American Airlines Calls Caterers Lazy, Threatens to Make Their Own Food

A Miami-based flight attendant who is clearly frustrated by the airline’s emphasis on “D0” — departing exactly on time, sacrificing everything else and scolding employees who prioritize other things — asked airline President Robert Isom about building a buffer to ensure flights are properly catered at an employee forum this week,

Several years ago I was called into the office because I took a 14 minute delay to wait for china plates to plate the food for Brazil. Like I’m going to shut the door and have a first class service to Brazil with no china plates, I just set the tins in front of them.

This flight attendant suggests if “we have to take a delay for the basics, we have to take a delay for the basics.”

I’d extend this to say that upgrades are a part of the basics, gate agents shouldn’t be skipping upgrades, and that if they aren’t able to handle processing upgrades into seats of passengers who don’t show up for a flight while still getting the flight out on time then the gate isn’t staffed appropriately.

Robert Isom responded to the question about D0 über alles that American had a problem with reliability. He said not being on time creates problems with maintenance, with crew running out of time, so they make sure the airline is on time.

I think one of the issues we face now that we’ve gotten back to competitive operating performance, one of the issues we find is that we don’t communicate as well as we need to around the issues you’re talking about.

So is it appropriate to leave without placeware for international business or first class service? And the answer to that is no, it isn’t ok to do that.

And the pressure you’re getting from somebody that says ‘we don’t take delays for catering issues’ well they’re not talking to the folks that really are looking at the operation from a system perspective. In some cases somebody may tell you hey look there are certain items because of whatever mishap we need to take action because you may work yourself into a crew rest delay or you may work yourself into a cancellation or something like that.

American Airlines President Robert Isom says there are things that trump D0. That alone seems newsworthy for the airline.

He says the airline will get better dealing with catering issues and beyond sanitation issues with Gate Gourmet at LAX he suggests the problem is poor service from caterers generally.

Isom says “the problem we’ve had with our caterers, we operate in a marketplace that’s a duopoly there are only two caterers, I think they’ve gotten a little bit lazy in terms of what they can provide us and expect everything to go well… If those two main suppliers can’t do their job we’re going to have to find a different way. We’re the world’s largest airline, even if it means we’re going to have to get back into the catering business.”

Mark this day: I believe it’s the first time we’ve heard American admit that limiting the number of businesses in a market can reduce the quality of service they provide to customers. America West took over US Airways which in turn now runs American, and they’ve just submitted a request for anti-trust immunity to coordinate schedules and pricing and share revenue with Qantas across the Pacific (much like they do with JAL, along with British Airways, Iberia, and Finnair).

There’s no explanation of course for how it is that other airlines do a better job at catering than American does – whether it’s the investment they put into the food or the consistency they receive from the same catering companies (and it’s not accurate to suggest that the only airline catering companies in the world are Gate Gourmet and LSG Sky Chefs, at LAX alone American was also using Flying Food Group and Air Fayre).

SkyChefs of course was founded by American Airlines in 1942. It was sold in the mid-1980s and is now owned by Lufthansa.

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. I don’t mean to be political, but AA should call the President. I hear he can do anything!!

  2. You realize these sessions are all off the record right? A Corp comm person actually says that before she introduces Robert.
    Whoever is letting you watch these videos forgot to tell you that.

  3. this is hilarious.

    Wish someone would ask him – is your fleet expansion plan REALLY- hoping some A319’s shake loose from EasyJet or Air Canada Rouge or or China Maintenance Airlines? Its all so pathetic.

  4. Anyone else get a chuckle about and airline exec complaining about a duopoly leading to lazy, poor service? Pot calling the kettle!

  5. Next episode, Robert Isom and Doug Parker work a catering kitchen. Mishaps ensure. Will AA beat listeria? Who will be the one screaming D0!! Tune in next time to find out!

  6. I keep reading about all the stuff American is having problems with and can’t get right and know that Delta learned all this stuff and fixed it years ago. It’s hard for me to believe AA and DL are even in the same league or that AA was once the premier airline in the US. I don’t understand.

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