American Airlines is Having a Hard Time Delivering Their New Extra Legroom Product With Free Drinks

American Airlines now offers free drinks in Main Cabin Extra seating. First class and Main Cabin Extra also have reserved signs on the overhead bins, though this isn’t something flight attendants are expected to enforce and I watch customers walking to the back of coach storing their backs up front all the time.

Last week at an employee town hall a flight attendant brought up to the carrier’s CEO Doug Parker that they’re having difficulty delivering the free drink benefit to customers in extra legroom seats.

We have our premium economy people have unlimited liquor, beer wine. My EP gets one drink comp. We’re running into issues with.. what we’ve been told is ‘how much do we get? how many free drinks do they get? Well use your discretion, they can have as many as they want, use your discretion. My discretion may be 8, Ann’s may be 4. Well the other flight attendant gave me 8 why are you giving me 4? You’re putting us in a really tough situation with our customers. And our EPs like I said they’re seeing what’s happening and it’s gonna be difficult for us.

Parker responded, “how is that different than the first class product where there’s no limit on the amount of drinks we provide?”

It turns out that the flight attendant isn’t mostly talking about Executive Platinum customer expectations.

  • She’s assuming Executive Platinums sitting in regular coach seats, where they seat Main Cabin Extra customers getting unlimited drinks (“they’re a row behind”). Parker mistakenly says “if you pay for that seat, and by the way that seat costs more than the customer you’re talking about who’s a row behind them who happens to be an elite customer chose to pay.”

    He seems not to realize that Executive Platinums get complimentary Main Cabin Extra seats, and if they’re not seated in Main Cabin Extra it’s because the extra legroom seat they wanted wasn’t available and the new domestic standard cabin has reduced extra legroom seating.

  • It’s not about seeing customers get more drinks than they’re entitled to, it’s about flight attendants actually providing the service customers expect. There’s dedicated crew for first class offering drinks (who do or do not offer the service) but flight attendants have to serve drinks in Main Cabin Extra.

The Executive Platinum benefit of a free drink and a complimentary snack, regardless of where they’re seated in economy, remains in place. If they’re seated in Main Cabin Extra it’s multiple drinks. And some flight attendants offer more than one to Executive Platinums seated farther back, too (even on a basic economy fare).

We got some clarity on the issue crew are having delivering the promised drink service. This flight attendant wanted to limit the number of drinks offered to customers, because they have to serve the entire cabin and it’s too much to do while getting back to offer additional drinks. Customers are ringing their call bells!

It would be nice if the customer knew there was some sort of limit. Let’s say on the 321 that’s a long airplane to work. So by the time we get back up to them in that section they’re either ringing their call bell or their expectations are not getting met therefore they’re getting disappointed because they wanted another drink 20 minutes ago. I’m only in row 21 you know because it’s a full airplane with crying babies and whatnot.

Parker acknowledges it’s a harder product to deliver. He said, “What we don’t want to have is confused customers, we’re not delivering to the customer what they expect with what they bought.. there is a dedicated flight attendant in first class and in this case we have the rest of the complement working the entire main cabin.”

He said no to the idea of an extra crew member, “if we can’t deliver the product we won’t sell the product.”

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. Understand the FA
    When I’ve sat in PE and drinks are free – I usually ask for a double immediately as I know I’ll not see the FA for a while
    Many FAs are ok with it – however some have said until I’ve done the full canon I’m unable to do that —
    Doesn’t make sense and it is frustrating

  2. “Unlimited” alcoholic beverages in PE seems excessive. Two complimentary beverages would be reasonable and consistent with the product.

  3. As an EP, what I find frustrating is that these MCE seats are often filled with gate stand-bys. This essentially devalues EP perks further by making the value of MCE “free” if you don’t pick your seat ahead of time on a deep discount economy fare. There are times when there are other empty non-MCE seats in the cabin but the MCE seats are filled first as a “freebie” to stand-bys.

