American Airlines Plans To Keep Reduced Onboard Staffing Levels, “Try To” Still Deliver Service

During the pandemic American Airlines reduced the number of flight attendants working on Boeing 787, Boeing 777, and premium cross country Airbus A321T aircraft.

  • They were looking to cut costs any way they could
  • They weren’t offering much service anyway so didn’t need the crew on board
  • They were still staffing with FAA legal minimum crew or above

Now that travel demand has returned, the airline is keeping these lower staffing levels. And the airline is beginning to restore inflight service. The flight attendants union complains it’s difficult to deliver the kind of service passengers expect when first class flight attendants split their duties in other cabins on Boeing 777-300ER planes, and there’s no longer a separate crewmember preparing meals and providing service in first class on the A321T.

A flight attendant asked at a Crew News question and answer session with executives this week when staffing levels would be returned no normal since service levels are coming back? And they were told that the change had nothing to do with Covid or service levels, an executive responded that “we were at a competitive disadvantage with other airlines on similar aircraft” so they reduced staffing “to be competitive.”

CEO Doug Parker chimed in to reiterate the “cost disadvantage, we had more flight attendants for those aircraft types than other airlines, they tend to fly to FAA minimums” and it was pointed out to him “plus one.” He continued,

The answer is we’re going to try to keep doing this with the same standards other airlnes were on those aircraft types. And again it wasn’t because of Covid – well, it probably was because of Covid, we had to save every dollar we could – so it highlight things like these we may not have done it in other times. But nonetheless we’re going to try to do it with this and hopefully we can.

If we find the service can’t be delivered of course we’ll make sure we’re doing what we can to deliver the service our customers expect. But other airlines seem to be able to get by with that complement level so we should be able to get by too.

In fact when United removed a flight attendant from business class on international widebodies their product suffered. The airline catered pre-plated meals so there’d be less work to do. But as United has restored service domestically they actually added a flight attendant to their Boeing 767-300s operating domestically. One flight attendant per 23 business class passengers meant they weren’t delivering the product premium passengers expected.

But the takeaway here seems to be once again (just like with single agent boarding) simply doing what other airlines do rather than what they need to do in order to deliver a quality product, and “get[ting] by.”

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. At this point, I’d be barely satisfied if American could simply deliver me to my destination on the same day.

  2. If you keep whipping your mule or your dog at first they’ll ignore you then eventually they’ll just walk away.

  3. So Dougie is now officially on record that cutting service had nothing to do with COVID. COVID was the cover they were looking for.

  4. American’s service is a joke. There flight attendants were already hit or miss, mainly miss. But now that they have an axe to grind it will only get worse. American only gets my business if 1) I can burn miles at a reasonable rate 2) they are the only viable option or 3) they are materially cheaper than any alternative.

    What’s more, they are a perfect 6 for 6 in 2021 for canceling or rescheduling at least one leg of a round trip this year. Their schedule is a placeholder not an actual flight plan. And somehow when my flight is canceled the rebooked flight is always one that was cheaper at time of original booking than y to be one I booked.

  5. @Johnny – 6/6? You’re either lying or exaggerating as most Karen’s do. I fly AA all the time and can count on 1 hand how many times my flight has been canceled or delayed over 2 hours this past year.

  6. I agree with American Airlines hit or miss (mostly miss) statements. I have had cancelled flights and marginal support. Spent hundreds on Uber and taking cabs. Not included are hotels. To the arrogant person who called someone a Karen. Well you are off subject and so far lucky.

  7. I fly American every week, sometimes twice a week and my flight are delayed….all.the.time…ALL THE TIME. Rarely a cancel, but the delays are so often I just assume it will happen. This will only contribute to the frustration.

  8. @Shawn

    You are getting a lot better odds than I got. The last time I flew AA I was 4 for 4 on a simple jaunt from CLT to MCI. I got screwed on coming AND going. I switched to Delta, out of 74 flights I have taken in the past year, I have only one go south and was promptly rerouted. AA is no better than the LCCs they apparently are attempting to compete with.

