American’s Chief Commercial Officer Lays Out A New Vision For The Airline

American Airlines Chief Commercial Officer Vasu Raja laid out a new vision for the carrier, as part of the announcement of a new senior leadership team that comes with Doug Parker’s stepping down as CEO and Robert Isom taking that position at the end of March.

It’s a customer-focused vision which isn’t something we’ve seen clearly articulated at American Airlines since US Airways took over. (“Caring for people on life’s journey” is too non-specific and milquetoast to count.)

Here’s the note in full, via aviation watchdog JonNYC

The nod to densifying aircraft as a positive and to international flight growth at a time they’re paring schedules due to lack of aircraft (after retiring widebodies during the pandemic) seem odd. But there’s absolutely a ton in here to like, especially his “it’s easy to confuse a customer and a transaction to the point that we can treat a person differently whether they fly for business or leisure, or in one commercial program versus another.”

Business travelers are leisure travelers and valuable high yield long haul business class customers for work may fly the cheapest fare on the weekend with their family. Indeed it’s often as or more important how you treat that customer when they’re on a trip with their family as when they’re paying the highest ticket cost on their own.

And while Raja has talked as though the schedule alone is the product here he starts with the basics of flying people reliably where they need to go, he emphasizes delivering the hard product (“lounges, configuration, entertainment”) “that is valuable to customers and profitable for us” and delivered in a way that is “seamless and consistent for the customer, by any means necessary.”

The customer focus comes continues throughout, “We need to ensure that all of our commercial activities produce more value for our customers.” Too often American’s great failing has been focusing on what competitors are doing (and copying it, but a little bit less) rather than focusing on what customers want.

American Airlines doesn’t have a mission statement to use to make decisions against, but this letter could serve as that. It’s really not far off from the vision I wrote American could adopt although much better articulated.

If American delivers the schedules, reliability, product, and policies that customers want that will put them on a strong path. It’s not the whole story, of course. Their product is delivered by people and their people have often been confused about what’s expected of them. Are they trying to be an ultra low cost carrier, or are they supposed to be trying to deliver a premium service? Flight attendants frequently don’t even know the service standards the airline expects of them, and learn they job by rumor, galley chatter, and online forums. That means an inconsistent experience and is something that’s difficult to change.

Nonetheless, changing the policies and aligning the product would certainly be a good start.

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. In some ways, AA has already made quite a few customer friendly changes (or failed to copy customer unfriendly changes at competitors), they are just terrible at marketing, and these aren’t hard product items that are readily visible, so they don’t get a lot of credit for it. Unlike DL, the lowest AAdvantage awards are not Basic Economy, and also unlike DL, Basic Economy tickets still earn redeemable miles. Not to mention that AA mostly stopped selling Basic Economy on a lot of domestic routes months ago, with Main Cabin priced competitively with BE on other airlines. And finally, the ability to use Trip Credits from customer cancelled flights is huge and provides a ton of flexibility.

  2. American Airlines – they could do the right thing, but they always seem to pick the path of greed.

  3. Memos are nice. But when it takes an hour to reach an agent, when FAs couldn’t care less about service, and when schedules are a crap shoot, memos don’t cut it. Talk is cheap. Fix the customer experience.

  4. Reading his comments over the years he’s an opportunist manager no consistency other than trying to mask its all about $$ maximization short term for him and cover his tracks as the regime changes

    Nothing in there about soft product loyalty or personal service differentiation

  5. Really unhappy with the changes so far. Just few 1st from Phx to MCO and the food was horrible. I had to hold my cell in hand to see movie. Difficult to get table and drink holder out. The sound didn’t work in the seat next to me. Cheap earphones that don’t fit in ears. Seats badly reclined and the slightest recline was met with pushing and hitting on back of seat. Really no leg room for 1st class. A321neo was the plane and new. Not worth paying for 1st. No more. Fly 1st on other carrier even though I’m a Platium member of AA. Club was small. 2 levels. Hardly anything to eat and skipped drinks. Chairs not that comfortable for sitting 2 to 4 hours. Tables for 2 only and you keep your luggage with you everywhere including bathroom on ground floor. Worse trip ever on AA. Won’t do again.

  6. My wife (mostly for business) and me (mostly for family. . .Mom and Dad illness’ and recent passings) have flown AA a lot during the past 2 years and they have been amazing for us. The crews have improved for sure and I love the new A321 cabins (RIPLUS cabins). I like the new AA blood and my wishlist would be:

    1. More FC on A319s and seat back holders / larger bins
    2. 737 lose a row in MC and gain two MCE rows (I am over the bathrooms, they aren’t that horrible)
    3. Free wine/beer back to MCE customers (at least that behave. . .LOL)
    4. “Flagship Suites” on all widebodies / more PE on 787-9s and 777-300
    5. Partner with good food vendor (maybe Panera Bread) and return MC food service
    6. Finally, Free WIFI for elite AAdvantage members and discounted WIFI for non-elites (you can charge the one timers whatever you want!)
    7. Build on oneWorld partners. . .maybe buy GOL and just make it part of AA

    IMO DL has slipped and isn’t the airline it once was, UA is still trying to find it’s self (which has been going on since the merger and continues), so AA people have a real opportunity here. Looking forward to seeing them go for great. . . finally!

    Just a note to AA. . .Thank you to the crews during the past two years, the Admirals Club staffs and reservations folk for getting me to my parents during their illness and passings (Dad just this past week). You all made it easy for me and my family, even my Dad’s last trip to PHX in the spring, a true million miler who flew in DL DC-3 up to the largest 747 during life time.

  7. @sunviking82, just wanted to complement you for that upbeat, constructive comment, and to offer you my sincere sympathies for your loss.

  8. 1. Restore flight attendant staffing.

