At Wits End Over Bad Passenger Behavior, American’s CEO Declares “The Customer Is Not Always Right!”

The federal mask mandate has led to more passenger incidents on planes than we’ve ever seen before. American Airlines doesn’t want to take an already combustible situation and make it worse, so their CEO has consistently said he wouldn’t bring back inflight alcohol sales to coach until the mask mandate is lifted. But he’s frustrated that customers have just been bringing their own alcohol on planes instead.

American Airlines has a plan to combat this. At an employee meeting this past week, a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing, CEO Doug Parker expressed exasperation offering,

I don’t know why it’s still continuing. That’s why it’s frustrating. We’ve done so much. I’m proud of what the team has done, I’m not proud of the result because it’s still happening.

He says that American Airlines has been investigating 1 in every 300,000 passengers for an airline ban – about two people per day that they “have to decide if they can ever fly American Airlines or not.” That’s a five-fold increase.

Parker lists several actions that have been taken,

  1. Passenger bans. They don’t ban customers permanently for a mask infraction, just “until the mask mandate goes away,” however if “someone puts a hand on a flight attendant” or gate agent they can’t fly the airline again and they’re working to get the passenger prosecuted.

  2. FAA engagement. The FAA has put out informational videos and sought fines.

  3. A new inflight announcement that is stronger and “crystal clear” that includes letting passengers know they can’t have their own alcohol, and Parker tells flight attendants “if you see people with their own alcohol take it away.”

  4. Keeping alcohol out of coach. Southwest is the only other major carrier doing this. Parker reiterated that they’d planned to bring back alcohol sales with the lifting of the mask mandate next month, but now that the mandate has been extended to January the alcohol ban is extended as well.

Parker declared, to applause, “the customer is not always right.” He then added “that’s a hard thing to say with our customers listening” (since he knows that these sessions always leak to View From The Wing).

Chief Operating Officer David Seymour shared the plan for what’s next: getting government to crack down on airport alcohol sales. He says that they’ve already gotten Dallas – Fort Worth airport to ban alcohol to go from restaurants. However they’ve been pushing on Charlotte to eliminate the practice, they’re “shutting down as much as they can,” but vendors there are resistant. That’s why they’ve engaged their government affairs team “trying to crack down.”

Parker offered that airport restaurants started serving drinks to go when you couldn’t go inside, early in the pandemic, but now that those restrictions are no longer in place to go sales don’t make sense. He’s wrong of course, in that many airports (including my home airport of Austin) had alcohol to go long before the pandemic. Parker notes that vendors don’t want to give up the alcohol sales because of the revenue. American Airlines takes a slice of that revenue, too, at many airports. They aren’t offering to forego or return some of that revenue in exchange for eliminating to go sales of 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Question for Woke Dougie:
    What if a passenger is only misbehaving because of the oppression they feel because of the mistreatment their ancestors suffered….is the passenger then right?

  2. Parker is responsible for the behavior of passengers on AA. Treat them like poorly, you reap what you sow. Their inflight hard and soft product deliver the message. Trash.

  3. It’s not alcohol or lack thereof. It’s the snobby attitude in which first-class passengers get booze and nobody else does. It’s shitty customer service experience. Decreased legroom. Endless bathroom space. Endless fees. Stupid mask mandates. You name it. People are so sick of this. Not to mention many people can now fly high since recreational marijuana use is increasingly legal.

  4. Parker assumes that every passenger incident is the result of alcohol. His little brain never considered that the airline he destroyed might be the problem. People are mad as hell for many different reasons, but the Parker Clown blames everything on alcohol.

  5. It’s about time we retired that tired old saying, anyway. Seems that a substantial minority feels that “freedom” is defined as doing whatever you want, whenever you want, to whoever you want.
    Like overgrown toddlers, with zero control of themselves, they lash out at anyone they deem to be “controlling” them. Throwing temper tantrums in a metal tube 30,000 feet in the air would seem like a really stupid thing to do…because it is. No excuse for it. None.

  6. Why wasn’t alcohol causing the problem prior to the pandemic? Who decided that it was the reason behind people acting like idiots?

    The past year and a half have shown just how lazy, mean and downright dumb people are. A sad testament indeed.

  7. Broadly, the customer isn’t always right. That is obvious to anyone who has ever worked in customer service (or just has a brain). However, what is lost even on some who work in customer service: the customer is always the customer. That means you treat them with deference. It doesn’t mean you take abuse, and a supportive management team should never tolerate abuse. Ban abusive customers. But the customer is always the customer. They are not your peer. You treat customers like royalty, like they pay your salary, because at the end of the day, they kind of…do.

