American Employee Says They’ll Fly Any Plane That Flies, No Matter the Condition

At American’s employee town hall last week a 26 year Dallas-based flight attendant asked if “any airline strives to be number one other than from the bottom line standpoint and for our shareholders?”

He said it “used to be nice” at the end of a flight “when people weren’t so crammed in” so he wanted to know “Do we strive to be number one at all or are we just striving to fill every seat and the bottom line?”

Doug Parker pressed him to describe what number one means to that flight attendant, who said “number one to me means I can go home and feel good about my airline and feel good about the service that was presented, that I was allowed to present.”

He works only first class, and “to have to apologize to passengers all the time for things that maybe aren’t working.. because if a plane will fly we’ll fly it with passengers and that seems to be the attitude, if things aren’t working that’s ok as long as the plane flies and we can fill every seat.” He says he never had to apologize in past as much as he does today.

I have a feeling this is the sort of thing he’s talking about from Monday’s flight AA1772 from Charlotte to Dallas Fort Worth operated by N679AW, a legacy US Airways Airbus A320 that was first delivered to America West in 2005. There was a first class seat with no seat back just tagged ‘Do Not Occupy’.

Regarding this flight, American provided me with this statement:

Our goal is to always deliver the best experience to all customers – regardless of the cabin they’re traveling in. And when things like this occasionally happen, we work to fix them as quickly as possible – all while minimizing delays for our customers. While we certainly don’t want to fly a plane with broken seats, we recognize the strain it puts on the operation when we have to cancel an entire flight. So, at times the best solution is to provide value to the rest of the passengers is to fly the aircraft until it can be appropriately repaired.

Meanwhile here’s a photo of another aircraft on Sunday flying Dallas – Charlotte.

In spite of this Doug Parker says he believes American has gotten much better since the merger, because his airline partners say so.

When I showed up here as CEO of American in 2014 I toured around and met with all of our partners, Qantas, JAL, British Airways, Cathay, every one of those CEOs told me the American product does not meet our standards.

They reported to Parker that the American product wasn’t up to par for the customers they sent over, and that surprised Parker coming from US Airways (which offered an even more inferior product still on domestic flights).

American’s CEO met with “those same people six months ago and every one of them was just raving about the progress we’ve made.”

Similarly he suggests that he met with ConciergeKey customers shortly after the merger and he heard “a line of people” saying the airline wasn’t delivering a product that was up to their standards and “the team didn’t seem happy to be at work.” Parker noted the lack of lie flat seats internationally three years ago.

In contrast “two weeks ago” he met with ConciergeKey members and there was a line of people telling him how much happier they are today.

Parker says he knows they’re not done, but he thinks American is getting there, “our goal is not just to fill every seat our goal is to have a product that is world class.”

He thinks that employees don’t see it because “our team members unfortunately don’t get to see our new Admirals Clubs because we can’t let everybody in there or they’d be full up” but the Flagship lounges “are world class and by far the best in the industry.”

Here’s the thing.

  • There are elements where American Airlines is really improving and doing a great job. Their business class seats (other than on 757s and 767s) are very good. Their Flagship lounges are very good for a US airline.

  • American is moving quickly to get to high speed internet, but is moving away from seat back video on domestic flights. That works for me but it doesn’t for a lot of customers.

  • They’re taking business class seats out of Boeing 777-200s, and they’ll likely take business class seats out of 787-8s in order to fit in premium economy. They’re taking dedicated Main Cabin Extra out of Boeing 777-300ERs.

  • Domestic first class is going in the wrong direction. They’re reducing legroom with the new first class standard configuration. The new seat isn’t as good. American’s domestic food isn’t good (to say the least).

  • And economy has less legroom, even the lavatories are shrinking to cram in seats.

It’s odd for Parker to take credit for lie flat seats since that was a decision made before he arrived (and committed to with joint venture partners).

And it’s not surprising for ConciergeKey members to be happy, ConciergeKey is now the new top elite level at the airline with upgrade priority that they didn’t have before.

The elite treatment for ConciergeKey members has gotten better by giving them more and giving mere Executive Platinums less. And international business class has better seats and lounges than in the past. That much is true.

It’s also true that domestic is worse in both first class and coach, and international economy is worse too. And legacy US Airways equipment, well, Parker thought they could live without investing in those planes. And when a flight attendant complained about the lavatories on the 737 MAX, he said at least the airline didn’t put “the crew seat on the door” to the lavs.

Pointing out a few things that are better, and waving hands, doesn’t make the things that are worse disappear. In some sense both the flight attendant and the CEO are right. They’re talking past each other. The domestic product is worse, the international premium product is better. And the part the CEO sees underscores what the airline sees as mattering are ConciergeKey and international business (in high yield markets where they want to deploy 787s or 777s), and where they give less focus (the rest of the product).

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. So on the lavatory issue… that seems to generate a lot of discussion, and I just don’t see what the big deal is. On our last flight to SEA, I noticed that Alaska has these same narrower lavs on their 737’s with newer interiors. WN has them too. On the AS flight, I changed our squirmy toddler on the changing table. Small, sure, but not anything to riot over, and I washed my hands without getting my pants wet, no problem.

