American Says Customers Have Become Less Likely To Recommend the Airline

American Airlines produced a report for employees on the carrier’s progress towards its 2019 goals. One item that stood out – apart from the airline’s operational problems this year – is that customer “likelihood to recommend” scores have fallen.

The airline attributes this to its reliability challenges, although it’s equally notable that American compares themselves to just before they began retrofitting domestic aircraft to a new less comfortable standard.

  • Less distance between seats, not just in coach but in Main Cabin Extra and first class too
  • Thinner seats with less padding
  • First class seats with less underseat storage and tray tables that often won’t lay flat
  • New smaller lavatories
  • No seat back video screens

Indeed it’s striking that even as American has added high speed internet to its planes, and bigger overhead bins so customers don’t have to gate check their bags, passengers haven’t liked the airline more because these big gains are offset by reduced comfort in their seats.

American attributes unhappy customers solely to their on-time problems because when the only tool you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Notably Southwest has had its own operational challenges yet also has happier customers.

Their diminution of the coach experience has even taken a toll on customer perception of their strong international business class product. Most customers fly economy most of the time, and even international business class passengers are often in back for shorter domestic flights. And the new American Airlines standard domestic offering creates a ‘reverse halo’, an impression of lack of quality that makes it hard to internalize where they do offer quality.

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. […] American Airlines does NOT have this sentiment. In my view, they would do well to not kill every bit of good will they keep from their frequent flyer program – at least until they can make significant onboard improvements, including their on-time arrivals.  In fact, Gary Leff just wrote this post a few days ago: American Says Customers Have Become Less Likely To Recommend the Airline. […]


  1. With all of the problems they are having, a decrease of “only” 1.4% actually seems pretty good.
    OTOH, if that means that 1 1/2 people out of every 100 may not return, load factor declines, the impact on profitability is significant…as all other costs of running the airline remain the same…and that last person out of 100 is where it’s really profitable.

  2. Its almost impossible to fly internationally to Europe- except LHR (usually via BA) or Paris on an AA itinerary. Try booking Zurich, Amsterdam- the routes via partners are 17-29 hrs to JFK!

  3. I would think the gutting of upgrade and award availability, as well as of other aspects of its FF program, has had a big impact also. On the rare occasions AA comes up in conversations with colleagues, friends or family these days, it’s about how the airline has gone downhill, certainly not to recommend it.

  4. AA in economy class is pretty bad and getting worse, and it’s reason enough to avoid them even on trips where part of the journey may have been confirmed in long-haul business class. But if AA managed to have a better on-time performance and a better IRROPs ratio than Delta and United, they wouldn’t come across as being as bad and AA would still get its near-term pound of flesh out of the passengers on its full planes.

    I already suspect that you don’t like the idea of government regulators establishing minimum comfort standards for airline passenger cabins, but absent such action by government regulators or a governmental break-up of the US airline industry cartel kingpins, don’t expect things to sustainably change for the better any time soon for economy class passengers in the main on AA planes too.

    I’m not even sure you are a fan of government regulators having any government-established, minimum safety standards for airlines, so I can’t help but suspect that you’re opposed to much the same being done for passenger comfort purposes.

  5. You’re right, Gary. I’m a former EP who doesn’t fly AA, anymore. And it’s not because I’m worried about landing on time. 15-30 minutes late is almost never an issue to me. But, having an onboard product in which I feel taken care of is everything. Today, if I’m flying in coach domestically, I choose jetBlue. Even thought they are inefficient — sometimes even chaotic — on the ground, the inflight experience is one I enjoy and can count on. Similarly, if I’m in First, I’ll take Delta for the same reasons (unless Mint is an option on the route I’m flying). American has forgotten that the flight itself is the most important thing, and if I dread that, there’s almost nothing that can induce me get on your airplane.

  6. @Gary C (Not Gary Leff) – remember this is “likelihood to recommend” and not net promoter score, Delta talks about NPS and AA doesn’t, NPS deducts those who are negative about the airline from the positives. I’d say the AA drop reflects poorly off an already low base.

  7. What are American miles good for nowadays? They advertise 25k miles domestic round trip that never seems to exists, everything is at least 30-35. Service have gone down to the toilet. The last debacle they had at Dallas got me vowing never to fly w them again.

  8. Honestly what makes me less likely to recommend AA is the devaluing and disempowering of the customer service agents in the airports. It cheapens the overall experience.

  9. Honestly after my last 2 AA flights, the only way I want to fly them again is to burn my miles. We lost a day of vacation in London in May after not one, but 2 planes leaving Chicago had mechanical problems. We waited to board the second plane until 4 hours past the scheduled departure time of 5pm.. I asked twice if anyone was going to time out and was told “no problems”. As soon as the entire plane was boarded, we were told that 2 of the pilots had left because they were “fatigued”. The flight wasn’t officially canceled until almost another hour.

    I wrote 2 letters of complaint that were never answered for weeks. AA finally said they would give me 10K miles – which they never put into my account. I’m done.

