American’s CEO Frustrated With Abusive Customers, “I Don’t Have The Answer”

American Airlines CEO knows that the federal mask mandate – which he lobbied for – is causing most of the problems on airplanes today. American won’t service alcohol in coach until September 13th when the mask mandate expires. But he’s frustrated. He doesn’t know what else to know. So the airline is trying to stop ‘to go’ sales of alcohol in airports and trying to get more abusive customers prosecuted.

Parker said that they’ll do whatever they have to do to stop the increase in bad passenger behavior.
It’s still rare compared to the total number of passengers carried, but it’s up to ‘5, 10’ incidents per day. That’s why, according to comments made to employees (a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing, he said:

We’ll divert airplanes. We’ll do anything we can, we have to get this to stop. It is not acceptable. I get done with all of this and I don’t have the answer which is what’s so frustrating to me.

Nate Gatten, American’s Senior Vice President, Global Government Affairs, added that “we’re trying to partner where we can with airports to take a look at alcohol and alcohol to go sales.”

Parker added his strong opposition to airport alcohol to go sales,

It’s really hard to enforce because those ae businesses that have taken that position and there’s no real federal mandate that says you can’t sell alcohol to go somewhere in the airport.

It’s insane. You can’t bring liquids through security but you can go get alcohol and take it to go, and where in the world are you going? You’re going and getting on an airplane.

Austin Airport

American is also trying to get more customers prosecuted for their bad behavior, which isn’t just inflight (the stories that go most viral) but also at the gate. Gatten said they’re talking to “attorneys general in areas to make sure they’re willing to bring cases where we have evidence.”

Gatten then lauded the American Airlines agent who fired a customer last week, telling them to fly Spirit.

Parker referenced that agent as well,

I spoke to [the agent] last night because I’m proud of him. He was apologetic for maybe not being as professional as he used to. I thought he was fantastic.

…All of us need to do that and follow Austin’s example. What he did was exactly what we want people to do. The customer isn’t always right. And when they’re not they’re not going to fly American Airlines.

Parker also noted that American is “one of only two airlines that has chosen not to put alcohol back on the airplane until September 13 which is when the mask mandate is set to expire. These aren’t all about masks, but the mask mandate is the source of most of the issues.”

Of course American Airlines does serve alcohol in first class, and United and Delta don’t seem to have as many viral conflicts as American. Southwest now announces a warning not to drink your own alcohol.

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. […] Southwest Airlines isn’t serving alcohol at all on is planes. American Airlines won’t serve alcohol in coach. Both carriers have held off the return of booze until the federal transportation mask mandate ends. Three quarters of inflight passenger incidents reported to the FAA have been over masks, though clearly not caused by alcohol since those airlines haven’t been serving it on board. Although American Airlines has gone a step further and has been trying to ban alcohol sales ‘to go’ in airports. […]


  1. “Parker also noted that American is “one of only two airlines that has chosen not to put alcohol back on the airplane until September 13 which is when the mask mandate is set to expire.”

    That is completely false.
    I flew ORD-BOS last Friday and the FA served me Jack Daniels twice.

  2. The mask mandated isn’t “causing most of the problems on airplanes today”. Customer’s failure to follow it is.

    You wouldn’t say that the smoking ban is to blame for someone lighting up if someone breaks the rules and smokes on an airplane.

  3. It will be interesting to see if behavior improves once masks are no longer required. It may — a bit. On average, masks must negatively impact breathing for many people, which would not surprise me may make some more easily irritable. But cramming more and more people into smaller space with few amenities and distractions (seat back video?) will also just raise the irritability factor enough that some will pop off.

    Make flying more pleasant, and I suspect a lot of the problem will go away.

  4. I think that Thing 1 is correct. With the combination of unhappy flight attendants, increased density, less seat padding and no IFE, AA has made their cabin environment miserable and it’s causing people to break. Make flying more pleasant and likely a lot of the problem will go away.

  5. He doesn’t have the right answer for most of what happens at American which is why the airline has been in a free fall for years.and customers hating the in flight experience cramped seats and rest rooms and the program devaluations.The hostile takeover years ago was poison to the once decent enough airline

  6. Increased prosecution and banning of people should help. These adults are acting like children.

  7. Airline been in a freefall since the departure of Uncle Bob. Airline IS doing what they should and can do: setting an example and teaching the rest that if you misbehave, call people names, show disrespect, violate rules, don’t follow directions, you’re off your flight.

