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:
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.