  10. Why not face the facts that American Airlines has gone to hell. There. I said it. They’re dishonest with their passengers lying about weather related cancellations. They cancel flight with no notice leaving people stranded for days with no recourse. This isn’t about smaller seats. This is about poor management bleeding down the ladder to the customer service agents. I’m a former airline safety systems analyst so I’m very familiar with airline operations. When I have a CSA on the phone tell me point blank, “I don’t care about your minor daughter being separated from your family and flying alone to Central America”, there’s a problem with management.
    Just do a brief search on Facebook for American Airlines Complaints AA. This group has grown from 1000 members to over 3,500 and climbing fast.

  11. I’m a former ExPlat with 3.7 million miles that finally capitulated in 2017 and moved to United. And I’m based in Dallas which tells you how much the American Airlines experience has degraded that I would make such a switch. AA doesn’t care. I leave and another customer simply takes my place. FWIW My experience as UA 1K has been much better.

  12. I have never flown on AA, and based on the bad reputation of AA’s rude and lazy flight attendants and gate agents, I never will.

  13. Gary, AA might have bad on time performance but Air Canada has the worst in NA! For me the deal breaker for AA was the tiny coach seats.

  14. @Beth

    That’s actually slightly different. “Time out” is something defined by regulation, which can (and is) known in advance. “Fatigue” is subjective, and something the pilots are allowed to do. The gate isn’t going to know about it ahead of time.

  15. BA went through this same thing. They decided that customers wanted cheap at all costs, so they gave them cheap, and then their brand value took a big hit. Gary’s posted a couple of slides out of an internal power point deck that BA put together on brand value.

    The problem “with” cheap is that you have to make it a core part of your business model and make money off of it. If you really don’t want your customers to buy the “cheap” fares, as an airline, you’re screwed. By that, I mean take a look at the current state of AA. Their brand perception is “cheap”. Crammed coach? Thin seats? Bathroom I can’t turn around in? When I go to the aggregators and look at fares, they better *be* cheap, or I’m flying someone else. There’s nothing about the brand that makes me want to pay extra.

  16. @Gary

    It’s probably hard to get the bigger overhead bin thing to show up in customer satisfaction scores. That’s only going to matter to the people who board last on the plane, so if you got on early enough and had space for your stuff, you wouldn’t notice/wouldn’t care.

    AA would have to do some marketing around the big bins, and roll out a splashy “nobody has to worry about gate checking their bag” campaign. And if they can’t make that promise, it’s going to be tough.

  17. I want to like them so bad. They need new leadership quickly. On top of the planes, produce, experience, they are now cancelling more and more and stranding passengers. They clearly don’t have a handle on the mechanics union or any relationship or respect for them.. They cancel and call it weather when other planes are flying before, during, and after on the same route.Then they don’t care what happens to the customers. I’ve had two different paid J trips this year both cancelled and downgraded on intl flights. They have no empathy and there is literally is no recourse for the consumer.

    It might be time for some accountability and regulation. If they were consistently good at operations and had good customer service they wouldn’t have anything to worry about……

    At the end of the day, the consumer just wants to trade money for services not failed promises.

  18. @Dan, in response, I find it hard to believe that those pilots would have let them board the plane and THEN decide they were fatigued. My guess is they told them to cancel the flight and AA refused to do it until they walked off. I do understand the difference between timing out and pilot fatigue.

  19. As I am totally done with AA, I am working on a match challenge with DL, as neither my body nor my stomach desire to be abused by AA ever again. The Oasis program should require every corporate manager and board member to have those coach seats as their desk chairs.

    A key marketing point you were spot on about was the inevitable impact on international revenues. Unless AA is just content to live off of its split revenues with BA, IB, and soon Qantas, who in their right mind would contemplate flying international business on AA, let alone the inferior Oasis for domestic connections? As well, AA makes it impossible to utilize miles to fly direct to Europe, e.g., ORD-PHL-LHR-MAD=no way!

    Should a recession and/or spike in oil bring down Parker’s circus tent, perhaps the best solution for AA would be to split it up between Alaska and Jet Blue?

  20. Lifetime AA Platinum forced to fly them last week. 2.5 hr. flight departing at 6 PM, in first, and all they had for food was a basket of chips, no snack boxes, let alone a meal. No PDB, had to ask twice for a soda plus a broken seat armrest taped together. I then got to experience the debacle called the Eagle’s Nest at LAX. Ripped them a new one on the survey (LOL on that one). The whole experience just reinforced my decision to fly anyone else. A Spirit “Big Seat” would’ve been better

  21. Gary, I was a road warrior for 25 years and AA was my airline of choice. Then, for ten years I ended up flying Southwest and Delta for personal trips because they offered the most convenient flights. But during the last year I flew on American six times and every flight except one was a nightmare. Seats were so uncomfortable that I was in pain for a couple of days after flights. There were multiple cancelled flights with one leaving me stranded at DFW where we encountered the nastiest and rudest gate agents I have experienced in a lifetime of travel. It is clear that the corporate philosophy now is, “No one here gives a flying fig about the welfare or comfort of passengers.”

    As a person who was an enthusiastic American loyalist for many years, it makes me sad to see what a disreputable and dislikable organization it has become. If another airline can get me to a destination, I will not fly American in the future. It should be the exclusive domain for confirmed masochists.

