American Airlines Labor Leader Calls Out Carrier’s Poor Product In Viral Email To Management

United Airlines announced a big order for 270 new planes, announced a plan to retrofit even existing planes to offer seat back video screens. American Airlines spent the pandemic actually taking seat back video screens out of planes. Delta already invests in screens, leaving American alone as the lesser-equality experience.

Back in April, Chief Customer Officer Alison Taylor derided United’s plan to put screens in planes as gussying up old planes. United’s fleet, though, is going to get new planes and screens.

After years of cost cuts, one of the airline’s labor leaders has had enough. On July 2, the President of the flight attendants’ union Los Angeles crew base wrote an email to CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom that’s going viral within the company. He references Taylor’s comments below.

Gentlemen,

I’ll be honest. I’ve had it with this company. After months of flying around on broken airplanes, offering a less-than-mediocre product, it is obvious to me that upper management has effectively destroyed the brand. Not only have you destroyed it, you remain tone-deaf, refusing to listen to those on the front lines who really wanted to see this airline succeed as a competitor to Delta and United.

A perfect case in point was last month’s Crew News, where a flight attendant asked about United’s plan to add seatback IFE to all planes.

A woman with a British accent, ostensibly involved in decision-making with regard to on-board entertainment, answered with one of the most unengaged answers I have ever heard from management. She said that management likes the content we offer via streaming and left it at that.

Real managers would have added, “but we are always examining different options.” Instead her insulting answer shut down all discussion. This is symptomatic of our absolutely intransigent, uninterested, tone-deaf management. No wonder our product is at bargain basement levels.

Never have I been more embarrassed to work for this company than now.

When US management took over at American, I warned that US Airways customers were hungry. Meals were one of the first cuts at American, in September 2014, though the pushback was intense and Doug Parker said at the time he was surprised people cared so much about food. The inflight food investment was partially restored in August 2015.

The pandemic, though, was seen as an opportunity for a reboot on inflight food service and executives planned that the old normal wouldn’t return.

CEO Doug Parker said he thought they could get away with not having seat power on planes, so they were late to make that investment and it is why there are still legacy US Airways ‘basket of deplorables’ planes flying around without seat power.

This management has consistently taken the view that the schedule is the product. They didn’t even invest in a mockup of their new domestic interior before rolling it out across the fleet, which is why they wound up going back and having to re-retrofit planes to fix problems as they’ve added seats to aircraft and installed thinner, less comfortable chairs.

American has been willing to sacrifice most elements of service for on tine departures, something they have even failed to deliver even before the summer 2019 meltdown and recent lack of pilots (despite $10 billion in taxpayer subsidies on the promise they’d keep employees ready to fly)..

American Airlines spokesperson Jermaine Spight counters the flight attendants’ union leader,

Feedback from customers on our inflight entertainment options and high-speed Wi-Fi has been very positive. More than 90% of our customers bring their own electronic devices onboard with access to our library of 600+ titles of movies and TV for free. American has more aircraft equipped with the highest speed Wi-Fi than any other U.S. carrier and will have power at every seat this fall. Empowering customers to stream content on their own devices allows us to provide fresh, diverse and innovative content that is updated frequently.

Saying ‘more than 90% of customers bring their own device on board is just saying most passengers have cell phones. As they say, you can take management out of Tempe but you can’t take Tempe out of management.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. Bailouts work . . . in entrenching incompetent managers who only want to suck cash out of a company without any interest in serving customers or putting capital at risk to compete in the marketplace. People respond to incentives — management and shareholders of AA too — and guaranteed bailouts have provided them every incentive to act precisely this way. If these companies were allowed to go bankrupt and forced to reorganize, these incentives would be completely different.

  2. “Real managers would have added, “but we are always examining different options.” Instead her insulting answer shut down all discussion.”

    Translation: I prefer smoke blown up my ass. What an arrogant twit this guy is. Then he leaks it so it goes “viral”?

