At the most recent employee question and answer session with American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, a flight attendant asked about the airline’s inflight product — she hears from premium customers that the product United and Delta offer are better, and she worries because new American Airlines flight attendants aren’t getting training in service, and ‘half’ of flight attendants don’t follow the service standards that do exist.
Ok, she did more than ask about the product. She looked right at her CEO and said American’s service standards “suck compared to United and Delta.”
Parker explained that they want to offer the same thing as everyone else. He said “we work really hard to match our service to our competitors, and they do the same to us.”
- This isn’t a new theme. A year ago Parker told investors and journalists that there’s little point in trying to beat the competition with a better product because everyone will just match. So any differentiation comes down to service.
- United expresses a similar idea — former American Airlines President now President at United Scott Kirby says their approach to product is “keeping up with the Joneses.”
Parker though thinks they’re keeping up route-for-route. If a competitor does something different on the same route, they’ll do the exact same thing.
Our team does a really nice job of making sure we understand what other airlines are doing and our product is as good or better in terms of what we put on the aircraft meals, etc.
…That would be really surprising if indeed we could find markets where passengers say ‘oh no I fly United or Delta over American because the inflight product is that much different.
PM Lite Bites
Of course this is the exact problem with American even if it were true. Jeff Bezos observes that the most important value at Amazon is being obsessed with what the customer wants and needs rather than focusing on what competitors do.
But Parker thinks American provides better service than other airlines, and believes their product is better than competitors too.
The service you guys are providing is fantastic, and the aircraft we have are newer, and the overhead bins are bigger and the product we are putting out — I fly those other guys too — the product we put out particularly because our flight attendants are better is superior to United and Delta. I am certain of that.
…Fly around on a Delta airplane, all those airplanes are 15-20 years old. They did a nice job making them look nice inside.
For all of Parker’s criticisms of oneworld partner Qatar Airways under CEO Akbar al-Baker, it seems he’s making the same argument about Delta that Qatar does: that Delta flies ‘crap airplanes’.
To the customer though it’s the interiors and the service that matter, not the age of aircraft. Delta offers not just blankets in domestic first class but also a pillow and a bottle of water at each seat, and that’s in addition to predeparture beverages from friendly flight attendants who genuinely seem happy to be at work. American doesn’t do that.
There are great American Airlines crews but they actually do stand out when you get one because it isn’t the standard experience. And American isn’t providing the service training to its new flight attendant hires, though they plan to offer just a little bit starting next year as American’s VP Inflight Jill Surdek explained,
We’ve heard that feedback for several years that new hire training we’re not providing as much service training as we should. That’s very fair feedback.
We’re in the process right now of taking the curriculum — we’re not expanding the number of days… but we’re taking two days and we’re going to be adding more food service training… more service and more training and bidding experience in the program that starts in 2019.
American is going to offer two days of service training and training on how to bid for the trips they want. It’s no surprise they needed to run airport staff through ‘elevate’ training since they’re not getting the training they need while training.
A year ago I watched Singapore Airlines flight attendants train. They practiced plating meals in a mockup of an A380 business class cabin.
- They start laying down servingware “inside out” — serving a window seat passenger that means placing items first by the window, placing one item precisely on the tray at a time and ensuring that Singapore logos face the passenger.
- Then they switched to a middle seat passenger in the same aisle which meant laying things down in the precise opposite direction.
- They practiced asking a passenger if they’d like bread and they practiced pouring champagne.
Singapore Airlines Training
No one expects American Airlines to offer Singapore Airlines service. But the airline doesn’t lay out much of an expectation for their flight attendants at all. On Delta flight attendants often present my jacket to me when returning it at the end of a flight, rather than dropping it in my lap. I’m lucky when American Airlines flight attendants proactively return it prior to landing at all.
Ironically new American Airlines flight attendants that aren’t getting enough training on how to provide proper service are the ones who generally provide the better service among American’s flight attendants. The enthusiasm hasn’t been worn out of them yet.