    2. Improve in-flight food quality.

    3. Free WiFi to One World sapphires and up, as well non-elites in domestic and international first.

    4. Maintain at least two agents at the gates.

    5. Increase call center staffing.

  9. I love when an executive leaves and the company says what a great job that person did and simultaneously talk about huge changes and new strategy

  10. A lot of the vague promises you’d expect without specifics. Not addressing any of the issues passengers have been complaining about.

    I was particularly struck by him wanting customers “willing to pay a premium” and “willing to pay more than to our competitors”.

  11. Nothing but “smoke and mirrors” propaganda no doubt put out to placate Wall Street. This guy has zero background relative to passenger service and everything he has done has denigrated the product, alienated customers, destroyed employee morale and the resultant desire to perform at high level. Sadly, he has been given free rein in the past and look at the results. Now, he will apparently have even power.
    Don’t hold your breath for any meaningful improvement

  12. “…flight attendants frequently don’t even know the service standards the airline expects of them…”

    That’s a cheap shot Gary, and total BS. If anyone knows the service standards its the flight attendants.

    It’s management’s duty to give their employees the tools they need to meet their customers expectations…, every day, every flight. American struggles with that concept. They fail their employees far too often and usually with no coherent explanation. The customer, as usual, lashes out at the employee.

    Speaking of expectations, is it too much to ask of the customer to stop assaulting the flight attendants?

    Keepin it real,
    Jimmy Mack

  13. IF any USA citizen is looking for significant positive changes in domestic air travel then they need to forget about the airlines delivering it on thier owwn initiative. It’s going to take some government reregulation of the airline industry to accomplish that.

  14. @Jimmy Mack – not a cheap shot at all, this is 100% management’s fault! They don’t do the necessary trainings, pushing memos and updates out isn’t the best way for everyone to learn, cabin crew are often forced to figure stuff out from their colleagues and on message boards during off hours

  15. @Gary

    It read like a cheap shot to me and it only emboldens more animosity towards flight attendants who are caught in the crossfire of poor management and customers with unreasonable expectations.

    Your additional comment was a bit closer to reality and I do appreciate your response.

    However I should note it’s very common in many industries for employees to help train each other on the job. Airlines are no different.

    Keepin it real,
    Jimmy Mack

  16. This is a locker room pep talk. Words. That said, words & vision ARE a place where real change can start. You know, the “vision” thingy. Now – actually do the things you TALK about and those of us who have long flown AA will probably pay attention. As John Maynard Keynes put it in a very different setting, “when the facts change, I change my mind.” Until the facts change, all we see is terrible execution, a race to the bottom on quality of product, and a mortifying disdain from frontline AA employees toward the fliers (and our employers) who pay and pay and pay, only to be routinely disappointed by the reality of what we get.

  17. @karl rupp

    I don’t sense any gratitude from you. Here’s another poetic line:

    “me thinks thou doth protest too much”
    -Billy Shakespeare

    Only one question Karl…

    Did all the fliers you claim to speak for here arrive safely at their destination? Yes or no?

    Keepin it real,
    Jimmy Mack

  18. For the large part I’ve had really good service from the AA FA’s. I’ve overheard some of them expressing their frustration about the airline in the galley between themselves, but not to customers. People are people and while I’ve had a few that haven’t done a great job or didn’t seem like they wanted to be there those were the exception and not the rule.

    My main issues with AA are:

    1. Oasis – not much I can say that hasn’t been said already. This is my #1 reason for looking at other airlines. Too few MCE seats, legroom too tight in economy, all seats including first very uncomfortable for over 2 hours.
    2. Not enough business class seats on long haul wide bodies (versus new United planes)

    There is no way they can be considered a “premium” airline with the existing hard product.

    As longtime EXP and lifetime PLT looking at other airline alternatives (but not really wanting to change from AA), this letter is at least encouraging and makes me pause leaving AA, but I’m not holding my breath that things will change for my needs (more comfort, more upgrades, etc.) unless I seem some concrete change announcements around hard product soon.

  19. @Jimmy Mack.

    Sad times indeed, when the most you can say for an airline is “well, hell. At least I didn’t die trying to get there”. But you make a good point. That’s about the bar set by this particular airline.

  20. @ Jimmy Mack

    also, the line you’re looking for is “the lady doth protest too much, methinks”

  21. @karl rupp

    So I’ll take that as a “yes” that everyone you speak for did indeed arrive safely at their destination and something must have gone right for you over and over again.

    What is really sad is that you struggle to admit it and there’s nothing poetic about that.

    Keepin it real,
    Jimmy Mack

  22. I seldom have any problem with the FA’s – 95% of the time they do their best in F with what they have to offer, which is pathetic domestically. Res agents have been great and the call back feature has worked perfectly. I think, overall, that AA’s employees are doing a fantastic job despite offering an overall poor product, especially in F, and having to put up with constant abuse from both passengers and management. The Board of Directors is nothing but a sham for them to get paid. They obviously don’t want, or be allowed, to get into the issues with the actual operation or direction of AA. The fact that both Isom and Parker and now members of the Board, it’s clearly stacked against the customer. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house ! This should NEVER be allowed in any company, but it’s rampant.

  23. What kind of crap is this? VR is the biggest wind bag I have ever heard. He just rambled for paragraphs about how this wasn’t a typical corporate message but that is EXACTLY what it is. And that is all it is. And it was the longest corporate rambling message I’ve ever heard. What did he actually say was changing? Did he say American was going to install seatback entertainment because customers want it? No! Did he say they were going to build up New York and Los Angeles? No! AA just made some of its biggest cuts in history in New York, including dropping the major LGA-BOS route and handing all the slots over to JetBlue! So what is improving? What is his rambling nonsense actually saying? NOTHING!
    Pie in the sky ideas that don’t mean shit!

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