American Airlines Executive VP Flew United, Complains About Lack of Predeparture Beverage

American Airlines has shared with employees that there are two key drivers of premium customer satisfaction with flight attendants: serving a predeparture beverage and addressing a passenger by name.

One predictor of whether or not you’ll get a predeparture beverage in domestic first class is which airline your crew used to work at: legacy US Airways flight attendants serve predeparture beverages far more often than legacy American Airlines flight attendants in my experience.

Flight attendants have shared their reasons for not offering the service:

  • They aren’t being paid until the door closes, so why should they do ‘extra’ work before then? (In fact their total pay includes duties before doors close regardless of how time is calculated.)

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

  • Flights are often miscatered and that eats up time they could have served beverages.

American’s Executive Vice President of People, Communications, and Public Affairs flew United in first class today. And she wrote a trip report on twitter. She’s a class act and complimented the friendly flight attendants. That’s going to make Oscar Munoz happy. However she notes:

  • Flight an hour late (so much for D0)
  • No blankets
  • No predeparture beverage

Next time it might be worth checking out Delta instead of United, especially now that American and Delta have an interline agreement again and because as a premium cabin passenger she’d still be eligible for re-accommodation on Delta if her flight delays or cancels. And Delta has blankets.

Great trip report, hope we can expect more to come, including of flights on American!

Update: She found United’s hot towels much nicer than American’s.

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. The ‘we’re primarily here for your safety’ crew and the ‘I don’t work for free’ crew will be in convulsions on this one. I must confess, I find Alaska to be the best US airline in terms of service and they never serve a PDB. That being said a PDB is a great start and a great customer service differentiator.

  2. So the UA flight attendant Eberwein encountered was “super friendly,” but also super lazy?

  3. @Paul – To my knowledge, I have always been served a PDB when flying in F on Alaska Air.

  4. The PDB isn’t part of the directed service for Alaska. I do appreciate the bottle of water at my seat on both Delta and Alaska though.

  5. Not sure what route Elise flew, but in over dozens of domestic first flights on UA this past two years, I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t offered a PDB — including super short hops from SFO to LAX and LAX to LAS where they spent more time boarding/deplaning & taxiing then actually in air.

    As for the blankets, prob 50% of the time I find one still wrapped in plastic on the seat waiting for me, and I throw it right up back into the overhead luggage bin.

  6. Elise Eberwein should not be criticizing the competition! Her and Parker brought AA from first to worst.

  7. I always get a predep beverage on UA. Maybe she just got a lazy crew. 9x of 10 I could care less about the blanket. Usually it is the opposite problem – plane is too hot because they turn off AC while parked.

  8. Hi guys. Gary didn’t report out the entire trip report unfortunately as I crack myself up (if I do say so myself). And I gave UA a shout out for their awesome crew. It was ORD to SLC so PDB would have been delivered but they weren’t yet catered. Flt attn wasn’t lazy at all. Also their hot towels for the record were like plush ritz Carlton compared to Delta’s and ours. That said, we got about 5 warm cashews and 2 almonds for the pre lunch app.

  9. Hmmm, maybe she isn’t entirely objective? I have been offered a PDB every time on United. And my wife is always able to get a blanket when she asks, if it isn’t already at the seat.

  10. The opening sentence reveals a deeper problem: “American Airlines has shared with employees that there are two key drivers of premium customer satisfaction: serving a predeparture beverage and addressing a passenger by name.” For me, having a decent seat and a reasonably sized lavatory are far more important than being addressed by name or getting a PDB. I’d say the seat comfort and room, bin space, power, in-seat AVOD, decent-sized lavatories, and on-time operations are far more important.

  11. So a crap seat is fine if they say Welcome Mr. Beachfan, thank you for your loyalty, here’s a drink to help numb your butt so you won’t feel the crAAp seat.

  12. I just flew Qantas for the first time in years. When you launch their IFE, a bubble pops up for 10 seconds highlighting the call button on the screen and reading something along the lines of “press here if you need anything”.

    Service AND safety.

    I never fly a U.S. airline if a non-U.S. one is available on the same route.

  13. It’s quite unusual for UA FAs not to serve PDB. Can’t remember the last time I didn’t get one.

  14. “They pay for the seat and get the seat, flight attendants are there for safety.”

    Yeah no. At least as an original conception they’re “attendants” that is, servants. They attend to the needs and whims of passengers.

    That meaning of service has totally been lost in coach in which FA are glorified drink cart pushers and the call attendant button is basically reserved for having a heart attack.

    But you’d hope that first would still retain that.

    And you clearly aren’t just purchasing a seat in first when you purchase a first class ticket- you’re buying a whole CLASS of service that in theory begins with priority check-in, access to lounges etc- it obviously goes well beyond the seat itself, a different set of expectations in service is expected.

  15. I’ve had a PDB on United F on all my F flights this year, including UAX. Once (two weeks ago on IAH-BOS) it was just water or juice which I thought poor. However all the others have been a la cartel and hence a Bloody Mary or G+T.