    Zero here. I kick myself for even reading it. I am with @Tim.

  3. Loyal AA flyer for many reasons but reasonable enough to see they have some issues. But seatback entertainment isn’t one of them. Not sure who doesn’t travel with an IPad or similar device these days, especially business travelers. Many times I’ve downloaded and paid for a new release from ITunes and then found it for free on AA. Live and learn.

    Also interesting how much grief AA took in the past few weeks for schedule changes and cancellations, yet SW had a worse week with barely a peep. Hating Doug and AA has become a cottage industry while to SW fanboys they can do no wrong.

  4. “,,,it is obvious to me that upper management has effectively destroyed the brand. Not only have you destroyed it, you remain tone-deaf, refusing to listen to those on the front lines who really wanted to see this airline succeed as a competitor to Delta and United.”
    He/she has it in a nutshell, in the meantime Doug Parker enjoys his BLM brownie points.

  5. Streaming to personal device as a, “lesser-quality experience” is a matter of opinion. I will gladly take that any day, having to deal with he space intrusive hardware used for seatback systems.
    It is interesting that the source for this blog post is quoted but only attributed by title rather than a real name.

  6. I think AA could manage without PTV if they bring back Live TV, but they refuse to.

  7. I think AA should make more Fruit and Cheese plates available for purchase and seat back charging station standard. Everything don’t really matter to me. They have good movies and WiFi is faster enough for streaming. Sometime airport foods are much better than then airlines food. Fruit and Cheese plate always so it for me when available.

  8. There have been times when I’m towards the end of a movie when the plane is descending for landing. With seat back video, I can catch the ending even as the plane finally taxis up to the gate, whereas with personal devices, such as iPads, I would have had to shut it down and put it away in preparation for landing after the plane descends below 10,000 feet, thereby missing the ending.

    Has anything changed to allow me to now watch the ending of the movie on my personal devices right up to arrival at the gate?

  9. In respect to the renown adage in deference to failed management how “the fish rots from the head,” how has CEO Parker kept his Board muzzled and in his pocket?

    Does the entire Board lack the requisite experience to competently oversight and hold management accountable; to provide the much needed stewardship to keep Parker’s death wish team from flying over the guardrails?

    Such classic failure of management due to a pathetically weak, entrenched Board is synonymous with the parallels of repetition compulsion evidenced in similar distressed firms, e.g., Amtrak, GE, Boeing.

    By now, it should not require an in-depth Harvard Business Review case study to validate how a weak, inexperienced, entrenched Board can only tolerate, if not encourage, an incompetent management team at the expense of customer experience and positioning of the brand.

  10. AA is in a race to position themselves as the worst largest network LCC while providing poor service and charging premium prices.

    They are thinking that if British Airways can get away with it…?

  11. @Curious Cat – I have been able to hold my tablet on my lap and finish movies during final descent. As long as you’re not using a laptop you should be ok, though it’s still a substandard option compared to PTVs, especially since my tablet takes up room on my tray table when I’m trying to eat or drink something.

  12. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is going to change at AA until the board kicks all of the ex-US “executives” azzes to the curb. Doug Parker and his clan have absolutely ruined this airline! That’s exactly why my family refuses to fly with AA and chooses another airline – even if it means we have to make a connection.

  13. Agree 100% Parker “Destroyed the Brand”. When will the Board of Directors wake up and fire Parker so American can return to the great airline it once was.

  14. AA hub flyer; Gary, I really dont understand the big deal about the lack of in-seat screens. This is 2021. All phones nowadays have great resolution, and if I brought a tablet, it would have both better resolution and larger size than an in-seat screen. I understand this is a cost-cutting move, but it just doesn’t bother me much. Almost everyone has a phone, and the IFE is free and works well. Why are you so hot and bothered by this? Many other things that AA is incompetent at, but I dont see this as an issue.