  8. Really…REALLY? Parker has three….count them three… DUIs. And you have the balls and the moral outrage to start lecturing people on alcohol and want them to stop serving in restaurants? I am not an anti-Vaxxer I don’t wear a tin foil hat but this kind of thought process is why people are getting so pissed off at the government. I’m vaccinated I drink socially and responsibly I don’t get behind the wheel of a car. I’m not a great flyer so a couple of cocktails relax me in the air.
    What a pompous D bag

  9. I knew of 2, 3 times I’m surprised no jail time.
    He’s probably loaded half the time when he makes these speeches.

  10. @Dublin Isn’t the problem that AA has to make rules to account for worst of people, and the responsible, reasonable passengers like yourself necessarily suffer as a result. Few things annoy me more than paying the price for others irresponsibility and bad behavior but I don’t of a way to avoid this.

  11. As a teetotaler, alcohol sales are a boogey man. While only anecdotal evidence based on what gets posted, these incidents rarely seem to involve drunk people. If it’s not alcohol, what is it? To the degree that what we’re seeing (i.e., physical violence or aggression) is common everyday behavior for the people involved, then simply ban them. To the degree that what we’re seeing is influenced by the negative experience of flying — be it airlines that don’t care, planes that are overcrowded and for some extremely uncomfortable, etc. — fix it.

  12. “The beatings will continue until morale improves!” Airlines are just going to keep making the experience of flying worse and worse. Already have the groping TSA and mask-nazis. Now get rid of the only thing that can make a flight slightly pleasant. DUI Doug has no clue how to run a business and just wants the government to do it for him.

  13. Well, I’d say that the guy with multiple DUIs certainly knows about alcohol so I defer to Parker’s expertise.

  14. For the guy (Parker) who has 3 DWI”s he should not be telling people how and when to drink!

  15. Doug Parker “If someone puta a hand on a flight attendant” they can’t fly the airline again. Why not implement this policy, Doug , when a flight attendant puts their hands on a customer while the plane is still at the gate.
    Details- two weeks ago, my niece travelling back from NYC to Austin via DFW, arrives for first flight, flight delayed and and will not make her connection. Asks agent if there is a later DFW-AUS flight and is confirmed on the later flight. Agent states that to do this, he has to cancel the original outbound flight and and make a new reservation. This is done, including getting the original seat, 16D, reserved. My niece is scanned, boards the aircraft and sits. A bit later a flight attendant asks her to get off the plane because she should not be on it. My niece explains what happened, and inquires how she was scanned at gate and allowed to board. She did not get up, and soon she was approached by four flight attendants and told if she didn’t get off the plane in 10 seconds she would be arrested. As my niece got up, she was shoved up the aisle and asked to get her carry on bag including ID, keys and wallet and was denied her carry on bag. She was on the jetway, the door was closed and was crying and upset. She went to the agent to inquire how this all came to be and was told by the gate agent ” our system has some glitches”. She was finally able to return to AUS, without her car keys and had to Uber home, and her carry on bag was returned to her several days later.
    Just a reservation glitch, right Doug? Just another Saturday for AA going for great.

  16. What he should be saying also is that the FA are not always right! Some of them have no common sense and act like little Gods.

  17. Ever since 9/11 and subsequent flight rules were implemented, FA’s & other staff have taken things entirely too far bc they are relatively low wage workers given authority over others and take the frustration they have out on people who more often than not, don’t deserve it. I read a lot of blogs and have read some ridiculous things, seen a lot of videos shared of FA’s behaving badly. Personally, I try to get along all the time, but I see a lot of them act just plain nuts so I see the FA;s frustration too, but if you’re not into people, maybe you shouldn’t be in a job where you mostly DEAL WITH PEOPLE…drunk or sober, people are always gonna do stupid stuff. The frustration people have accumulated after a year & half of Covid is exploding all over, not just airlines.

  18. Such a whimpy response. Do the right thing and protect your rules compliant custoners. It’s called civilization for a reason.

  19. 90% of the acting out and bad behavior would disappear if cell phones and cameras have to be locked away while on plane.

    Too many knuckleheads want to go viral and provoke in order to get videos

  20. I wonder if the European airlines are having the same issues with passenger bad behavior. Fewer US FAs have the attitude of professional authority combined with courtesy and helpfulness typical of the European airlines I fly. Possibly this is because Europe in general still has a more formal culture and manners. Some of the lowest common denominator of US workers are flying because of a combination of more time on their hands and more disposable income than they are used to because of pandemic unemployment payments and rent relief. And these folks are among the most likely to resist masks and avoid the vaccine.

Comments are closed.