  2. @asdf : spoken like someone dripping with the privilege of never having a physical discapacity

  3. American had a plan.

    * all new planes being delivered would have entertainment.
    *internetional fleet was going to be premium heavy
    *planes were configured very comfortably
    *MD80s were old but comfortable and atelast had soem sort of power in 1st
    *737 First has great legroom
    *Food was decent and transcons (all transcons) had heightened service
    *American had an all lie flat seat plan before DP came along
    * American had the best loyalty program and MAY have kept it with their old leadership
    *American was reinventing itself Service wise to be America’s premium carrier for sure before US came along
    *How dare Parker talk about how other CEOs talked about PMAA… what would they have said of the garbage US airways product that never even went to Asia. Crap planes with no range and the service would have never been up to par

    Doug Parker and Scott Kirby ruined American. No argument there

  4. Why not ask the Lifetime Platinum members what they think? That would make a lot more sense than asking only ConciergeKey members, since the Lifetime Platinums are the people that have flown lots of miles with American. It’s like walking up to a really rich person in the midst of a massive recession and asking them how bad things are for normal people. Parker even brags that he hasn’t flown the new awful 737 MAX, which further illustrates how out of touch he is with the normal customer. As to raving about how great American is versus partners, especially Pacific partners, that’s just a lie, and not a particularly good one, given that it’s so obviously a lie.

  5. I felt the same in Manaus, Stuck through the night while engineers argued as to whether the AA aircraft was safe to fly with oil leaking from an engine. They were undecided. The crowd just wanted to get out of their and figured disappearing into the jungle might be preferable to not going. The flight we connected with in MIA was 7hours delayed because of a mechanical too. No more AA for me, such that journey in 2012.

  6. I appreciate this article, Gary. It sums up some of the feelings I have been having about AA’s operation in total as of late. I miss LagAAcy American and their vision to rebrand and reintroduce themselves as a legacy carrier with nothing less than a pleasant onboard experience. That vision included taking care of you, whether it be in Main Cabin or Flagship First. The way LegAAcy American treated elite members is much different than how The New American does. I hear “we can’t do that” more and more, when it used to be, “let’s see what we can do”.

    I am afraid that the on board experience is becoming that of a LCC domestically. I flew on a A320 from PHX to SFO in First, the experiencewas TERRIBLE and it was only a 90 minute flight. No Seat power and I couldn’t even fit my feet underneath the seat in front of me.

    As far as International, I do enjoy the newer aircraft (minus the 777’s and 787’s with coffin-class). I do agree, this is where improvements have happened.

    Sadly, I don’t see things improving in other ways much under the current management, which is why I have started flying with Delta. Yes, I realize that SkyMiles is very bad with redemptions and devaluing, though as far as having a consistent experience, Delta is number 1 in my opinion.

  7. Maybe Parker should talk to CC and EP who USED to fly AA and now spend $0 (which includes many lifetime – like me) to see why they are no longer flying AA!

  8. I’ll bet first class will begin to disappear from AA on domestic flights within the next five to ten years. They will continue to chase Spirit customers, have a sub party product in first and economy which will drive away premium customers and mid-tier customers who have some discretion with the price they pay but not a lot. The elites will move to SWA, Delta, Alaska, JetBlue or have NY loyalty whatsoever bc it’s just easier that way

  9. One of your best pieces Gary. What is pathetic is that I think Parket honestly believes his own BS. Because we’re at the top of the cycle, the financials support him. And to a large extent the oligopoly insulates him from market forces. But when the tide rolls back out and the damage he has done to the brand will come home to roost. Lifetime platinum and live in Dallas, but I avoid AA whenever I can. Southwest, Jet Blue, Alaska, anything to stay off their metal.

  10. Reading Ryan’s comments makes me sad. AA was in such a good path. Remember when new 737s were coming with the middle seats blocked in rows 15 and 16? Lots of MCE seating? So sad that the fat slob Doug Parker ruined something great. What a POS.

  11. Parker just has canned non-responsive answers. Talk about some positive niche issue and avoid the big issue being raised. He only cares about the short term bottom line and his stock based compensation. Who cares if brand sinks long term as it becomes an LCC with higher costs and can’t compete solely on price or now on quality. I see LCCs getting more into credit cards too and selling miles. It is a losing race to the bottom for AA.

  12. @gary – While Parker is addressing only a few points, the ones that the partner CEOs and the CK members like, the FA is not talking past Parker. The FA holds complaints that the vast majority of FAs probably have, FA is talking directly to Parker looking for answers. You’ve outlined those inferiorities and Parker had no response other than to skirt around the problem.

    I am still willing to fly AA, but my air travel today is based on price, schedule, and convenience. Domestic US airlines have drive loyalty into the ground, now I’m loyal to myself.

  13. Not to pile on, but just assume I agree with 98% of what’s already been said.

  14. Utterly dumbfounding the complete bs out of his mouth. It’s clear they are going for crap LCC status. As long as he gets his money and retires, why would he care how far it falls? Only a matter of time before they are taken over again some day because they are bankrupt because of this lunacy. Hopefully, the last decent domestic airlines left are paying attention.

  15. There are very few brands or products that I once felt close to, and now feel so completely estranged from, than American Airlines. It used to be that flights on any other carrier were almost certainly the result of AA not maintaining a flight there — even if it meant higher fares or an intermediate stop — and my AAdvantage account was pretty much the only account I closely kept track, linked everything to, and maintained. The new AA has cured me of all of that, and in the end might have done me a big favor in setting me free. The plan is clearly to run-off all of the good will AA had with the flying public, and let other lines willing to actually invest in their products and network to take over AA’s franchise. It will make a great Business School case study some day.

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