  15. Also was on Delta recently on a 4 hour flight. No one wants to buy the headphones anyway. What a waste.

  16. @Curious Cat The Viasat satellite system is “gate-to-gate” so you can start watching movies/tv shows as soon as you board the aircraft. iPads are perfectly acceptable to use as long as you disconnect a keypad if you have one attached. The exception is a laptop computer-it must be turned off and stowed for taxi, takeoff, and landing.

  17. Delta and United seem to understand the premium customer and needs….AA seems to understand and listen to the Allegiant and Spirit customers ‍♂️

  18. While the lack of IFE certainly makes the planes look “cheap” and personal devices are (IMO) an inferior experience, what really should be called out is the abysmal F “Oasis” seat. Super uncomfortable, almost no recline. I was on an American Eagle E-175 recently and the F seat was far superior to the crap offered in “Oasis”. Prior to this experience I couldn’t ever imagine a regional subsidiary airline offering a more comfortable product than mainline, but here we are.

  19. How about some basic editing before you launch a crusade? “On tine”’would maybe refer to a fork ?

  20. Can we just call AA what it is, a LCC. It’s siblings with Spirit and Frontier. I fly AA with zero expectations and I am never disappointed. If I want a premium experience I fly Delta.

  21. 100% of people who can afford the luxury of flying can afford a cell phone.

    Alaska Airlines gives every pax free texting while in flight. One World partner American should do the same for all, not for just T-Mobile customers.

    I don’t want someone banging on the back of my seat throughout the flight while they are digging through TV and movie options on seatback entertainment.

    If I want to watch movies or TV while flying, I download them from my subscription streaming services, just as can nearly 100% of those wealthy enough to buy plane tickets.

  22. I don’t mind not having seat-back entertainment. On my last flight I even ended up talking to the guy next to me for the entire 4.5h flight!

    However, if you’re going to use “streaming entertainment” as the excuse, you had damn well better provide functional power ports at every seat in the plane. AA fails at this, too.

    AA execs get an F b/c little Timmy’s phone only provides an hour of battery when watching movies on a flight that lasts 3 hours.

  23. At this point I would prefer AA actually schedules crews to operate planes on time and have maintenance working to prevent mechanical delays. Until they get the basics right.. the rest doesn’t matter to me.

  24. Hopefully once they swallow up low cost/no-service-at-all jetBlue they can salvage their better than average fly-fi wifi.

  25. To me, the most important thing at the moment is restoring reliability. I miss the IFE, that’s for sure. But the three most important things to me are
    1) On time arrival – and all that goes with that happening (maintenance, airport ops, luggage, etc)
    2) increased support during IRROPS. If you know the AA system and have status you can navigate it. But if you don’t, the support is atrocious.
    3) food and beverage service – I was happy with the offerings pre-CoVID and their not returning is a cost cutting move of the worst kind. Many times I don’t have time to grab something in the airport and particularly now, lines are out of this world.

    My wife flies to Europe regularly (even during the pandemic). Her experience on AA has been so underwhelming she is planning to take her paid J tix to LH until (if) AA gets better. Domestically if I’m flying to another airline hub (DFW based) I’ll strongly consider anyone else unless it’s an AA spoke with no other real options.

    If AA had a reliable operation and any sort of focus on customer service they really could get away with not having IFE. But they don’t.

  26. Silly complaint. So I am better off with a blank JB screen because it is broken and the plane I’d full?

  27. As an employee of one of AA’s major competitors, I honestly cannot comprehend how Doug Parker and his executive team still have their jobs, considering how far they’ve let AA fall over the last several years. Considering that, the Board should be replaced also.

  28. Southwest Airlines has been the most consistently profitable airline in the U.S. over the last 50 years, yet it doesn’t have in-seat entertainment screens. How is that possible? When did it become a felony for airlines to have different business models?

