no entertainment, and usually no real food.

  13. I never understood why F always boards first. You sit there for 30 minutes watching the peons shuffle into steerage, glaring at you as they pass by. (Except of course if you are on fleet type with dual entrances, in which case you are shielded from this indignity.)

    If the F folks are the super-busy important people they all claim to be then why would they not board last? After all, arriving early does not get you to your destination any sooner. Can someone explain the reasoning behind this?

  14. F boards first so they have access to overhead bin space (coach passengers don’t take it all before they board) and so they don’t stand in a clogged jetway.

    Delta puts signs in their first class overhead bins that say they’re for first class passengers only.

    American says they have plans to do this, along with for main cabin extra, when they begin to designate it as a separate product/cabin rather than just an extra charge seat.

  15. American Airlines is mean to its employees and the employees take it out on the passengers. They have the worst on-time record in the industry, at least among U.S.-owned carriers. The first five times I flew AA, all to foreign countries, my bags didn’t make it on four of those. I will NOT fly AA, even if they offer me a free ticket anywhere.

  16. I fail to see why drinks are so important. Even on really short flights, airlines seem to think that a drink makes up for all their other shortcomings. Cleaner, newer planes, more comfortable seating, a domestic “first class” that’s better than international premium economy class…those are important things that will drive my satisfaction scores up.

  17. I received my first upgrade (I am a lowly Gold) in years last Saturday, flying DFW-SAN. Actually got the boarding pass at CDG, so it had cleared well in advance. The FA offered PDB’s, but she didn’t to hang up my coat until the sweet lady sitting next to me (she was on supplemental oxygen) reminded her. She didn’t bring it back before landing, but someone was nice enough to take it down and forward it along. I thought she was just a bit off her game. Nobody was addressed by name. She was based in Charlotte, so probably legacy US. Probably worked all day was just tired.

    It’s okay. I had the best chocolate chip cookie I have had in a while, and she was generous with the vin rouge.

    The A321 has less leg room in first class than the 787-9 has in MCE. I could cross my legs on the latter but not on the former. I would be happy if I never flew on another Airbus.

    I got a survey request after we got to Paris, but I didn’t complete it in time. There were lots of Paris things that seemed more important. 🙂

  18. Interesting – I am evidently an outlier. AA EXP here.

    I couldn’t care less about PDBs – I drink water, and carry a water bottle with me at all times when flying.

    I don’t care at all about being addressed by name – it always seem forced, and with a long last name, its always cut off on the FA’s printout, so they never get it right anyway.

    Neither of these two things has any impact on my impression of AA or the service.

  19. This is the problem with the concept of flight attendants being there for safety. Their primary job is customer service. For every flight where they have to do something like lead an evacuation of the plane, there are 100 where nothing bad happens and they are responsible for customer service and experience.

  20. I fly weekly out of CLT, and get upgraded often. I too don’t care about being addressed by name, or getting a PDB. I care about power at my seat (rarely given on the US Airways legacy metal), I care about legroom and seat comfort (my status helps clear this most times), I care about reasonable prices ($1,000 to SEA while $400 to LA; $600 to PHL while $250 to NYC. Reasonable – nah…) and I care about departing and arriving on time safely!

    I have no complaints in principle, but must say that the hodgepodge, somewhat tired AA metal stands in stark contrast to more up-to-date interiors from the competition. I am somewhat captive to AA at CLT, unless I want to add extra travel time and fly DL or UA. So AA its is…

  21. @JimM… You hit the nail on the head about deciding whether to do a meaningless survey or seeing Paris. Until airlines figure out to survey customers painlessly and effectively, they won’t get feedback from good customers.
    @Matt.. Flight attendants are there for safety. There is a small chance you will be on a flight that goes bad. There is a 100% chance a flight attendant will be on a bad flight. Airlines can do more training, but we can infer, based on casual customer comparisons, that AA MGMT is highly disconnected from customer and FA experience.
    @CLTAAFlyt… I agree with your assessment with one exception… On time is nice, but safely is the requirement. It should be clear by now that for AA, UAL, DAL, you don’t want them to confuse the two so it must be spelled out and not just assumed.

  22. What an absurd supposition by AA – when your competitors kick your ass and DON’T EVEN INCLUDE PDBs AS PART OF THEIR SERVICE (ie B6 and SW) then that’s clearly not the issue to address. And PDBs are relevant to only a small percentage of the flying poplulation so that makes this even crazier. Don’t get me wrong, I like my PDB but I fly AA in first as an EXP and B6 as a Mosaic every week and the B6 flight crews are universally superior in attitude every single week. PDBs play no role in that position.

  23. I’m a 18 yr EXP, and most of the time, the PDB, if a morning flight, is the tray of OJ and water. I’ve asked myself for something else, and the FA always brings it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’m sitting next to someone at 6:45 am and he orders a double vodka while the nice FA is holding the tray of OJ. I think the offering the water and OJ is just a easy and simple way of compromise for the FA’s. Planes are packed, the self-loading freight is moving too slow and they are bringing a lot of stuff with them. (Although more often than not, it’s the 10M miler in First holding up the show while he takes off his jacket, digs out his Beats, laptop, iPad, Money magazines and attempts to take the entire bin)

  24. Formally an EP passenger for 8 years on American. I decided to become a FA for AA at 33 yrs old. When I was a passenger I really only thought about myself and my surroundings. When was I going to get my drink. Will the FA say my name.

    Many things are in factor during those 30-35 min boarding times. Yes, we are not being paid our flying rate. It is $2.20 an hour until the door is closed. When you are working lead position in first class, you are tasked with a lot of responsibility during those 30 mins at $2.20. First is our responsibility to get the plane out on time. If the door shuts a minute late – we will recieive and email and a call from our manager. Second, catering. If the plane hasn’t been catered which happens a lot when a plane is being turned around, we will scramble to do OJ and H2O to make up for lack of full beverage. (Also OJ and water is normal for breakfast). The catering might not arrive until 10 mins before departures.
    Third – but I will say It’s really First is safety and security. I only get a few seconds to meet every passenger that comes on board the aircraft. Those few seconds are crucial. I have removed intoxicated people – not healthy enough – people who might not be the right state to fly. This is so important. Just imagine if your child was next to someone that had a violent out burst that could of been avoided but overlooked while boarding. What I didn’t know as a passenger was the amount of multi tasking that is happening effortlessly under those 30 mins… lastly is securing the aircraft for departure and communicating with our ground crew and pilots. All of this has to be done to get you off to your destination. Trust me, we want to give incredible service… sometimes it is delayed until takeoff… Us not getting paid is not your problem, it is ours and it’s ridiculous. But we love our jobs. And as many of you in different carreers have struggles in your day to day job. You push through. Just know that we want to make your trip amazing. We want you to continue flying with AA. We want to make the airline modern. Just always remember that we are human as you are. We are use to instant access in our palm. Yet, human interaction is the most gratifying. Which isn’t always instant. Just give us a moment to get the flight on course and we will make sure you get First Class Serivce.

  25. Dear E – What a great posting! We can all learn very much from airline personnel who post to travel websites and blogs. Please continue to do so! And $2.20 is not being underpaid – it’s wages for an indentured servant! Sure hope that things will soon get better!

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