American’s CEO Focuses on Operation Over Customers Because He Believes That’s What Customers Want

American Airlines has focused on ‘D0’ — departing exactly on time — and has been willing to sacrifice anything else towards that goal. Employees are expected to ensure each flight pushes back not a minute late, and can get called in and reprimanded if other operational needs are allowed to get in the way.

The airline’s belief is departing on time is the more controllable than arriving on time. Once a plane pushes back it’s largely under the control of the government (air traffic control) and things like weather which are outside the airline’s control. But up until departure issues are more controllable.

Last month airline President Robert Isom acknowledged that without the right resources, D0 fails. Despite a relentless focus on D0, they haven’t actually been good at running an on time operation.

At last week’s Crew News employee question and answer session an American Airlines captain asked Doug Parker about ‘D0’. They complained that when a flight isn’t pushing back on time anyway customer service agents haven’t been willing to offer customer service. One of their connecting passengers had left a phone and computer on their prior flight, 7 gates away at Chicago O’Hare, and no one would go get them for her. They complained that no one in customer service is given the authority to offer customer service.

American Airlines at Chicago O’Hare

Parker responded that’s wrong, because they’re doing what customers want, saying that “the most important thing to customers is that we deliver on our commitment to leave on time and get them to the destination as they have scheduled.”

  • D0 is the result of getting processes and staffing and vendor relationships right. It’s not something you just click your heels three times and yell at employees over.

  • When you do it’s the customer that takes it on the chin. Upgrades don’t get processed, flights don’t get catered, and customers are forced to gate check bags unnecessarily.

    • Employees get called in for taking a catering delay when international first class is missing servingware. They called called in when a flight that’s double catered out of Dallas has no food for first class, and they take a catering delay — because the alternative is no food for two flights. Several managers stand on the jetbridge flailing about.

    • Gate agents force passengers to get check their bags, even when there’s plenty of overhead bin space, just in case because if passengers wind up boarding and having to gate check closer to departure that could mean a 5 to 7 minute delay. That’s bad for the customer. It heightens their anxiety and wastes their time on arrival. But it protects the employee from the wrath of their supervisor.

    • First class seats go out empty when agents are unwilling to take the couple of minutes to come on board and move up an economy passenger after the passenger who was supposed to be seated there either no shows or misconnects.

Depart With Seats Looking Like This? No Problem!

Apparently that’s how Parker thinks customers like to be treated. He says, “Airlines that have done a really great job with operational reliability like Delta, they’ve done it by focusing on D0 first.”

Let’s leave aside that Delta has a superior TechOps capability that keeps their older fleet running better than American’s newer aircraft, and that American has disgruntled mechanics.

Airlines that achieve operational reliability do it by getting the right resources in place to accomplish everything that’s necessary to get planes out on time, not by requiring employees to skip steps and inconvenience customers in order to achieve operational goals.

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. […] This week American Airlines banned a passenger within hours of a mask incident, something that usually requires multiple violations at the carrier. In this case the boarding door had already closed and the jet bridge had been pulled back, when the customer who refused to wear a mask needed to be removed from the aircraft. They weren’t just violating mask rules, they were compromising D0! […]


  1. How absolutely, positively pathetically wrong in believing this leadership style is acceptable, smart, and successful.

    Such an abnormal attitude towards the paying customer begs for when Congress will authorize cabotage and fifth freedom flights. Nothing like a good injection of competition to pushback the ‘barbarians at the gate.’

  2. I get mad as hell when I get great customer service from customer service people. You go, Doug Parker!

  3. @AmericanAir Flt#2499 ORD-DCA on Nov 12 departed with 6F empty even though there were more than 15 people on upgrade list @realDougparker is a

  4. That’s what customers want????????????????
    Did they do a survey where thousands of their loyal customers said to forget about customer service and just focus on D0? In what industry do the customers tell companies that customer service is not important?

  5. Such a self inflicted wound. Delta and Southwest are notorious for padding their on time arrival stats by giving a bigger buffer on the flight times themselves. For example Southwest advertises OAK to BUR at 1 hour and 30 minutes. Anyone who has ever flown that route knows that it only takes an hour, and they can get it under 50 minutes if they pilots try to make up time. This leeway gives the airline time on the front end to sort out any issues and board the plane without some mad rush (even in the WN model). Customers don’t give a shit about what time their flight leaves, they plan it based on when the flight arrives. I’ve never met someone who was upset if we hadn’t pushed back from the gate exactly when the boarding pass said, but plenty of people are pissed if they arrive later than they expected. Parker might want to listen to the NPR Hidden Brain podcast about this (

  6. Alaska has some serious issues with its ability to mix INT partners on award tickets and its availability more scarce than the big alliances.
    It does however have the best service culture in the industry and they are incredibly empowered to help assist their customers and make things go right when they fail
    Enjoy speaking with many of their CS reps in reservations
    I’m a happy Alaska elite customer and I will stay there for a long time to come likely
    American should learn everything about Customer Relations and service culture from Alaska
    They are role models in North America
    After almost 20 years at American it is everything possible that could go wrong with a company
    With no overall fault except that of of upper management & their terrible misguided CEO DP
    I avoid American at all possible costs.The management is unworthy and ungrateful of their customers past or present loyalty
    I’m not sure the damage can be recovered

  7. It’s just too much for customers like me to expect BOTH operational reliability AND customer service…get out! My only true expectation is that top management will get rewarded either way.