    On a separate note, I was once fired from a job for making a comment my boss felt undermined his business. I used a euphemism rather carelessly, and my boss took it the wrong way. But it was his business, so he had every right to fire me. Actions that could potentially undermine a business can be a cause for termination.

    Last point. Airlines are in the transportation business, not the entertainment business. See Southwest Airlines above.

  29. I think the public is split on the seat back IFE issue. I think it makes sense on a long-haul, and all of AA’s 777s have seat backs.

    But honestly for shorter domestic flights I just bring a tablet and use my Bluetooth ear buds. I can either download my own content, or hook up to WiFi and stream whatever they have on offer.

    I actually like the additional space and freedom that comes from a lack of IFEs on narrow bodies. I can see families not liking it as much, but how often are families flying compared to us business travelers?

    Coming from DL, I will say the service isn’t as consistent with AA, but their routes are great and the hard product isn’t that different for me. Also, during COVID they’ve been trying to provide drink/meal service to first class as best they can.

  30. I’ve used their streaming content on my iPad many times. Is it a hassle? Of course! Luckily an iPad has great battery life so it doesn’t need to be plugged in, but it’s something else to deal with – take out of my bag before storing in the overhead, then something to pack back in when at the gate. Of course there’s no place to actually leave it rest except for the tray table. Those flimsy little holder things won’t hold an iPad. And really, who is going to watch a full movie on a tiny phone??

    But I can deal with it. What’s a shame is the elderly people who don’t have iPads, the family who does not have an iPad for each family member (all but Ensuring cranky crying kids), the younger person who cannot afford one just yet, or the majority of the flying public. Yes people have phones, but the vast majority of people do not watch television or movies on a small phone. I guess some will, but it’s no where near as nice of an experience. For me it works, but I’m conscious of others and realize that it doesn’t work for the majority of their customers. Is it a make or break? No. But it really does make the product look so much better and more upscale. Take a brand new AA plane and compare against a 20 year old Delta plane and the Delta plane looks brand new, fresh, upscale, and modern. The AA plane just looks basic, drab, basic, and cheap.

  31. It’s time for this wimpy board of directors to take charge, if they are capable of seeing what’s happening to this once great airline. And, in my opinion, the practice of allowing the CEO of a company to be on the board of directors, let alone be Chairman of the Board, should be outlawed. As far as I can see the board of directors of AA does nothing but collect big salaries and scratch each other’s backs.

  32. I flew AA for many years, ExPlat 3 MM’er. All aspects of service deteriorated badly. After a horrendous episode at DFW I finally just gave up and jumped to UA. Have never looked back. AA now a tattered shell of their former superlative self.

  33. Many comments are hung up on the IFE units but that is just a tiny aspect of the problem. It is the total degradation of the entire flight experience and the near total lack of customer service. Parker and the management team are just parasites. They do not care that they have ruined the brand. They do not care about customers or long term prospects for AA or it’s shareholders. It is about sucking as much money as possible out of the corporation. The taxpayer subsidy AA received just gives them more financial resources to loot before they leave for greener pastures. The board is supposed to exercise fiduciary responsibility for the corporation and shareholders but it is obvious they are reaping the same financial rewards and have become willing accomplices.
    I have been enjoying driving to meetings but when I do resume flying it will be on another airline despite being Exec Plat for nearly 2 decades.

  34. @Mike you and I have every reason to be AA loyalists because we have so much invested in flying on them. Therefore, our defection illustrates with crystal clarity the depth of issues at AA. It takes a lot to shove people like you and me into the arms of a competitor.

  35. I prefer seat back screens as I can put entertainment there and do something else on my iPad. But I take exception to AAs claim that their streaming is satisfying. It sucks, the Apple Music streaming doesn’t work and it is the only music option. There is no fresh TV content, only last years season of Apple+ shows and other vintage selections. And the ultimate sin, no live map based flight tracker.

