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).