  8. i agree wiith thing1 comment-Make flying more pleasant, and I suspect a lot of the problem will go away. Also, they seem to want to do nothing for you now. I find the flight attendants are just looking for trouble from passengers- and I fly business class. For years they could not have been more pleasant and could not do enough for you and now they seem to cop an attitude if you ask for a glass of water. I also feel they are riding this covid thing as hard as they can. Why can they not give you a welcome drink anymore- even if it is not champagne- only OJ. Why can they not give you a hot towel- they collect them with tongs and give you cloth napkins- they just don’t seem to want to do anything anymore and they act as if they are doing you a favor for anything they do instead of being appreciative that you are buying business class tickets! costing thousands of dollars. I am sick of their attitude and don’t think it is helping one bit.

  9. Build a couple of jail cells in major airports to put the troublemakers in. Let them stay the night and then put them on the next flight out to their destination in the morning. Maybe a night in jail will get them to think about their actions the next time they fly. Can’t say anything good about entitled A-hole adults.

  10. The mask mandate continues to endanger FA, pilots, and passengers across the country. Ending the mask mandate will greatly increase safety for everyone transiting the skies.

  11. On the other hand, perhaps take a look or listen to how your passengers are being treated and spoken to by flight personnel. Behavior breeds behavior.

  12. I know what I would do with them but I’d get censored. Flying is a privilege not a right. Dress for your flight not like you just rolled out of bed or got off the dance pole. Check your children’s behavior.
    The greed factor imposed with more cramped seating needs an adjustment with Americans fatter than ever, I cant tell you how many I watch force themselves into narrow seats! No more narrow seats. It would be a lot to ask to get to one’s destination with some dignity. We all have seen the bus terminal crowd switch to the air, unfortunately.

  13. A traveling public which has
    – listened to 20 years of flight attendants simply making shit up in the name of security;
    – suffered alongside the continued sardine-can push to treat paying customers like cattle;
    and now
    – must watch these same useless idiots get drunk with power to enforce a mask mandate that is not entirely based on science (nor can it be; not enough data, not enough tests);
    may have simply reached a boiling point.

    These passengers are acting horribly and deserve the punishment they get. No defense of them. None.

    But to pretend the root cause of this is to-go alcohol sales and not two decades of anti-customer behavior and too much deference given to airport personnel… I have to roll my eyes.

  14. The answer is to scream at Congress to overturn the mask mandate.
    Planes have never been spread vectors, and masks don’t work.

  15. Masks don’t work in a scamdemic…easy. Only gullible Democrats wear masks. Enjoy

  16. People are fed up with AA’s piss-poor customer service, cattle car seating, and just general ‘F*ck the customer’ attitude. I’m not excusing rude and/or violent customers, but him complaining about about them is epic pot calling the kettle black.

  17. Easy answer: Tell your stewardesses to stop enforcing the mandate. Not their job.

  18. @Daniel, then you also know that guns don’t kill people, thugs with guns do

    @Thing, I do think getting rid of masks will get rid of the vast majority of the problems. Not 100% then again, there were problems before the mask mandates

    @Rog, why are they allowed on another flight anyway if they are booted from an original flight?

    What @Dina said

    @joanie, I’m not sure what one dresses like has to do with being able to fly. I don’t care what you wear as long as it doesn’t smell

    @Jack, I think some court just has to overrule the CDC [AGAIN] on this stupid mask mandate

  19. The federal mask mandate is as unenforceable as prohibition. It’s also unconstitutional. CDC overreach.

  20. This is the price the airlines are paying for following woke nonsense rather than truth. It was always clear to me that masks were not the solution to restore confidence in travel, just continued operations did that as flights operated before the mandate didn’t produce the dreaded outbreaks. It is time to remove the unnecessary trigger point of making masks more important than actual flying safety, I mean they never enforced seatbelts and more critical safety rules as ruthlessly as they did this mask crap. We all see through it and while not everyone acts out of line, it is time to let adults make their own decisions as to whether they want to fly with or without a mask. Done and done.

  21. Ban these people and get the other airlines to ban them. Airlines carry millions of people every year, you don’t need the few thousand who play the fool…..

  22. 1) raise basic air fares $50 each way. 2) install seat back entertainment. 3)follow through with legal action against pax refusing order of flight attendant and crew. 4) strongly advise pax of their responsibilities as customers aboard commercial aircraft and disturbances will not be tolerated. Actually standing your ground may improve things. American Airlines has an opportunity to make a change and is scared to do it.

  23. There is a reason you see this on AA, Southwest, Spirit, Frontier but not on Delta, United. 50 dollar fares bring out 50 dollar people. Put a hundred and fifty low class trashy passengers in tight quarters for three hours and this is the result. As long as fares are so low that even the poorest can fly, you will get this type of nonsense on planes. Ending the mask mandate will mitigate but not solve the problem.

