American Airlines Gate Agents Are Under So Much Pressure, People Are Getting Left Behind

American Airlines focuses on exact on time departures over nearly all other priorities. United Airlines will sometimes hold a plane for connecting passengers when it’s not going to cause further delays or inconvenience others on board. American will rarely do this.

The problem is that while American has a strong focus on D0, that comes in the form of managers yelling at gate agents for not getting out planes and flight attendants getting yelled at for requesting missing catering items. They might send out planes with broken seats, and just not fill those seats, rather than fixing them during the day. It’s the exact opposite approach from investing to insure that all the processes right to depart on time with properly catered aircraft, maintained seats, and customers who are taken care of.

With planes full again, there’s so much pressure to get out right at “D0” that one gate agent shared a story on social media of leaving people behind at the gate. There were seats available because some customers didn’t show, and the agent wasn’t able to put employees waiting to travel on the flight in their place – because it would have meant an extra couple of minutes, which the airline won’t abide.

Today I left 3 nonrevs behind because there was way too much going on all throughout the [flight] with seats & bags & there was just too much. One fo those flights where you fell like you’re thrown into a tornado. The [flights] are so full.

I would do EVERYTHING to get a nonrev ON. I’m a nonrev! I get it. I would never leave a nonrev. But I did.

I ran out of time & people didn’t board but it was too late then. That D10 is no joke. I was at D8. I happened to have the same city next & they made it thank god & in in first class & so nice!! But I still felt so bad.

Please don’t give me grief because I cried the way home from the whole day.. and this. Sometimes we might not seem like we don’t care [sic]..but that’s the professional face. We care. MOST of us DO care… This summer is brutal. Please don’t be mean to me. I’m really quite good but it’s a tricky summer out there for revenue & nonrevenue. I believe this is an apology & an explanation.

This is a window into what gate agents are feeling, the pressure they’re under from the airline without the resources to get their job done and the crush of passengers returning to travel.

This was a full flight, so wasn’t even one of the cases where American Airlines is trying to get away with having just one agent at the gate to save money. On those flights things may be worse.

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. Gary, this story illustrates American’s policy working. The flight was not held up to book the non revs. I am sure American and the passengers already on the plane were glad for the time savings.


  3. The worst part is she cried on the way home. How is that normal? I feel sick supporting such a toxic culture. I have three more AA flights and that may be the end—it’s not as though being a MM means anything for AA anymore anyway.

  4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… This airline is an operation centric piece of shit of an airline. Clients are just a nuisance that are in its way!!!

  5. Different but related: my AA flight JFK-TLV last night was postponed 12 hours when a pilot called in sick and the replacement ran late. The agents were hopelessly overwhelmed dealing with pax on a half-full flight. They couldn’t get hotels lined up and finally told everyone to book their own and ask AA to reimburse. It was a disaster. Not we’re boarding and seem set to depart at the new “on-time”time. It would be nice if management provided front-line reps with the support they need to deal with IRROPS, but that doesn’t seem important to the higher-ups.

  6. I see it both ways. On the one hand, allowing the GAs some discretion with D0s is likely a better policy many times. But on the other hand, if this flight was heading to a hub, many passengers may have had connections (and AA will sell pretty tight connections, like 30 min in PHX and 40 min in DFW), and in those cases even a 5-10 min departure delay may start stressing the passengers out. Keep in mind, no revenue passengers were left behind– these were non-revs.

  7. I feel bad for the employees. The decision makers at corporate are focused on corporate activism and virtue signaling, instead of their core business. Help is not on the way for those in the trenches.

  8. Misleading title. They didn’t leave “customers” behind – they left a handful of non revs. Understand this isn’t good but non revs fly standby and are typically last to get on for a full flight (w some no shows, missed connections, etc that all them a seat)

    If flight is running tight I can see not waiting- sorry but I fully take AA’s side of this.

  9. I agree with an earlier poster and have experienced the same scenario countless times where there is this absolute rush rush rush to achieve D0 only to wound up so damn early that they (that’s you DFW) park us, along with others, for 20-30 mins waiting for an open gate. Gas must be real cheap. WTH

  10. Sounds like something out of Dickens. Oh wait, this is the way many corporations run (down their people) in America today. I understand about the bottom line but wonder how many people who make such policies actually have tried to do them as employees. Not many I bet. Under extreme resistance United Health was just forced to back off from a new policy of insisting that every ER visit be fully justified before a reimbursement would be made. You can imagine what that would have done to keep sick people away from asking for immediate help and physicians from having any time left to do medicine doing the paperwork (but that’s already a nightmare). This was no different from the thinking at American and so many other companies, get the cash, push the workers and damn the customers.

  11. Let’s be clear the stress the agent describes is not because of customers but because of fellow employees. The agent is excessively apologizing for what? Perhaps scorn from fellow employees about not receiving a fairly indulgent job perk? Three employees missed their free flight and the agent is stressing about this because the agent identifies with having this perk. Or perhaps the agent is afraid of retaliation from the other employees, which is kinda what this sounds like, esp when you image how they are probably all friends with one another on social media and it would be super easy to have a coworker find out who exactly was working the flight and then shame them to the rest of the group. I’ve always had an issue with non-rev flying as I believe it waters down the quality of the product when employees think of it a freebee. Now it looks like agents are more concerned about serving other employees as opposed to customers.

  12. Gary, It is unclear is this a directive from management (Parker) don”t take a delay to accommodate non-revs?

  13. If you were on a flight that was delayed in order to get AA employees on, you would write a story complaining about that. Slow news day?

  14. Not sure why paying customers should be delayed for non-revs. If you miss your takeoff window you can get pushed back quite a bit in the queue and that could cause people to miss connections, or shorten the amount of time they have to turnaround a plane for the next segment etc. See this has a non-story.

