At an American Airlines employee question and answer session mid-month, a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing, a flight attendant asked CEO Doug Parker about unruly passengers and blamed alcohol – not the alcohol on planes, because American hasn’t been serving alcohol in coach, but the alcohol that passengers have been bringing onto the aircraft themselves.
And the crewmember suggested that American’s move to have just a single agent at each gate to board aircraft makes it tougher to notice and do something about these passengers who are breaking the law and causing incidents inflight before they get onto the plane.
Because of the airline’s alcohol ban which is tied to the controversial mask requirement, American has “more customers bringing on alcohol than they should have” according to Parker. He adds, “Intoxicated passengers nothing has changed..they’re not allowed on the airplane, they’re a safety risk…no one should be on the airplane that’s intoxicated.”
He explains the zero tolerance policy for passengers consuming their own alcohol on board,
As to people bringing their own alcohol on, that’s not just our policy that’s an FAR. That’s a federal regulation. Customers are not allowed to bring their own alcohol on the aircraft. If you see a passenger on the airplane with their own alcohol.
I’ll defer to the people that know this better than me, but what I’ve been told is what you are to do is to confiscate the alcohol. And depending on how intoxicated they are deal with that as well. But the alcohol needs to be confiscated. You can choose whether you give it back to them at the end of the flight. But we confiscate alcohol when we see it. People can’t bring their own alcohol on airplanes…that cannot be tolerated.
Parker acknowledges that the airline’s decision not to serve booze in the back of the plane is causing this, explaining “I’m sure there’s more of it than there has been because customers understand they can’t get a drink on board. So that’s a new phenomenon as well and we can’t let it happen. Please take it away from them as soon as you see it.”
Brady Byrnes, American’s executive in charge of inflight, says “we have absolutely seen an uptick on this” but he’s baffled by it because passengers have limited amounts of liquid they can bring through checkpoints. So “people must be consuming it in the restaurants” and getting it to go. I once sat next to a woman who got a ‘to go cup’ of wine from the Admirals Club before our flight. She wound up in a heated argument with the flight attendant over it, not wanting to give it up even though she’d be given a new glass in first class once we were airborne.
Byrnes argues “it’s better to deal with it on the ground, which is why collaboration with that agent is key” but defends staffing gates with just one agent because technology,
Regarding the number of agents what most folks don’t know is that we were already at single agent boarding on any flight that had 70% or less load factor. What we’ve done is because of the summer and just new technologies that the company has invested in, we’ve increased that from 70 to 80%. Any flight that has 80% or higher load factors you will automatically see two agents. The good thing – first world problems – is almost all of our flights are well north of 80%. so you should most likely in most instances see two agents.
Byrnes acts as though single agent boarding at 70% load factors was a long-standing practice. It wasn’t. It was new last year during the pandemic. Indeed, it’s new enough that airline CFO Derek Kerr is just now touting the efficiency to investors.
Flights that are less than 80% full get just a single agent now, and that means the agent needs to assist customers with seat changes, clear upgrades and standbys, and board the plane – all while evaluating each passenger on board to see whether they’ve been drinking or are affected by some other substance. As the flight attendant asking the question realized, something has to give in that equation. And the gate agent will get called in if they take their time and delay the flight as a result.