  8. Agree entirely with Gary’s article. There is so much wrong with AA that needn’t be, it’s glaringly plain that it’s time (over time really) for CEO Parker to be shown the door. Equally plain is that the board has lost touch with the customer base also. Maybe time for renewal there too?

  9. Agree, American prevents its employees from being helpful. Onetime I had a really nice ticket agent volunteer to try and clean up my itinerary bc it was a huge mess (not AAs fault). In the end after calling a few phone numbers he said he couldn’t do anything… I then asked if I could simply drop my last flight (I would just rent a car) he said that they’d cancel my return flight then..
    Agent thought he’d be nice try to help but must have forgotten he works for American Airlines… Poor guy

  10. Except that DO isn’t happening. Maybe my experience with AA is different from others, but they simply do not run an on time schedule in any way, shape or form. If it isn’t mechanical, it’s crew rest. If it isn’t paperwork, it’s gate equipment. The question is not whether there will be delays, but how bad they will be. I’ve suggested they simply write, “We apologize for the delay,” into the planned script that they recite at the beginning of the flight, since they usually need it.

  11. AA, Worst of the Worst!
    I’ve also left AA as an Exec Plat, now I’m just about A List Preferred on WN and Mosaic on JetBlue. Also Silver on UA. I’ll look at AA flights only as a last resort, maybe fly them 2-3 segments a year now. Besides a terrible corporate culture regarding customers, they also gutted the same day change benefit. With United, I can do same day changes either the day before or the day after my flight, and no stupid restrictions about not being able to change routings. B6 has a great same day change program also it books in to any Y seat. Did you hear me, AA flyers, B6 ssame day changes book in to any Y seat!? While WN doesn’t officially offer same day change, there agents seem pretty empowered to do what they need to do :). I tell everyone now that while all the airlines aren’t great, AA is the worst of the worst when it comes to race to the bottom. Unless say your flying biz/first on a focus route out of JFK for instance or unless your Concierge Key.

  12. A real pisser…

    Eating over a month for my SYD to LAX systemwide upgrades to clear… which never did… and then watching two AA employees moved up because seats were unfilled.

    Yeah Doug, that’s the type of service that EPs want… NOT !!!

  13. Doesn’t Doug Parker represent the definition of “being in denial?”

    With everything failing and its stock price crashing, when does a vote of no confidence come up for this management team and BoD?

    And the reason there are so many AA articles is because there are so many AS issues.

  14. Should have written “because there are so many AA issues”

    I’ll vote no confidence on my autocorrect.

  15. The three clowns “trying” to run this airline are doing an excellent job of running this once great airline into the ground!! They couldn’t run USAir much less “the new” USAir!! Have never in 33 years seen such an Incompetent group of so called “leaders” and board of directors doing their absolute best driving AA back to bankruptcy while they all walk away with millions in their pockets laughing all the way to the bank!!
    ALL of the unions have voted overwhelmingly a “No Competence”vote!!!
    Can’t see ANY improvement any time soon while the fleet service and the mechanics folks are (still) in negotiations for a new contract with NO CONTRACT that’s way overdue!!
    They have both given and given and given even more and have gotten NOTHING in return year after year after year!!!
    It is way past time to show these clowns the door from this three ring circus!!

  16. Isom & AA could of made a killing saying AA will give passengers on-time performance WITH customer service (even if it’s 100% true marketing or 95% true or 90% etc etc or not)

  17. If having a FC seat is that important – avoid upgrade stressors and reserve a FC seat. It is that simple. Prioritize and proceed. Yes, it is more expensive. But it is a choice. Several years ago I reserved a FC seat Atlanta to Honolulu. A young soldier with obviously serious injuries was in coach. I volunteered to switch seats with him. He had already been traveling for over 24 hours, the lie-flat seat would allow him to obtain much deserved rest. I ended-up seated beside a rude and self-entitled male that complained for the first 3 hours that he was next on the upgrade list and somehow a ‘lowly GI’ managed to get his seat. I finally approached a flight attendant, explained my situation and asked if any other coach seats were available. The ‘lowly GI’ was the sole survivor of an IED explosion – on every level I viewed him as a hero. As I changed seats I did inform the jerk that if he reserved and paid for a FC seat, as I did, neither of us would be in this situation. Another passenger overheard the exchange, he voluntarily took my seat. He probably weighed 350+. Mr Jerk in the window seat was jammed against the wall. It was interesting – seems he was traveling with the wounded hero.

    Yup, pay for the FC seat or endure the consequences – whatever they may be. Adult choices.

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