Predeparture beverages in first class are an ‘optional’ though desirable service element. Flight attendants aren’t going to take the time to offer beverages if it delays a flight. For a late boarding that’s done quickly the priority is an on-time departure.
But it’s certainly possible most of the time. Delta manages it consistently (and they have better on-time performance than American does). Yet American flight attendants have been inconsistent at best at offering this.
You can call this a ‘first world problem’ and it is. When you run from one flight to the next you easily go 90+ minutes without access to a glass of water. Predeparture beverages are a nice feature of domestic first class. They’re appreciated when offered.
In December, American reminded their flight attendants to try to offer predeparture beverages.
American’s flight attendants reacted. The most common themes in flight attendant comments were:
- They aren’t being paid until the door closes, so why should they do ‘extra’ work before then?
- American won’t offer profit sharing to flight attendants. If flight attendants don’t control profit, then it shouldn’t matter what service they provide.
- They’re often miscatered and that eats up time they could have served beverages.
Miscatering is a real issue. And American has made clear its priority is on-time departure, not fixing catering.
Via @xJonNYC on Twitter, a message sent by American Airlines to flight attendants:
We understand the catering challenges you face impact the service to our customers. At the same time we must focus on on-time departures.
Here’s the message, along with a flight attendant’s reaction:
Of course on-time departures matters. But nearly every other airline manages predeparture beverages in first class and on-time departures, at least having on-time performance as good as American’s.
Four years ago I noted American’s inconsistency in providing predeparture beverages. This isn’t a new issue with the merger. But the emphasis on “D=0” is.
American sees the key metric for operational reliability as “D=0” – pushback exactly on time (or before). It’s an “important metric, indicative of where we’re headed” according to the company. And the way they’re getting there is anathema to customers (see American’s Goldilocks Problem).
Of course operational reliability is important and leaving on time contributes to arriving on time (which is what matters most). But American gets there by starting the boarding process earlier than the printed time on boarding passes. Passengers can’t just adjust for that and American doesn’t print earlier boarding times e.g. 40 or 45 minutes before departure instead of 30 minutes. Sometimes the aircraft isn’t on the ground or ready to board.
So you get variable, unpredictable boarding times. Customers either have to waste a lot of time at the airport and gate earlier (or stopping work in the lounge early to go to the gate) or wind up gate checking their carry on bag and wasting time on arrival at baggage claim. Given the focus on ‘D=0’ I expect unpredictable boarding and gate chaos to continue.
And here the message isn’t “D=0 is important, so we have to get our catering right and on-time” — instead it seems to be “D=0 matters and getting catering right and on-time doesn’t matter as much.”