American Airlines Top Executives Have Been Calling Their 50 Best Current Flyers

It’s common for American Airlines top elites to receive an ‘executive liaison call’ to take a customer’s pulse on the airline. These may come when a customer’s business volume with the airline has dropped, though isn’t limited to that.

However recently American has been speaking to the customers that are traveling the most now during the pandemic – and it’s not the ‘executive liaison’ callers doing the dialing, it’s the airline’s senior management.

American Airlines President Robert Isom told pilots last week that Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja and Chief Customer Officer Alison Taylor thought it would be “neat to find out who it is that’s traveling and still earning elite status throughout the pandemic.” So they “pulled a lit of the top 50 customers and assigned 10 [each]” to various senior executives, including Isom himself who reports that this was the “first time [he] cold called customers in a long time.”

He shared the tenor of two of the calls. In the first “one of the customers, a woman was in car with her husband” and when she answered she said “is this a recording?” She acknowledged she’d been “traveling a lot.” He wanted to know about her business that’s been causing her to travel since the small amount of business travel the airline has been seeing is led by Midwest manufacturing. The customer replied that she’s a courier for bone marrow.

His next call turned out to be with a mechanic who works on power plants, and he’s been traveling to Europe – keeping power online – and that he found American’s “planes are clean” and that he’s made to “feel appreciated.” Of course there’s some selection bias in these calls. What he didn’t share is whether his airline’s most frequent customers of today told him they need to do anything differently.

The normal ‘executive liaison’ calls have been ongoing, and last month I saw reports of several. Those sharing the details of their calls that I saw complained mostly about the new standard domestic “Oasis” (and “Kodiak”) product, rather than the AAdvantage program itself.

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. Tangential, but this reminds me of the time back in 2010 when my actual Congressman (Colorado 7th district) knocked on my front door before the election and just wanted to talk, since I was registered independent.

    I was so unprepared and shocked that we didn’t have a good, substantive conversation, and I wish I would have had 5 minutes to compose myself and have a real discussion. I imagine I would have the same type of call if I picked up and Scott Kirby was on the line. They would likely get some more real feedback if they gave these customers 1-2 days and some leading questions to prepare them to give some more honest feedback.

  2. I would say that a personal phone call would likely tell you more information than any survey could. It is free flowing. Surveys are horribly designed by consultants looking to make money and aren’t useful with all of the “strongly agree/disagree” questions.

    A survey should be more along the lines of:
    1. What did you like?
    2. What didn’t you like?

    Or even easier:
    How was the experience?

    But that would require someone reading the surveys instead of converting answers to numbers that don’t show the true issues. I’ve seen surveys with pages and pages of questions so I either bail on them or randomly pick stuff.

    And if AA was doing things correctly, they should also look at who was flying a lot and now are not flying and call those people and see if they simply aren’t flying or if they have moved to other airlines.

  3. @Rich:

    Instead of fixing surveys and making them more useful or easy to fill out, they now contain a random line item mid-survey that says “Answer this question: Agree Somewhat”, and they weed out all the responses where somebody is just going straight down the line of Strongly Agree or Strongly Disagree.

  4. I received an executive liaison call a little over a month ago. I began traveling for personal reasons pretty much is soon as I could in June but at a much slower pace than before because I can’t currently travel for business purposes due to company regulations.
    As expected the person who called was incredibly professional and friendly and asked me questions about how the flights on American had been for me since the start of the pandemic. My response was authentic in that I felt that the planes for the most part were clean and the airlines genuinely making efforts to try to keep people safe. My major piece of feedback to him was that American is filling middle seats and therefore there is the risk that I will be seated directly next to and potentially touching a stranger on flights, And therefore so far I had done everything I could to book first class so there was no middle seat with me and my travel companion, which happened to be a younger daughter and my older mother. Now this preference to fly first class is of course related to if the first class fares are reasonable enough to allow for this, as this is personal travel and I certainly don’t have the means to fly first class at premium first class rates.
    I told him that there had been occasions where I flew a different airline because of the middle seat policy and I couldn’t secure a reasonable fare on a first class ticket on American.

    I also told him that given the extreme reduction in services for first class the only benefit was the no middle seat for the most part. I am not a drinker so having drinks served is not a big thing for me but I could understand how it might be for others is one of the benefits of being in first class. However I had been on flights where not even a single drink had been served at all, assuming under the guidelines that no service would be offered, however within the same trip on different planes I was served my sparkling water as I needed it, so the consistency is definitely not there yet And there was a general though not confirmable feeling that the flight attendants really had the option of whether they wanted to do it or not. . So the expectation of a first class experience is not reliable and worse it’s not met.

    So my feedback was if the middle seat policy remains the way it is and they don’t offer amenities in first class outside of that that to make it a more premium experience, It becomes more and more difficult to justify the additional cost of first class and does have me considering flying other carriers who do give that protection even though I don’t get my elite benefits. The reality is that losing those elite benefits mean much less than they were prior to the pandemic because the services have been reduced so dramatically.

  5. I agree most surveys are useless and extremely poorly designed, with a bunch of numbered “metrics” that don’t mean anything.

  6. I don’t understand why you insist in buying this internal information that is not supossed to be release to the public, and put it in you every day less interesting blog.
    blocking the middle sest DOES Not give you the spacing recommended by the cdc. All you need to need is to properly wear your mask, reduce the instances wear service would require you to remove it ( drinking many alcoholic drinks).
    I believe most people request bring up the middle seat card, as an excuse for more confort. When frontier proposed charging more to to keep the middle sest, everybody complained. Nothing is free.

  7. Where is your source on the reports of executive liaison calls last month regarding Oasis/Kodiak complaints?

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