  36. @Mark @Jetsetter29

    Thanks for your feedback! Regarding ViaSat Internet, it is my understanding that United (which is my primary airline) offers that brand of Internet access only within continental U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and Europe, and then only on select Airbus 319, select Boeing 737-900, Boeing 757-200 with premium transcontinental service, and 737 MAX 9 (no wide-bodies).

    So, for example, if I were to fly United’s B777-300ER across the Pacific, I can only use their Panasonic Internet, which does not permit streaming of anything, and their flight attendants most often don’t activate that service until after take off and then shut that down even before we land (so totally annoying). United does offer onboard WiFi streaming of IFE contents, but I’ve never needed to use that option, since their 300ERs have seat back IFE (eg, in Economy) or separate IFE (eg, Business). Fortunately all seats do have access to A/C power outlets for those who prefer to access IFE contents using onboard WiFi streaming to their own tablet or smartphone devices.

  37. Its obvious that Parker and his cronies don’t care how they have destroyed AA’s brand as a leader in the airline industry. When AA took delivery of their new A321 and B738 planes they were equipped with IFE and comfortable seats and now Parker has removed them during the pandemic while the other big 2 are taking advantage of this huge mistake dropping AA to the bottom and seeing AA elites moving to them. All board members should be axed along with Parker and his cronies. It is all about self enrichment with no regard for a great passenger experience and being number one in the airline industry.

  38. Prior 35 year employee at AA. The product is embarrassing. I go out of my way to fly Alaska Airlines. Everyone is happy, engaged and treat me well. Clue to AA management….give up your performance bonuses this year, you haven’t earned them.

  39. It’s amazing how union management know so much but never ran a business. I have been on several AA flights in the past few weeks, most with IFE screens and walking forward and back, I saw fewer then 5 active screens, most people were using their phones / tablets. I don’t agree with DL or UA, for domestic, I prefer (and many other I know do also) hi speed wifi, a device holder and a plug. The darn IFE screen work sometimes, are usually nasty dirty and I can’t use my noise cancelling blue tooth head set (althrough UA have it solved but I will have to pair them UGH ).

    I don’t hate AA’s product and when they are on a roll (like today PHL to PHX, 45 minutes early and a gate free when we landed). Their FC service is better then DL or UA for sure and their meals are better. I know Doug Parker must have done told Gary that his mother dresses him funny and has been on a vendeta ever since, but a lot of people fly AA, repeat fly AA and have good flights.

    If the union leaders every decided to work with an employer and not against them, maybe their service would be consistant and their ranks would be happy to come to work.

  40. @sunviking82 you nailed it. I was on AA yesterday. The majority of people were using their personal devices. I will also guess most people are not carrying wired headphones/earbuds. It has been awhile since I was on an AA plane with seat back IFE and as always, the intrusive under seat boxes and screen hardware are robbing precious personal space.

  41. As someone pointed out above, I’ve never been able to get the free Apple Music streaming to work on AA. I have an iPhone but it just doesn’t work, ever.

    There are clearly people on both sides of the personal screen debate, you can’t please everyone.

    HOWEVER, I think AA needs to think about its brand and what it stands for. Sure, people might have their own devices and they can stream movies on them. But does that feel premium? It’s functional, but not aspirational in any way. It’s easy to dismiss something like this, but it truly does make a difference long term. DL and UA clearly think that having a higher-end brand matters and is a good investment. Why does AA disagree?

    Think about it a different way. Imagine you walk into a Chanel store and it feels like a Kohl’s inside. The usual high-end Chanel clothes, but sold in a store that’s basic and low-cost. Management might think “well, we can save a lot of money and at the end of the day the customer still has Chanel clothes and they can wear them to fancy events and that’s what really matters.” Wrong. You can still sell fancy Chanel clothes in cheap stores — it’s functional — but you are ruining the brand in the process. Nobody wants to pay $1,000 for a shirt in a store that feels like a Target. Just like nobody wants to spend $1,500 on a domestic first class ticket and feel like they’re on Spirit.

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