As Vultures Swirl Over American Management, the Airline’s Operation Appears to Improve

Just as American Airlines management may be facing their biggest test yet with their board of directors the airline’s operation appears to be improving after a long, hot mess of a summer.

Over the summer the carrier cancelled more flights than anyone, faced not just with a mechanics’ job action but also too much deferred maintenance and management failure to deploy parts where they were needed.

However the month of September was American’s best in two years based on the most important metric of on-time arrivals.

Delta focuses on A0 – exact on-time arrivals. For American I’ll gladly take A14, arriving almost on time.

There’s lip service here to the airline’s historical commitment to D0, exact on-time departures, however if they can lead with anything else it could be beneficial to customers. To be sure, departing on time helps arrive on time but does not mean arriving on time. Airlines certainly delegate too much control to the government from the time of pushback to touch down. However their own operational decisions at airports from scheduling to maintenance determine gate and alley availability to get planes in and out of airports, D0 push back notwithstanding.

And the obsessive focus on D0 has meant measuring whether flights and employees hit the metric, rather than creating the conditions necessary to hit those metrics including,

  • Making sure gates are properly staffed
  • So that upgrades and standbys can be properly cleared
  • Getting flights catered on time
  • Allowing customers to board with their bags when overhead bin space is available
  • And having planes cleaned

Customers don’t actually care about exact on time departures. They care about on time arrivals. Managers yelling at flight attendants who take a delay to cater international first class, or when first class meals are missing on the outbound of a double catered flight, where gate agents don’t clear upgrades or demand passengers gate check bags just in case bins wind up full (out of fear that gate checking will take too much time and risk D0, getting them called in) doesn’t deliver an experience customers want.

Now that the carrier seems to be beginning to get its operation running right – hopefully this continues – employees will be less stressed and happier. When I walked into my home Admirals Club in Austin on Wednesday morning staff there seemed thrilled that flights were going off as expected. They aren’t hurriedly rebooking customers, they aren’t dealing with unhappy passengers. And these employees are the ones more than any others I’ve met at the company who want to deliver for their customers. This summer’s inability to do so seemed to take a real toll.

American deserves congratulations for improving its operation, doubly so because they’re leading with and trumpeting arrival statistics and not just D0.

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. It’s funny – I had my worst AA month in a long time in September. 3 flights with an arrival delay for more than an a hour. That’s more than I had in all of 2018.

  2. I call BS,
    Every flight will be on time if you add enough flight time!
    American continues to fictitiously pad flight times. I’ve had 3 of 4 trips rescheduled this fall because of lengthened flight times that caused mis connections. By padding 25 minutes to PHX to LHR I was bumped off my inbound and connecting flights which added 4 hours to total travel time compared to my original booking made months ago. I also lost my preferred seat selections. Even with global entry and no checked bag they can not rebook me on my original flights that now have too short of a connection. No exceptions! Let them eat cake. I’m sure glad I didn’t pay for this crap but used Advantage lira. Only 180k more miles to dump before good bye forever. Looking forward to going back to the Friendly Skies.

  3. “To little to late” The union leader John said he will “bloody the American brand” that is exactly what happen this summer. Parker and Isom must go!

  4. I can’t help but think of my kids who suddenly improve their grades because the pressure is on.

    But Doug Parker is no child of mine and hopefully the entire executive team is on their way to the principals office.

  5. @jojo – and especially LAX. On one flight we counted the laps that the pilot completed while taxiing on several lanes as we waited for a gate to be opened. And this was approaching Midnight at LAX, where gate traffic is much less.

    Bye Doug. Too little, too late.

  6. I’ve been commenting here since July that AA’s operation had been fixed. Anyone with a computer who can access flightaware has known this. I suggested in July that you be a “thought leader” and report it. The change was remarkable after the company went to Court and got a restraining order against the mechanics. Since the company wasn’t broadcasting this fact, “nobody” knows it, because nobody is curious enough to figure it out themselves.

  7. John Samuelson TWU INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT JOHN SAMUELSON SPEAKS FOR ME great job from the Twu international


  9. One month is not enough evidence for me. Meanwhile, AA proceeds to retrofit its planes to make them all consistently uncomfortable and without seat back entertainment. Sorry, AA has a long, long way to go to recover consumer confidence.

  10. My September flights were early sans one that was 4 minutes late landing. I watch planes a lot at our local Podunkity airport and the flights have suddenly started running on time–actually almost always early, like magic. They were always late or canceled this summer and then suddenly, BAM, they were always there, on schedule. Friend works for TSA there and says the same thing. We used to be AA’s stepchild (AA at DFW would make the calls for us and cancel constantly) and now we feel like royalty up here). BTW, my August flights were the same.

  11. So, all the kids are back in school, family vacations are done with and flights are somewhat lighter, as it should be for the month of September! Of course you’ll have more flights being on time but, wait till winter break and, it’ll start all over along with spring breaks. Also, the way they’re going to start running things oh so differently, it might go south even sooner! Most of the mgmt team has either no experience on the ramp/airline industry or, they’ve forgotten what it’s like, a lot of CSMs have been hired straight out of college with no knowledge of how an airline works, other than they fly planes!

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