American Airlines On-Time Departures Taken to a New Level of Absurdity

American Airlines believes that the number one thing that they can do to make planes arrive on time is to depart on time. So they’ve made it a company priority to the exclusion of most other things to ensure that flights leave exactly on time or even early.

If gate agents don’t bother processing upgrades, let alone coming onboard to move customers up when a first class passenger no shows, that’s acceptable because D0. If seats leave empty with passengers on the standby list that’s ok. If flight attendants don’t have time to offer predeparture beverages in the 30 minutes the flight is boarding that’s fine too.

Agents sometimes don’t bother processing upgrades for people who aren’t waiting at the gate. Flights board before scheduled and posted boarding time. So customers need to be by the gate, which is fine as far as it goes but delays rarely post until boarding time so customers wind up spending much more time at the gate than necessary — unable to take advantage of American’s investment in clubs that passengers are paying to access.

Thursday morning in Austin, though, D0 may have truly been taken to a new level. Here’s gate 14 waiting on a flight to Phoenix with no aircraft.

The flight shows DEPARTED however — prior to scheduled door close

Who needs to accommodate customers or even fly planes when you can claim to push back an imaginary A319s early? The logical extension of D0 is to ‘cut out the middle man’ of actually boarding passengers, just log planes having departed on time.

It was obvious to everyone of course that the plane hadn’t left, since it hadn’t boarded. Or at least to most people, a few in the gate area did look momentarily concerned.

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. Now I know where Manchester airport (MAN) in the UK have learned their tricks. Regardless of airline whenever I’ve flown from there they always made gate calls absurdly early. I particularly remember running through the terminal in a mad rush because last call was being announced… When I got to the gate, they hadn’t even *started* boarding yet.

  2. It’s understandable why corporations manage by metrics; the organization is too large to fairly-govern by qualitative means. However, the inevitable conclusion is nonsense like this.

  3. As I’ve always known: You get what you measure.

    BWIA, Caribbean Airlines and subequently all Trinidad departing flights (even Continental) used to post nearly 2h ‘boarding times’ to encourage people to get to the gate earlier. But it’s like the person who has their clock in the car five minutes faster so they are never late: It doesn’t work.

  4. I can’t decide which I like better:

    1. I go to the gate and the monitor says “boarding” And the gate agent snaps at me because the plane isn’t boarding ( or maybe not even at the gate yet) and the agent thinks it’s MY fault for approaching.
    2. I go to the the gate at the stated boarding time and find the plane has already boarded and there no room for my carry on even though I’m in F

  5. This and all the latest changes applied to AAdvantage, are the reasons why I spent all my wife’s miles and mine, for a total of 300,000 miles, in our las trip, never to come back to Advantage. I’m changing my credit card to a better program.
    American is leading the race to become the Shitiest none Low Cost airline in the world!!
    Way to go Doug Parker

  6. Well bc American does all of the things you’ve highlighted above (recently I even had a plane to mechanical after pushback, followed by three gate changes, an AC change and a delay of five hours – the plane continued to have the status of Boarding).

    If I’ve checked my bag, I stay in Admirals club until I see someone has cleared on the upgrade list and or wait to arrive to the gate 15-20 min prior to departure. Occasionally I feel bad when I am the last to board bc once in a great while we depart early…. But if AA simply updated its app so it could tell you when they suddenly board early or did a better job of telling you when boarding was delayed I could trust it more…

    I guess my point is I’m doing what i can to not cooperate I D0 bc I feel they don’t barely do the minimum.

  7. Oh yeah. I learned my lesson with American. They board 10-15 minutes before the boarding time and they leave 10 minutes before departure time. Learned the hard way. I showed up at the gate at the boarding time to find out almost everybody already boarded. It didn’t matter I had an F ticket. I had to gate check my carry on. And yes, it arrived on time, actually early.
    This habit of boarding people before the posted boarding time and leaving before departure time was observed on several flights lately. So, all of you flying American, you have been warned!

  8. To learn how things should be done Mr. Parker should take at least one JAL flight. Last year when JAL was flying B767 between Tokyo and Osaka:

    1) Boarding would start exactly 30 min before departure. By exactly, I mean not 1 min earlier and not 1 min late.
    2) JAL gate agents would be ready a few minutes earlier to start pre-boarding 5 min before opening general boarding beginning with J, elites, etc.
    3) There were at least 3 GAs at the gate all wishing you a good flight in either English or Japanese.
    4) Door would close 10 min before departure. Apparently, 20 min is sufficient to fill B767 with
    passengers to the brim.
    5) Ground crew would be giving a departure “salute”.
    6) A flight purser would come and introduce herself to One World Emerald members.