  4. It still amazes me how far advanced VX was with their integrated ordering system and how no one ever caught up and that it is now going away. A FA scared of a call button is just sad but it also shows how much impact good tech could have to help this out. What if a passenger could use their phone to order. Would save the FA an extra trip down the aisle to just see why they rung.

  5. I think many of the airlines have shot themselves in the foot offering too many differing classes, subclasses, variants on their FF programs etc. Who can keep up, other than you?

  6. Doug Parker doesn’t know (and doesn’t care) what goes on in the main cabin because HE HAS NEVER SAT THERE! American Airlines unable to execute? I’m shocked….shocked.

  7. Curious how this sort of thing used to be handled on planes back in the day when drinks were free for everyone. Any insights? I suppose since there was no charge for drinks or food they could complete the service faster without having to take a credit card.

  8. So you’re telling me DL can handle this concept just fine, but AA can’t? Shocking…not. I get the whole EXP layer on top of all this, but it’s clearly written in the menus what an EXP gets, so there’s no ambiguity to the expectation versus what’s delivered in MCE. The AA FA subtext just comes off as laziness on her part.

  9. Even in the regulated, more customer service oriented era cocktails were generally not complimentary in coach.

  10. Do split service for long planes like the 321 or 738. One FA starts at the beginning and one FA starts in the middle with another FA in between providing support.

    It’s clear this particular FA is not happy about having to do more work.

    Maybe AA can do a better job of communicating the limit to EXPs by being very clear on the EXP welcome kit that when seated in main cabin they can have ONE free drink and one free meal or snack.

    It’s up to EXPs to decide what is more important to them having a middle MCE seat with unlimited liquor or an aisle main cabin seat with one drink. If MCE is sold out oh well tough luck. Don’t give the FAs a hard time if you see people in MCE getting multiple drinks for free.

  11. He said no to the idea of an extra crew member, “if we can’t deliver the product we won’t sell the product.”

    So what he’s saying is that they’ll drop the product offering soon.

  12. I’m guessing that the problem is based on flight time and what has been loaded on the plane. If the flight is on of those flights that an expecting flight (outside the range for a meal but still gets one) this could be a problem. But the FAs should ask if the passanager wants a double. Now is AA loading the planes with enough booze to handle the added demand??

    In a 321 on a shorten flight RUD-DCA can the FAs handle the added service with the current staffing levels?

  13. As AA Plat, got my first shot of experiencing MCE flying LASPHX. FA’s decided due to “possible” turbulence, there will be no beverage service. This is followed by captain turning off seat belt sign and announcing that it would be smooth ride. Another case of lazy flight attendants not wanting to do ANYTHING. But, interestingly, it was safe enough to up and about pushing credit card applications. (maybe because they are monitored for this). Believe me, its not about a free drink but rather another lazy cabin crew. Yes, I know, flying can be turbulent in the summertime…and yes, safety first. If the captain said it was going to be rough, the attendants are typically strapped in. I get that.

  14. @Mark – FAs receive and actual monetary commission for each approved credit card application so that explains that one!

  15. This seems like an odd complaint. Last week I flew DCA-DFW-KOA-LAX-DCA. All long flights. All in main cabin extra. I was never asked to pay for a cocktail. And in the interim, if I needed another, I went to the galley, mentioned that I was in Main Cabin Extra and was given my cocktail or beer for free. I’m not sure what the confusion is.

  16. I flew MCE on Sunday. Was told would have to pay for drinks. Said I thought it was now included. FA said no. But then offered me drink for free anyway. Confused.

  17. Since the inception of MCE free alcohol, I have been asked on at least 5 occasions for my credit card after I order a cocktail. I typically sit in the ER, so there is no question that my seat is MCE. I remind the FA that I am entitled to a complementary cocktail as I am seated in MCE, and on all occasions except one, the FA said he/she “forgot.” On the other occasion, the FA said she was not aware of the benefit! Training? Also, a bloody mary and a vodka and tonic ALWAYS should be served with a lime…but I have found that I have to specifically request one or I do not receive one. And if I request one after the drink has been served to me, I get attitude from the FA.

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