American Airlines Surveyed Employees. They Didn’t Like the Results, So They’ll Ask Fewer Questions.

In 2017 American Airlines surveyed employees on the state of the company and the results were abysmal. For instance,

  • Only 41% of American Airlines employees believed that the airline’s management makes “the right decisions that take care of customers” and only 32% believed American’s leaders listen to and “seek to understand the frontline team member experience.”

  • Only 33% believed leadership makes “the right decisions that support” employees. Fewer than half believed they have “the flexibility to meet the needs of our customers who fly American” when things go wrong.

Last year American repeated the exercise but shared only a snapshot of results with employees. Employees kept asking, but this time management kept things close to the vest.

They didn’t like the results, so for 2019 they’re not repeating the full survey. Instead they’re reducing the frequency of these surveys to every two years, and will supplement with a ‘pulse survey’. As they explained to employees,

This survey is more of a status check to see how we’re doing. The feedback will allow leaders to see where we should add more focus. Going forward, we’ll conduct AV Pulse surveys regularly (targeting every six months) and a full companywide American Voice survey every two years beginning in fall 2020.

AV Pulse runs Nov. 11 through Dec. 4 and should take no more than five minutes to complete.

Pulse surveys were always in the plan, but they were going to be much more frequent. Two years ago Patrick O’Keeffe, American’s senior vice president of HR, told me that they would be doing shorter “pulse” surveys as well as company wide full surveys. The shorter pulse surveys were intended so that the airline could get employee feedback without waiting a year for a major survey. That plan, it seems, has been jettisoned.

  • American says the full survey takes too long and employees don’t like it
  • Yet last year over 42,000 employees took the survey. From employee comments I’ve seen what they didn’t like was not having the full results shared back with them

The airline didn’t like what employees had to say. The solution? Ask fewer questions.

After all, despite the negative feedback about management and the frustrations everyone said they felt day to day in their jobs, the airline reports the changes they’ve made as a result of the surveys are more communication, more meetings, making it easier to recognize employees for great work, and payroll deduction donations so that employees can help other employees in need.

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. This is not just limited to AA, I have worked at several companies where this was the practice when employees do not provide the desired response. While those companies were not in the airline industry, this is a tried and true MBA method to only here what you want.

  2. Employee surveys are a scam run by consultants. Employees eventually learn that if they rate everything as perfect there will be no follow-up meetings for self flagellation.

  3. Boeing has done the same thing repeatedly. And we can see what happened with their practices concerning commercial airplane design, development, and customer communications. Now they build flying coffins.

  4. I certainly don’t follow you, but without exception when I read a negative article about American Airlines, I see you are the author.
    Maybe you can share what has created your myopic view of American Airlines.
    It will be hard to trust other articles you have opinions about seeing the slanted and frankly naive view you have regarding complex and complicated reasons corporations and their managers implement procedures and programs to reach their short and long term objectives and goals.

  5. Let’s be honest; the only thing any public company cares about is Wall Street. Employee surveys are lip service and always have been.

  6. And, without doubt, they will do what another big company did: put some inane and highly ridiculed program into place – said program intended to improve survey results, not fix the problem.

    AA and it’s management have no clue.

  7. I’m quite sure that just as we did in our pilot union, surveys from management are structured to get the answers you want.

  8. Same goes for surveys of customers and not just for AA. I have stopped answering unless i have something (good or bad) i want to say as nearly all of the surveys are too long and seeming structured to get meh results. I only worry that in some instances staff is negatively affected by low response rates but hey, every time i buy something from Amazon they send a questionnaire. I figure only the companies designing the surveys benefit. For companies it is check the box on customer care.

  9. I remember one survey in my company indicated that employees were unhappy about promotional opportunities. Our company tended to hire from the outside instead of promote from within.

    So they rolled out an internet self-study training program. In other words, out of date training modules, which would be time consuming, but not improve skills at all. Further, you had to get management approval for any training module. Of course, any training would be costed back to the department, so managers did not want to approve the training. Company continued to hire from the outside. Problem fixed, see.

    The person setting up the program was promoted for a job well done. Two years later the training program was quietly dropped.

    Such surveys are a waste of time.

  10. American is not taking care of it’s passengers or it’s employees. Doug is in over his head. He ran a leisure airline before. This is not the same world. Business travelers are where the money is and American is not stepping up to the plate to keep them happy. They need to start taking dramatic steps to save the many who are bailing out of the AAdvantage program for Delta and start giving their premium passengers the thanks and perks they deserve.
    Scott Kirby is gonna catch AA’s ass and put them in number three position if they don’t wake up.

  11. So Gary, give us an estimate of what American spent to survey 42,000 workers.

    At the very least it’s
    42,000 X $20/hour X 1 hours. So $840,000 at a minimum + follow up time.

    Tell us why AA would waste a million bucks on something it did not care about.

    Also AA ain’t the most profitable airline. Maybe it simply decided not to apend a million+ bucks a year.

  12. HR departments are not in the business of providing an outlet for grievance to employees, or to communicate employee feelings to management. They are there to protect management, to give management a rationale for decisions it has made (or wishes to make), and to provide cover for wrong or possibly unlawful actions.

    If the survey is negative for management, then the HR people did not manage the survey correctly.

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