    Obviously, #5 and #6 cannot be implemented because of an extra burden
    to AA employees. On-time AA departure requirement is stressful enough…

  9. Is it the airline staff, airline procedures, the passengers, or all three? Sounds like AA is suffering from staff and procedures.

    I used to fly ATL-ORD on Thursdays on a UA B757 at 17h30. Delta had a bank at the same time. If the winds were from the west you had to get ahead of the conga line. (UA was in the western T terminal and all of DL’s terminals would disgorge 40-50 planes in front of us if we were late.)

    A rather loud ‘southern’ United agent would ‘get on the mic’ and basically pre-scolded the entire plane full of Tumi toting consultants. We were to board the plane in twenty minutes or we would likely be an hour+ late getting into O’Hare and miss any connections.

    We always made our connection on those days.

  10. Gary, did the AA app also say the flight had departed or just the gate monitor? My guess is the gate monitor just automatically flips the status to departed at the time of scheduled departure.

    This article is super obnoxious and doesn’t have much to do with D0 if in fact the AA app didn’t also say the flight departed on time.

  11. Gate agent the other day told me the boarding times are just generic times that do not mean anything.

    @ORD Flyer. You mean the same app that never updates anywhere close to a timely manner? AA’s notification system, texts, emails, the app, are horribly untimely and unreliable.

  12. Obviously a screw-up of some sort having absolutely nothing to do with AA’s “D-0” strategy.

    I’ve seen this type of thing dozens of times, so it wouldn’t much concern me. Still, it’s obviously a good idea for an airline and an airport to keep its display board accurate. Someone seeing that sign could have been alarmed.

    The weirdest display mistake I’ve seen in recent years was actually at the AA terminal at JFK, but didn’t involve an AA flight. I was on LATAM and the monitors showed something like Gate 10 as the departure gate. About 50 minutes before the flight, I left the lounge and went to Gate 10. The electronic board at the gate also showed the flight. But almost no one was there — including any LATAM employees. After about 5 minutes, I got suspicious and started walking back to the lounge to find out what was going on. Sure enough, the plane was departing from another gate about 100 yards away. As you might expect, other pax were confused by this, too. I’m guessing they made an announcement at Gate 10 before I arrived there, but still. Not sure who’s responsibility it is at JFK — or other airports — to update the gate information.

  13. Can I be a contrarian for a minute?

    I am a Plat Pro, earned by flying a lot of AA out of CLT. I have not experienced any of the D0 early pushes or other antics. Maybe I’m just lucky, maybe it’s more pervasive at other hubs? I’m not in love with many of the “enhanced” AA offerings but this particular issue simply has not occurred.

  14. “Gary, did the AA app also say the flight had departed or just the gate monitor? My guess is the gate monitor just automatically flips the status to departed at the time of scheduled departure.”

    Care to share just what the heck that justifies? You mean you’re cool with that, it’s just self loading frieght in the gate area?


  15. With Kirby at UA I’m seeing this as well. Flights notes as departed when the jet bridge is still at the plane.

  16. Updating in AA App. In my experience, the app does not automatically update. To update, I click on manage flights. Then go back to the previous page and it updates. When I care, I will do that a number of times before the flight.

  17. I recall that UA’s FLIFO system shows ‘taxiing’ when the brake is released. That still may be while the bridge is still in position.

    The fact that AA, UA and probably DL are different at each station tells you that it is not passengers, aircraft crew, or procedures (SOPs) — it’s straight up management, staff and discipline.

  18. the AA app is high maintenance, so for me more trouble than it’s worth. each airport messes up the departure process differently, but unless you are in Japan, don’t rely on any of it to go smoothly at the gate.Info displayed on monitors is on autopilot, so to speak. Unless a gate agent takes the time to manually update it, the monitor is usually the last place to look for current flight status. Your best survival bet is to become familiar with individual airports’ idiosyncrasies.
    BTW, I gave up the brinksmanship game several years ago. Once upon a time it was a thrill to scan the boarding pass and walk down the jet bridge as the gate agent closed the door behind you; the FA greeted you, took your coat and showed you to your seat where one overhead door was standing open, the compartment empty to receive your carry on bags. It really did used to happen that way.
    And years before that, all men wore hats and the women wore (or carried) white gloves.

  19. I took HND-LAX earlier this year. When I arrived at HND, the monitor showed 10 or 15 min earlier departure, but my AA app didn’t show the time change. I asked the check-in agent about it, and he told me that Japanese passengers always came to the the gate way earlier but American passengers. That’s why AA showed the earlier boarding/departure time so that they could finish boarding process earlier and depart on time or a bit earlier!

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