American Airlines Improved Its Operational Performance In November

I’ve been highly critical of American’s operations and their customer experience. I’ve suggested that they have focused on the operation (D0) at the expense of the customer, without doing well with either.

American’s on-time performance and frequency of cancelled flights was appalling over the summer. I’ve highlighted the bad news, so let’s also highlight the good news. November was much much better.

  • 7 days with no flight cancellations (Delta has gone 100 days in a row without a mainline cancel, but 7 days is a record for American)
  • 84.3% on-time arrivals (A+14, or arriving within 14 minutes of schedule)
  • 73.3% exact on time departure (D0)

In a later to employees, American’s Senior Vice President of Operations David Seymour wrote:

Dear Team,

Our November operational results are in and the news is great: Not only did we mark our third consecutive month of improvement, but we also set a record for days with no cancellations — seven. Three of those days occurred consecutively over the Thanksgiving peak travel period.

Many factors helped set us up for success, including fewer aircraft out of service each day, better right start performance and Mother Nature’s cooperation until this past weekend with inclement weather in the Northeast and in San Francisco.

Our mainline operation only had a total of 23 cancellations between Nov. 22 and Nov. 30, with nine of them being the result of weather and significant air traffic control delays. Additionally, our combined mainline and regional completion factor improved as a result of fewer cancellations compared to November 2018 — a 46% improvement to be exact.

The great news doesn’t stop there for our combined mainline and regional operation. We also delivered our third-best month of on-time arrival performance (A+14) since the merger, with almost 15 million of our 17.8 million customers and 84.3% of our 188,000 flights arriving on-time. This accomplishment wouldn’t have been possible had we not also delivered our fifth-best performance in on-time departures (D-0) since the merger, with 73.3% of flights departing on time.

This is an incredible accomplishment, especially with load factors exceeding 90%. It is proof that when we work together to care for our customers and each other, especially during peak travel periods, we can produce great results.

As we quickly approach the next peak travel period over the holidays, let’s keep the momentum going and maintain our focus on running a safe, reliable operation.

Thanks again for taking great care of each other and our customers each and every day.

It’s on time arrivals that matter, and American improved markedly on this score. They’re still not at the top of the pack. Delta’s mainline on-time arrivals (A+14) was 89.6% with a 99.93% completion factor.

Let’s hope this improvement doesn’t distract American from what it needs to do to sustainably deliver strong results. Departing on time helps arrive on time but does not mean arriving on time. Airlines delegate too much control to the government from the time of pushback to touch down. However their own operational decisions at airports from scheduling to maintenance determine gate and alley availability to get planes in and out of airports, D0 push back notwithstanding.

The obsessive focus on D0 has meant measuring whether flights and employees hit the metric, rather than creating the conditions necessary to hit those metrics including,

  • Making sure gates are properly staffed
  • So that upgrades and standbys can be properly cleared
  • Getting flights catered on time
  • Allowing customers to board with their bags when overhead bin space is available
  • And having planes cleaned

Customers don’t actually care about exact on time departures. They care about on time arrivals. Managers yelling at flight attendants who take a delay to cater international first class, or when first class meals are missing on the outbound of a double catered flight, where gate agents don’t clear upgrades or demand passengers gate check bags just in case bins wind up full (out of fear that gate checking will take too much time and risk D0, getting them called in) doesn’t deliver an experience customers want.

The D0 focus has real world consequences but now that American’s flights are arriving on time they risk telling themselves the strategy they’ve been employing for years without success has finally worked, and attribute their success to it.

Instead they need to see the improvement in their operational performance as a brief breather that allows them to improve processes and make the investments necessary to continue on-time operations while delivering the experience customers expect.

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,

    With regard to Delta going 100 days in a row without a mainline cancellation, don’t they have some creative scheduling practices such as “delaying” a flight for days vice just cancelling it? Genuinely asking. I know they run a great operation, but I could have sworn that I read somewhere that they will do things like that to avoid a “cancellation.”

  2. Who cares???

    The horse is out of the barn; too late!

    When AA gives a hoot re customer experience, heath, and safety, that would really be news. I wouldn’t serve their F class domestic meals at prisons.

    Suggest AA Parker try DL for a refreshing tutorial

  3. I get that D0 shouldn’t be the top level performance metric, but you want to measure what you can control. When measuring ground/gate crew, departure time is more controllable than arrival time. D0 seems appropriate to measure ground/gate performance (along with other metrics), but overall performance should still be measured by arrival time. It seems they are measuring both, so I don’t really get what your hang-up is.

  4. I’ve noticed an improvement over the past few months. Every one of my flights – except for one this week, which went out an hour late but it was apparently due to air traffic control at Dulles – has been on time (at least arrived on time, which is all I care about). That includes flights to and from Boston during Thanksgiving week, and 4 segments this week through Dallas and Dulles.

    Now if they would just kill Oasis I might stick with them long term, but that will be a deal breaker for me.

  5. 110% agree that D0 doesn’t matter as long we arrive on time to make those crazy banked connections, do you know what I mean DFW?
    BTW, I’m on a personal winning streak of 12 straight PDB offered flights.

  6. 110% agree that D0 doesn’t mean squat as long we arrive on time to make those crazy banked connections, do you know what I mean DFW?
    BTW, I’m on a personal winning streak of 12 straight PDB offered flights.

  7. I agree 110% that D0 doesn’t mean squat as long as I arrive on time to make those crazy banked connections at DFW.
    BTW, I’m on a personal winning streak of 12 straight flights with PDB service.

  8. D0 is the correct metric for the airline to measure.and base its bonuses on. Not only as W2 eloquently says it is the only measure that is operationally controllable, but if you don’t hit DO you can’t hit A14 unless you have expensive time-wasting slack built into the schedule.

    You really come off as a DYKWIA with your rants about D0; just because the airline didn’t delay 280 passengers so your majesty didn’t make the flight doesn’t mean it isn’t the correct measure.

  9. I’m really happy to see these stats. I’ve been following your updates throughout the summer and used some of your data to call AA out on its claims that they were rarely delayed and such when they were doing damage control, but I’ve stuck with them, flying 44 segments so far this year, and the improvement since summer is palpable.

    I flew over the Thanksgiving week, five total segments, only one flight arrived late–a late night flight by about 20 minutes (incoming was international and arrived late). I went through two hubs, DFW and PHL, the latter with a very tight connection with gates about as far apart as possible, and I am nothing short of impressed. In fact, I was a voluntary bump on my return flight–and that bump got me home and hour EARLY by taking a different route, and gave me a voucher for $925.

    I started the year deciding it was time to earn status if I was going to fly so much, and I did so by September–on economy tickets basically, no business travel. I was starting to regret it this summer, but now I’m glad. Overall, AA flies to more places, and while oneworld doesn’t have the vast Star Alliance resources, but it covers most of where I need to be internationally. Delta may do very well, yet it can’t get me where I need to be without out of the way connections, and the alliance it has is the worst of all. I guess I’m just an AA loyalist after all. I’ve been treated very well 95% of the time. The other 5% I chalk up to human being acting like jerks the way we all can sometimes. I have one more RT this year, and while weather may be a player (Chicago is involved), I’m already booking for 2020 and have my eyes set on Platinum.

  10. I have to agree with Erik. Could you possibly provide us with statistics on how many flights Delta delays overnight rather than canceling. I f ind it hard to believe that maintenance issues or even weather has not bit them in the butt at one time or another in the last 100 days.

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