  15. I am a 35 year employee, and non-rev traveling has always been hit or miss. I have been treated rudely many times by my fellow AAers, and other times treated great. This D10 has added more pressure to a job already pressure packed. I don’t understand why its deemed a sound business practice to leave connecting passengers behind. Now you have irate passengers agents have to accommodate, adding even more stress to their job.

  16. Time for the one gate agent cited and all of his cohorts who “feel his pain” to get their priorities unscrewed. To manifest a priority for their fellow non paying employees is idiotic. The focus should be on their folks who pay their salaries and depend on flights departing and arriving on time. Another reflection on AA absentee executive management who, s fixated on chasing their tails promoting social justice nonsense!!

  17. The scenario is common in hub airports and management is driven by statistics. Agents do care only to be reprimanded when they take a delay and go unrecognized when they give it all they got to a hectic flight that makes an on time departure. Also, even if they left non revs behind it only becomes an issue when it affects someone important within the company. Gate agents and flight attendants are not appreciated enough by the company or even the public when they do their job. It takes a moment to be nice. But let something go wrong to someone on their trip – passengers act so entitled and you owe them the world.

  18. Gary
    Maybe some of these passengers should try standing behind the counter and trying to get the flight out and everyone on board on time. Those who say” oh well they fly free” is so wrong. Those poor employees work their ass of to make sure revenue psgrs have a good flight. If the F/A would allow all flights to board early and receive pay when the first psgr is onboard,i f the revenue psgrs must be on board by 30 min or they reservation would be canceled, that would solve a lot of problems.
    Another thing is the top management need to say minimum connection time would be 1 hr for regular station and hubs 1 1/2 hrs it would really help. Also gates should have 2 agents and one supervisor there 30 min before departure to assist.

  19. Rigidly adhering to schedules is one of the characteristics of whiteness and is clearly an extremely racist policy by AA. Or so I have constantly been instructed.

  20. One of the few times where AA puts paying customers first.

    Well done, AA (and gate agent, for not delaying 200+ paying customers).

  21. People need to stop being babied. Being in customer service isn’t for everyone. Time management skills are imperative. They do the same job daily and if you cant get it right then maybe another career is in your future? To leave behind 3-5 passenger to have 150+ passengers getting on their way on time… any corporation would take that performance measure. Delaying a flight for 5-10 passengers to possibly misconnect 25-30 passengers makes no sense. There is a lot of factors (connecting passengers, crew working hours, airport curfews etc..) that go into play and at the end of the day more people get to where they are going on time daily. Unless you look at the business from every angle you shouldn’t be so quick to say AA is a bad company.

  22. What some pax may not realize is that some non-revs are commuting from home to base. AA sometimes bases F.A.s and cockpit crew without regard to where they live.

  23. Airline employees and retirees are promised standby travel benefits. This sounds like a Parker deal. Promise retirees/employees travel than leave them stranded (at a hub or down line city) with empty seats available.

  24. Wow, so much drama over a few standby passengers who got accommodated on the next flight.

    And in First Class no less, wonder if they took upgrades from paying passengers

    Wowsers, now you know for sure that AA employees worry about their fellow employees first and paying passengers not so much.

  25. You are disgusting. You stole a post from a private group, then posted it in a manner that mischaracterized the post. The person that posted it is now worried about losing their job because you stole it. It’s appalling that any integrity is lost on you just for the sake of clicks.

  26. @Mary Anne Gertson
    No AA employee has ever “worked their ass off” to make sure I have a good flight. Ever.

  27. I completely understand non-revs having to wait or get bumped. Paying customers should get the seats. My qualm is leaving early because you are full and done loading, only to have to sit on the tarmac at your destination to wait for a gate to open. Ludicrous! Hire back the employees you laid off! Get the employees back to the office so they can be monitored more closely and get back to quotas each day. Virtual is not doing it!

  28. You are not alone. I cry more times than not on my way home after leaving the airport these days. Saying we have a tough job is putting it mildly. I hope you find comfort and lower passenger loads soon.

  29. If employees need to reach another base for duty, then they should time their options and make other arrangements for getting there on time. My issue is pilots on flights wearing a net mask? If airlines are so worried about the virus why was this allowed??? Netting doesn’t stop anything from getting through.

  30. Gary Leff all of AA knows the page and the agent who DID NOT AUTHORIZE you to print her post on your blog. That is THEFT. She has been called in to account for her private post now blasted everywhere cause of you, and yes, could be subject to losing her job.

    You are a hack and a joke, and half your blogs have wrong information.

  31. I’m an American gate agent and I have to say I truly feel for her. I consider quitting every day. After the pandemic this company is so greedy and they will do anything to save money on staffing. Every department is so thoroughly abused. Most of us come in and get extended to the maximum 16 hours per day. There’s days when I feel like breaking down and I rarely get to see my spouse. This airline doesn’t care. They want to slim down the staffing schedule to save money and expand the flight schedule but not have enough people to work it. I say it every day it blows my mind how this airline is still in business. The abuse we suffer from the poor organization of this company and how they have zero regard for their employees or customers for that matter is just astounding. They spent all that bailout money cramming more seats in their planes rather than managing their staffing like they were supposed to.

    I’m applying at any other airline job I can find and even considering leaving the industry because I’ve had enough. Hands down the worst and greediest company I’ve ever worked for. Wish someone would do a story exposing them. I’d happily contribute.

  32. While they jam pack planes, leave employees behind, having planes sit on tarmac for long periods, rushing to get somewhere only to sit and wait for jet ramp personnel, also cancelling flights right and left and paying refund clerks big bucks, overtime at time and a half. plus bonuses. I’m glad they have a job but the foolishness of it all is ironic

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