American CEO Robert Isom Shares His Favorite Aircraft

Checkers fast food burgers used to run commercials with the tag line, “you gotta eat!” You have to ingest food to sustain life, and they offer something that constitutes food. Profit!

That’s sometimes seemed to me to be the attitude at American Airlines about their inflight product. They need to have one. Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja explains that their schedule is the product.

So it didn’t at all surprise me when airline CEO Robert Isom answered the question what is your favorite plane with “My favorite plane now is planes that deliver on time” at the Skift Global forum.

I responded on twitter that this was “the most Robert Isom answer, ever.”

You’d think that he might answer from the perspective of passion about aviation, perhaps a feat of engineering. Or he might answer based on what his own airline operates (they love their Airbus and Boeing narrowbodies). Or he might love what an airplane lets them do for customers. A plane needs to be a fit for the airline’s route network and customers, so a plane that serves unique destinations effectively or allows for niche products their customers love might be a favorite. Instead Isom suggests – that with manufacturer delays – a good airplane is a done airplane.

For years the inflight product was something of an afterthought. They didn’t even build a mockup of the cabin for their new standard (‘Oasis’) domestic interior. Instead, in COO David Seymour’s words, they just ‘taped it out’.

They bought seats, the fundamental attribute of which was that they were seats, and they fit the layout of passenger accommodations that had been sketched (as the airline moved from 160 seats on their Boeing 737s to 172 seats). They didn’t really test out the way the galleys would work, or restrooms, or realize that the seats would be uncomfortable and first class wouldn’t have underseat storage. They wound up retrofitting first class (‘Project Kodiak’).

This was penny wise and pound foolish, but one of the first charges Isom gave upon becoming CEO was that employees shouldn’t spend a dollar more than they need to. He’s view the airline being in competition with Spirit and Frontier.

Yet American also has some outstanding premium products, like Flagship First Dining and they are putting new business class suites with doors into Boeing 787-9 and 777-300ER aircraft. They’ll even be introducing new bedding and amenity kits to go along with the new seats.

So there does seem to be a renewed interest in product at the airline, even as they’ve treated planes as interchangeable and seats as seats since US Airways management took over. My hope is that Isom’s favorite plane becomes whichever has the best new seats, and that the right aircraft for the airline becomes the one that best meets the needs of their customers.

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. And then maybe realize that none of that matters if you don’t put out a decent product, and invest in your employees to present that product in it’s best light. Otherwise, once again it will seem like good money squandered, and not move the needle one inch.

  2. Or, better yet, the non rev recreational cabin club. That’s what the so called Flagship First cabin turned into. Non revs, dead heads and crew rests while the rest of the airplane just watched. It’s funny how AA keeps rubbing on your nose how they’re really a “ premium “ carrier by slapping a door on an otherwise boring and already tired looking seat. If anything, the cabin now looks even more crowded and tightly spaced, but I’m pretty confident our non revs will absolutely love it!!

  3. Hey Isom,
    Your 15,000 pilots would like a contract delivered “ON TIME” and since you and team can’t figure that out, full retro pay needs to be delivered. Walk the walk buddy….

  4. Wasn’t Isom just saying/joking that he wants planes the manufacturers can actually deliver? Given the delays AA (and all the other airlines) have recently suffered, doesn’t that make perfect sense? AA can make more money if it can take delivery of more aircraaft — demand is now far outpacing supply. Any airplane is now much better than no airplane.

  5. AA worst airline in America.

    LGA departure delayed just 20 min and all of a sudden 3 gate agents scrambling to check everybody’s bag and to give up on the boarding group order (gl to passengers who paid for priority). Manual boarding back to front like you are at the DMV waiting for your number to be called.

    VP of customer experience are you proud of this?

    And we still departed 40 min late. Why? Turns out manual boarding is NOT actually faster. And many people forced to check their bag RIPPED the tag off on the jetbridge and carried it onboard anyway.

  6. Gravelly
    Having worked 30 plus years as a FA. I can hold any flight around the world in any cabin. Guess what most of my piers me included bid coach galley
    Very senior position
    Upgrades. Point scammers have made it a joke bar premium routes. Lhr gru nrt eze. Etc
    Domestically guess what your all upgrades and we know that from the paperwork. And yes the paying pax know also. (3% ers).
    Yes u earn the miles thru company subsidized travel policies. Unfortunately if doesn’t come with a manners manual

    And guess what non-revs aren’t going away. It’s a perk. And most act with that in mind. And believe me if your spouse or kid worked for a airline you would be the 1st to get in line

    I’m done

  7. Oh Ron, you big big bully!! Lol everyone should just lean back and chill a little, don’t you think??

  8. Ron – that attitude is exactly what is wrong with our company and why we will never excel. It doesn’t matter if the premium cabin was full of upgrades, mileage awards, or someone who paid one dollar. As a matter of fact, it’s really none of our business. Leave the numbers game to management.

    Our job should be focused on providing the best service we can given the tools provided. If we all did our jobs as we are suppose to and follow service protocol, we actually could be a pretty good airline. Remember at the end of the day who signs out check, and let’s not forget the people who actually make those checks possible – the passengers (upgrades/paid/points).

  9. @Steve—thank you for your perspective on how FAs should be doing their job. Obviously you enjoy yours and I hope I get to be on one of your flights. Best wishes to you.

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