On Tuesday I wrote about the American Airlines plan to reduce labor costs with ‘single agent boarding’. Airline CFO Derek Kerr brought up the plan at an investment conference after saying that employees just “have to work harder in certain areas.”
My immediate reaction is that this is going to be a customer service nightmare. Without sufficient staffing you can’t take boarding passes and also,
- Monitoring carry on bags and charge to gate check oversized ones
- Add people to the standby list who show up at the gate looking to get onto the flight
- Handle last minute upgrades (when a passenger no shows)
- Help customers change seats so they can sit together
- Answer questions from new or nervous flyers, and provide general customer service
This can’t all be done with single agent boarding, let alone doing all of this and still push back on time which American Airlines has made a priority for years though has performed poorly on this score precisely because they haven’t invested in doing all of the things that help an airline to be ready to depart such as having catering arrive on time, getting cleaning crews on and off the plane, etc.
Now, to be sure this has already been happening at some stations, where there are enough supervisors relative to active gates where managers can step in when needed.
Aviation watchdog Jon NYC shares that the plan for single agent boarding applies to:
- Narrowbody aircraft (like Boeing 737s and Airbus A321s)
- When they’re less than 80% full
..that single-agent boarding will be rolled out onto narrow-bodied flights with LF’s below 80% only.
Personal opinion- the automated clearing of the PALL list is a joke and is not liked at all by agents. And the big worry is what happens during IROPS. Important to say that..
— ˜”*° JonNYC °*”˜ (@xJonNYC) May 25, 2021
One person reports “Also— Single agent flights was rolled out last year on < 70% load factor flights. It is increasing to < 80% in June”
— ˜”*° JonNYC °*”˜ (@xJonNYC) May 26, 2021
As Jon observes, delays and cancelled flights are going to become even more of a problem without sufficient staff to help customers get rebooked. It’s a far worse customer experience to tell passengers to ‘go to customer service’ or to ‘just use the app’ (which tends to offer very few options even when flights are available).
Single agent boarding eliminates one of the most important customer touchpoints, a big tradeoff for relatively little savings.