  24. “Southwest now announces a warning not to drink your own alcohol.” Should Southwest announce a warning not to drink your own urine?

  25. One of these ‘5-10 incidents per day’ was the idiot sitting behind me on my flight home last night. He and his traveling companion were speaking pretty loudly in the gate boarding area – not sure if they’d been drinking, or just imbecilic frat boys. Then they boarded in one of the later groups, into the last row of the front economy section on one of the ancient 321s. The one right behind me had his mask on and then off and then on and then off. He was also kicking my seat, and digging around under the seat to the point that I finally turned around and asked if he was OK.

    Unfortunately for him, that’s also the part of the plane were FAs are stationed during boarding, and they were clearly on top of the situation. He got several warnings, but eventually we pulled out of the taxi line and headed back to the gate, where he was removed some ground supervisor in a suit. The whole incident delayed us more than an hour (on top of a pre-existing mech related hour delay).

    Still kudos to the FAs, who were having none of it.

  26. Here is an idea. Someone wants to cause an issue on the plane they go to jail. No more games. You want to be a blowhard on the plane you will be put in a cell and banned from flying. No more warnings, no more slap on the wrists. Real jail time. Send a message and you will see this crap stop real quick. Stop trying to blame the mask mandate. It is simply about people refusing to follow the rules and no I don’t give a crap what their opinion about the mask mandate is. Don’t like it? Then don’t fly. End of discussion.

  27. Disrespect for the rule of law and the rights of property are the common denominators underlying this year’s unruly passengers, the past year’s violent crime wave in large cities, the January 6 Capitol Hill riot, and last year’s Black Lives Matters antifa riots.

    This undercurrent got underway in the late 1960s, got supercharged by Obama and his “community activist culture” in the 2010s, then “went nuclear” with BLM / Antifa riots.

    Violators have learned law-breaking gets you what you want, when you want, and there are likely no consequences.

    No surprise, therefore, that an unprecedented number of people are doing what they want, taking what they want, regardless of the law, or the rights of others.

    Bring back the rule of law, the rights of property, and real consequences for violators, and this madness will stop.

    It worked for Giulani and NYC in the 1990s, and it will work again now, because base human nature never really changes.

  28. Michael Feldman nailed it. Too many idiots thinking flying is now an excuse for behaving badly in public. Someone else mentioned an on site jail of sorts at the airport…time the obnoxious were punished instead of the majority who are not making any trouble. And I’m sick of the FA’s being the scapegoat for enforcing the rules. They didn’t sign on to be law enforcement and shouldn’t have to be. Put the misbehavers on a nofly list at a miniumum…not just the airline they acted up on, but all. And yes, although these are supposedly adults who can entertain themselves the old fashioned ways, like looking out the window, or reading a book or magazine, Treating passengers more humanely…the seatback entertainment, padded seats, food and beverage, and dear god, a seat that fits a majority, will go a long way I’d hope to making things more civilized.

  29. My go to “to go” alcohol choice are the 5 shots of Petron I drink in the car on the way to my office… and I drink those sans-maskque!

  30. While the passenger behaviour is unacceptable, the media is forgetting about the airlines treatment of employees and customers. Airlines, in this case American Airlines , have reduced legroom to make more money, surly flight attendants who are mistreated by the airline, ancillary fees for bags and seat assignments which are not taxable, internet fees, devaluation of frequent flyer programs, cost cutting “in the name of COVID” , etc. Yes the passenger behavior is unacceptable. At the same time the airlines need to answer for their mistreatment of employees and customers. I’m hearing nothing about that issue. What we are now seeing is the breaking point.

  31. The reason why Delta and United aren’t having a proportional number of passenger behavior problems as Southwest and American are having is because DL and UA have been much more conservative with capacity and have not had to aggressively discount to fill seats.
    American’s strategies have been wrong and it isn’t surprising that they are backfiring again.

    And, in case Parker has missed it, murders are being set free in the US; the last thing prosecutors care about is violent airline passengers, many of whom are not under the influence of anything other than a lack of civility.

  32. I totally agree with the comments about travel conditions on U.S. airlines and specifically AA. If you treat people the way AA treats passengers there are going to be incidents. The mask mandate is just the final thing that triggers an angry response in many cases. Even when the mask mandate is lifted there will still be problems until AA addresses the root problem of retraining FAs to provide service instead of being mask police and adversaries and restoring some semblance of a pleasant travel experience. Parker however will do neither as long as planes are full. He can blame alcohol and the mask mandate while refusing to accept any responsibility for being a terrible CEO who created this problem and being specifically a low life person. A fitting reward for him in the next life would be an eternity of flying in AA Coach with the worst possible flight attendants.

