At an internal employee meeting last week, a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing, a flight attendant asked American Airlines CEO Doug Parker about the challenges of single agent boarding.
During the pandemic American Airlines started assigning only a single agent to flights that were less than 70% full. This year they’ve started assigning just one agent to board flights that are less than 80% full.
Single agent boarding is a disaster. The one overwhelmed agent can’t manage boarding and last minute upgrades, clearing last minute standby passengers, and helping customers change seats – let alone answering questions from nervous flyers.
Perhaps even more importantly they can’t manage all the tasks that are part of departure while also scrutinizing carry on bag sizes (American is asking them to now charge to gate check oversized bags) and observe passengers who may already be drunk or under the influence of a substance which means that single agent boarding contributes to greater conflict on board the aircrat and potential flight diversions, too.
However CEO Doug Parker says they’re only getting a hard time over single agent boarding because they didn’t communicate well, initially via their CFO talking to investors (which I believe I was first to note). He says the practice is,
only on flights of a certain load factor, and there will still be support for the agent, and only when we have the systems in place that’ll help them to offload a lot of the work that they have to do right now. It’s a ways off still.
Except they aren’t putting two agents agents on all flights until the systems are in place for fewer, they’re doing it right now on all flights with less than an 80% load factor. Perhaps what’s “a ways off” is doing it on all flights regardless of load factor.
Chief Operating Officer David Seymour added that single agent boarding is “a work in progress now. it’s not massively rolled out there.”
There are technological improvements American has added, but clearly they’ve rolled out single agent boarding without all of them in place to make this work smoothly, and executives have to make excuses about the technology that is coming to assist with this and hemming and hawing around not fully rolling it out yet because it’s not ready (and still very much a “work in progress”).
American Airlines is clearing standby lists automatically an hour before departure to reduce the tasks an agent has to complete, but this also means that nonrevs listed for a flight will be confirmed and there won’t be seats available for customers running up to the gate to get added to the standby list. Lower status and non-status customers listed earlier will trump last minute Concierge Key members trying to get on an earlier flight when their connection arrives early. Although clearing standbys earlier means it’s possible to clear standby and still get upgraded at the gate.