    If the tweet is genuinely from an AA exec I think that’s poor of her to criticize UA publicly at all. She should either say it was good, just thank the FA’s, or not tweet at all. How would AA like it if Kirby flew on them (for free of course, part of his severance) and then made a pointed jibe (like missing D0)?

  16. If you want a PDB then bring your own on board. Most of these bitchy FC passengers complaining about their PDB are on free upgrades. So ridiculous.

  17. It is interesting that on domestic US flights PDBs usually mean individual orders. The FAs ask what you want and prepare mixed drinks and cocktails.
    In contrast, on international flights FAs, even on the best international airlines, merely offer a limited selection from a tray of pre-poured beverages. So US domestic service, pre-departure, tops service on the high-class international airlines! Anyone know why?

  18. @John: on domestic flights there are typically 16 passengers in first class. Some planes have smaller cabins with as few as 8 passengers, and there are a few planes with larger cabins, but typically 16. On international flights there are more often 24-36 passengers in business class, with an additional 8-16 in first class on flights with both business and first classes. There just isn’t time to take individual orders with so many people.

  19. Gary, summation or the slide is erroneous, or at least incomplete
    The two key drivers of premium customer satisfaction regarding the flight attendants were PDBs and being greeted by name

    Not the two key drivers of overall premium customer satisfaction

  20. Who has time to read travel tweets from airline exec’s? In other words, besides her family, who cares about her flight running late and whether or not she gets a blankey for her FC seat, which also, nobody cares about.
    As for customers #1 and #2 priorities, that answer is always: safe takeoff and safe landing. In that order. Seriously air travel today is like a bus ride, and the airport experience is so awful that the 1 to 2 hours of pampered air travel experience doesn’t compensate for it.
    If she wants to get a lot of followers, take greyhound and talk to some other passengers…or the bus attendant, I mean bus driver… I will follow those stories. Especially the one where the bus “mistakenly” leaves you behind at the truck stop. And remember…bring your own blanket.

  21. Elise’s tweet proves the disconnect between the AA execs and reality. PDB service on AA is very inconsistent, maybe less than 50% of the time. Gary is correct about legacy US doing it better. But now that the crews can be mixed, which way will it go, better or worse?

  22. @ Randall, I think you are right. Time and the larger number of premium passengers on aircraft used for long international flights (e.g., 52 on AA 777-300s, 65 on defunct Delta 747s, 94 on Korean Air A380s) are valid concerns. But I think airlines could still fill PDB orders on most flights if they wanted to because FAs don’t have to work around economy passengers to provide service. Even on my relatively few international first-class flights with four, six or eight seats, I’ve only been offered a tray of beverages or champagne poured on request. Just an observation not a complaint.

  23. On a AA flight this am and did not get a,PDB. If the FA did not have to stand there checking bags that do not fit in the Over head bin AND have to make sure to meet OD. Then I would have got my drink. But it these bags were stopped at check in. This would not happen. Also FA do not need to be the bag. Police when the gate agent should

  24. @John,

    Most international flights have what’s called bonded liquor. Techically the carts containing alcohol must be sealed while on the ground. Those carts are often the same carts that contain all the other beverages, sodas, etc. So you often just have water, juice, and champagne (or sparkling wine) as the only options when flying international. It has NOTHING to do with the number of seats.

  25. @Elise I’m honored by your comment here. I now know it was from you — it just happened that your IP address at the time matched that of a frequent critic of American that comments here.

  26. Those ‘Entitled’ passengers are paying most of your salary and most of the operating costs and profit of your airline.

    This is about far more than PDB. Personally, I don’t care about the beverage. What matters is the attitude of FAs who have little interest in providing a pleasant experience for the customers.

    Many airlines have reduced coach and even business class travel to the quality of a bad bus trip.

    And the US airlines wonder why the European and Gulf airlines that provide real service are eating their lunch on competing routes. If Singapore, Qatar, etc. offered domestic service in the US, the front cabins and many coach seats on United and AA would fly empty.

    Employees in a service business who see their customers as ‘entitled’, undeserving of service, or a bother really should find other employment.

  27. Dear classless first classes, my father was a U. S. Fighter pilot first to serve his country and master his craft, Capt. John was an eastern airlines pilot,for both I’m the proudest son. He got killed in front of our home snow blowing the driveway when I was very young, I’m sure he enjoyed the 103rd fighter group in CT much more than eastern and I’m sure the compensation was more service, need for speed and I’m my dad’s son. I know class and yes price and value for service is very important, I know a few folks that could buy and sell you folks like a used cigar. You unappreciative spoiled j. Offs are so concerned about a pre fight beverage than pre flight checklist of safety features that you have lost all sense of reality! I may not have the opportunity to fly first class but I’m grateful just to get to my place of travel safely, a half gallon of the finest single malt scotch and a bottle filled with diazepam wouldn’t be enough of as you call a pfb if during the flight all I saw was my mode of transport barreling out of control into the Pacific with a flight attendant bringing me a blanket only for the means of hanging myself before we hit the water at 500 mph! People please grow up, your children are probably more respectful of the crew and of landing safely than yourselves! God bless, your truly proud son of an every flight hero!!!

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