  22. To the extent that customer comfort is an important factor in LTR scores, airlines can be victimized by their success. Gary lists the physical changes that make passengers less comfortable. The fact that airlines have been selling more seats and reaching record load factors – 87.5% for the three months ending 6/30/19 adds insult to injury.

    Furthermore, crowded planes mean crowded gates and airports which also detract from passenger comfort. Delta’s commitment to improving the airport experience seems like a good idea now that it has kicked everybody’s butt on operations and customer service.

    As far as LTR scores, recommend means to approve of. Other than Alaska Airlines, which I fly rarely, there’s no US airline I could recommend.

  23. I’m almost at $2M miles. I’ve been flying for over 30 years. If I get even the slightest opportunity I fly Alaska/Virgin. I HATE American. Why? SeAt size, flight attendant attitude, gate agents who are just as rude and think they’re doing you a favor, in ability to use awards or miles, mileage programs the are worthless, The free wireless is worthless; too, you can’t get on and it’s too slow to use, no TV monitors in coach. I could go on and on but it’s not worth it. American really doesn’t care anyway

  24. When even the AA lifetime elites don’t want to fly on AA unless AA’s tickets on sale are much cheaper in money and/or time than the other airlines, that’s a clear sign of how badly AA has damaged its own reputation with even customers who have more reason than the average customer to give AA their business.

    If someone asks me which of the big US airlines to recommend to fly, my first recommendation is this: try to avoid AA.

  25. After my experiences with American Airlines in Dallas (2017) and Evansville this year, I will not fly AA again. I’ve already talked 6 people into flying with another airline and will continue to do so.

  26. So, if everybody is correct and AA is crap, how come their planes are full, they still make money selling miles, and the operation is profitable?

  27. Given the terrible operation AA ran this spring thanks to their mechanics (with an assist from Mother Nature) they are lucky to have such a modest decline in their record high LTR number, The weakness of your blog is to use every “fact” to push an agenda even when there is a much more logical explanation. Obviously, AA achieved record customer satisfaction last year doing all the things you hate. Now that their operation is back to normal (today is 100 percent completion again), let’s see where the LTR number goes.

  28. And the corporate clowns running AA have the audacity to say “beat Delta!”
    Stupid is as Stupid Does says Forrest

  29. Chopsticks the mechanics have nothing to do with the demise of AA. Parker and Isom and the rest of the clowns are the reason AA is in a downward spiral.

  30. I now hate everything American does and use to enjoy flying them for decades
    Their award program now sucks big time
    As a lifetime Plat I’ve waste pd my time with them and flying other carriers now
    The worst of their destruction is the saver award going from 12,500 miles to as much as 50,000 miles one way in coach
    Some seats were 20,000 miles other 38,000 one way in coach etc
    What a rio off
    I’m flying Qantas in business class one way for 55,000 miles sfo to Melbourne in another program
    Or you can fly American for the same in coach LAX to Detroit
    No thanks and I won’t be flying or buying miles anymore from American
    I’ll do anything to avoid these ripoff artists

  31. American was my favorite airline from 1990 through 2012. Now I rank it behind Delta, United, Southwest, and Jet Blue.

  32. This is NOT rocket science. I was a flight attendant for over 30 years, so I know that part of the operation. I fly now as a regular passenger, rarely using my pass privileges because I need to get there, wherever there is, and back again on time, for my new career.

    I have watched American decline for years as they cater to the cheap-seat flyers. I have watched their workforce go from being valued by the company to being a necessary evil in the company’s eyes, and it shows.

    I have watched the antics of the alleged leaders of this company as they say and do things in public for which their employees would be terminated, yet bonuses prevail; Even while the business class passenger gets kicked to the curb.

    New leadership is needed desperately. Comfort onboard is a necessity for me and being sardined into my thin seat does not begin to approach comfort. Yet even that could be excused by my in air experience if the employees were permitted to do what they do best.

    These are men and women who understand customer service and safety, and the know how to deliver when given an opportunity. They are hindered by unreasonable expectations by a morally bankrupt leadership team.

    A fish dies from the head. Doug Parker, and his team gotta go!

  33. Next time your on a DL A320 series or the HD 757 or one of there 737-900 take a tape measure, they have the same coach pitch as AA. Also, a recent travel survey showed under seat space, power outlets and hi speed WIFI more important than seat back screens.

    AA needs to change the 737 Oasis layout by one row and replace the small bathrooms for sure, but the seating and features on AA and DL are pretty similar.

  34. Pretty bad considering there are people like me that actively avoid AA so don’t get surveyed on these issues

  35. You know things at AA are bad when a (former) friend of mine, an AA flight attendant, was hocking their Aviator card on Facebook. I wish I were joking.

  36. I made my reservation back in March. Treating myself to 1st class from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, Aug 15th -22nd. With a layover to change planes in Phoenix, I am taken out of 1st and moved to the back! I’m told they are very sorry but there is nothing they can do and refund me $95. How does that make it all better? It has been a long time since I flew with AA, will really think it through the next flight

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