  9. AA is obsessed with cutting costs from the staffing perspective, and to hell with the service level, they think that since there’s hardly any competition , because the routes are preactically set and airlines don’t have equipment to add much additional flights. They can get away with this levels of service from supposedly a premium airline. But bag delivery is horrible, if you pay for a priority bag see if it arrives on the first batch as promised, left baggage because they don’t have enought staff to handle the bags, delays because they don’t have enough crews, be ramp or flight crews, they think they’ll get to greatness that way. Cutting the people that make the difference in a great airline vs a mediocre one. But they go on a spending spree on technology to change it a couple of years later. Thats why the moral at the airline is so low, things wont change until the change the top of the pyramid. If not that obsesion to cut labor costs is going to ruin them.

  10. We are passing thru a very difficult phase. Recently we were allowed to Travel from India after two years. let us hope everything become normal again.

  11. I’m sure they will be just fine. It’s amazing that when you actually have to work your job becomes more meaningful.

  12. @Shawn – for the record I am not embellishing. On every flight this year I have had a cancellation or time change on either the out or back or both. Just had another where both changed for a Feb 22 booking. And it isn’t just me. Other family members have had a similar experience on different flight pairs.

    One was an outright cancellation that left me hanging around BOS for 7 hours

  13. Soooo.. I guess we should expect international flights to have higher cancelation rates should a crew member become ill during the scheduled trip. The remaining crew should have been able to absorb the difference if they were minimum plus one, but reliable schedules clearly are not.a priority with the current leadership.

  14. American wants to reduce staff, improve service and increase dependability the answer is simple. FIRE PARKER! The man has brought AA from the best to worst since his arrival from US Air.

  15. From “going for great” to “same day service, sometimes”. The planes say “American” but the operation is actually America West. A VP friend of a tech company told me that his company has banned corporate travel on American despite the HQ being in an American hub. That tells you everything you need to know.

  16. I wanted to use AA to fly internationally in July 2022 but was totally disappointed when they removed the one straight flight and kept numerous 1 or 2 stop flights for hundreds of dollars more. We all want to start traveling again but to reduce staff and provide canceling and removing flights at a higher cost is ridiculous. They need to do better.

  17. I guess that I’ve lucked out on AA since resuming air travel in August. My flights in first class have included LAX, JFK, DFW and MAD. None were canceled or delayed.
    Flight attendants were attentive. Meals were good. Last week, a JFK-LAX flight was back to serving dinner in courses and they also offered the popular made-to-order sundae dessert. (I resisted the temptation.)

  18. Everyone on all the travel blogs consistently whine and moan about AA – why not just switch to United, Delta, Southwest? Put your money where your mouth is. Gary has been an EXP for decades, just switch. Me, I will fly AA when schedule and product make sense

  19. I live in a smaller city where American is the best option for travel. More destinations to more cities than Delta and United, and Southwest doesn’t fly to my city. I am an EXP, but have considered the cost and time invested into switching and I’m not sure it makes sense for me yet based on my location.

  20. You mean a business made a decision that is going to help the profit margin? UNHEARD OF! UNACCEPTABLE! Old @Gary, ever the sensationalist.

  21. I am a strong user of AA. I carry their credit card for personal and business, which has allowed me and my family many great adventures, but they are definitely slipping rapidly in the wrong direction. They have dramatically increased the dollar amount on their reward travel for international flights, $700-$800 on top of the miles is absurd. The flight options have diminished, and the talk of all the flight delays, cancellations, and now minimal flight crews just tops it off. If they are not careful, Delta or United is gonna swoop them up, just like what has happened to many others.

  22. Earlier this month on what normally is a 6 hour flight with a 1 hour layover in phx, my flight from Cabo to Reno took 3 days!!

  23. This America west management believes on making money by reducing cost , rather than investing to attract premium revenue customers. They are college boys that are running a legacy airline with Walmart in mind.
    You can compare the 321t with what other airlines offer. It is the only aircraft with three class configuration in the states. Created along three 777 300 by the legacy american airlines . This is too big of a bite for this management.

  24. Cutting front line service is a wonderful way to increase your passenger loads and endear your frequent flyers to your brand, if your running a business on Mars..

  25. Cutting front line service is a wonderful way to increase your passenger loads and endear your frequent flyers to your brand, if your running a business on Mars..why not just shoot yourself in the foot.

  26. This seems to be a recurring theme of AA for the past 30 years. When I worked as a passenger agent in the late ’80s and ’90s, we were chronically understaffed. And then the company had the gall to put the blame on employees when things went wrong because they couldn’t handle the workload. Everybody, including customers, suffers in this type of toxic work environment. My warning to AA: watch out! It’s going to come back to bite you…!

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