  33. Seriously worried about the amount of people in these comments demanding jail time for people for “calling people names” and arguing and in general just being assholes. Kicking them off a plane is one thing, jailing for non violent outbursts is communist government level actions.

  34. last I heard interfering with a flight crew’s directives WAS a federal crime. Behaving for whatever reason in a way that causes a crew member (or gate agent) to believe the person’s inability to follow directions or behave in such a manner that will endanger others on board in an emergency is reason enough. There has to be consequences to the behavior to make these jerks consider what they are doing. Jail time…yeah, in the grand scheme of things maybe a bit over the top….but being on a no fly list for an extended period of time for ALL carriers might do the trick.

  35. Yea, giving flight attendants more power is really going to help the situation. Just looking wrong at one of those middle aged, unhappy, overweight Karens will get your flight diverted if they get any more power. America is turning into such a dump. Everyone needs to Take the sticks out of your ass, quit acting oppressed, get off your damn social media, and go have a drink and smoke a cig. Seems to work in Europe.

  36. How rude of a ceo to push for basic precautions like mask wearing. Much better to allow his employees to die eh Gary?
    Somehow don’t hear you complain about Sucker Fartson, Sean Manatee and their Dear Leader Trump spreading lies about masks and vaccines.

  37. An awful lot of people fighting on airplanes these days are black. Am I to take this that Woke Dougie Parker now WANTS to increase police encounters and INCARCERATE black people? What about mass-incarceration?
    Yesterday on my AA flight (believe me, I had no choice) the flight attendant makes a pa: “Ladies and gentlemen, due to a number of passengers onboard asking us if we still have that amazing deal for the American Airlines red aviator Mastercard from barclays bank……we’d like to announce a special offer….”

    I always appreciate when a sales pitch starts with an obviously bullshit lie.

  38. He has the answer, he just won’t admit it because it would screw up his stock options. An airline cannot treat passengers like they are sub-human and not expect public out lash. If he cannot see that, well, he is the sub-human.

  39. @Robin Rosner: You said, “Behaving for whatever reason in a way that causes a crew member (or gate agent) to believe the person’s inability to follow directions or behave in such a manner that will endanger others on board in an emergency is reason enough. There has to be consequences to the behavior to make these jerks consider what they are doing. Jail time…yeah, in the grand scheme of things maybe a bit over the top….but being on a no fly list for an extended period of time for ALL carriers might do the trick.”

    Some flight attendants and gate agents believe that children or adult passengers with autism, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), klazomania, intermittent explosive disorder (IED), or people tormented with Tourette syndrome with coprolalia cannot follow directions endangering others on board. Is the consequence that people with disabilities and their traveling companions will be forever banished from air travel due to a no-fly stipulation while permitting their emotional support dog to travel?

  40. The answer is to treat travellers with respect and not yell orders at them all the time.

  41. Tim Dunn wrote: “The reason why Delta and United aren’t having a proportional number of passenger behavior problems as Southwest and American are having is because DL and UA have been much more conservative with capacity and have not had to aggressively discount to fill seats. American’s strategies have been wrong and it isn’t surprising that they are backfiring again.”
    @ Tim, Where’s your proof? You may very well be right, but there’s no way to prove there’s a causal relationship, in my opinion (which is all it is).

    In the words of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” And that’s true regardless of one’s persuasion.

    I may be wrong (please note those four words, Tim) but this may be another case of Mr. Leff’s selective “reporting.” I’ve read about similar incidents on a number of other airlines. There seems to be a general disregard for proper behavior nowadays. And maybe I’m showing my age.

    It seems to me that some members of the public seem to think their “rights” supersede others’ rights. We all have rights, but rights and responsibilities go hand in hand.

  42. Ken, I would sincerely hope not. I don’t claim to have all the answers…but maybe crews need better training in disability sensitivity. As for the support animals…Bring em on. Would rather fly with a plane load of ANY critters than with people these days.

  43. Create a more pleasant on-board experience. Have the distractions such as basic wi-fi included or messaging included. Have IFE to entertain people. Give more leg room. Create a more pleasing environment and people will likely be more pleasing. Create a drab and cheap environment with nothing to do then this is what happens. It’s not alcohol-related – that’s an easy scapegoat. Stop catering to the greyhound crowd and offer a better product and the customer base will follow.

  44. Anyone causing a problem on a flight should be banned from flying for 10 years or life. That should stop this bad behavior.

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