Despacito Qik Prevents American Airlines Agents from Helping Customers

A veteran gate agent in Miami asked American Airlines CEO Doug Parker at last week’s employee town hall about the user interface Qik that she’s required to use — instead of working directly in Sabre like she used to — and she calls it “a Pinto car… it does not perform to the standard we’re used to. Qik is not efficient” and she says in Miami they call it “despacito Qik.”

She suggested if American Airlines is going to be a low fare carrier maybe they could charge for carry on bags and use the money to pay for decent software, “it really stinks.”

Parker described Qik, the graphic interface on top of Sabre that lets you click instead of learning code to type. And that lowers the cost to train new agents. He says “there shouldn’t be anything that you were able to do before that you can’t do now,” then he says “I see you looking at me. I know there is, because I’ve heard from others.”

Indeed what he’s not saying is that the graphic overlay limits what agents can do for customers on purpose compared to what they could do entering codes into native Sabre.

A graphic overlay lets them train agents faster. It was a great way to port US Airways agents over to Sabre (veterans at US Airways who were there before America West took over did actually work in Sabre). But it also restricts agents ability to do things the company doesn’t want them to do when they’re trying to take care of customers.

There’s a new version of Qik coming out in May.

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. Boo down with Qik. Give the agents the best tools for customer service. In this case, give them back Sabre.

  2. What is an example of something an agent can do in Sabre that they cannot do in Qik. As a passenger, I want to know.

  3. Re-route through different connecting airports (easy one-line command in SABRE). Re-book in a different booking code, including potentially booking into oversells. Overrride Max Connection Layover Times.

    The other (perhaps bigger business problem from AA’s perspective) is that re-accommodation via QIK is a very time-consuming process. I would love to see if the agent training time savings translate into real world savings and customer satisfaction when the new IT tools have made one or two lines in command line into a 10-15 minute hunt/peck/tab/click process…such is today’s USAir dba AA.

    Moral of Story:
    An agent who knows native SABRE commands is almost unrestricted in Day of Departure changes to a reservation. QIK basically lets them select from options (many of which are over-constrained by overly narrow enforcement of policies–similar to options on website).

    I just had another conversation with a fantastic AA Agent in OKC today complaining about QIK lack of functionality in IRROPS. I told her the AAngels at ORD Admirals club call it slow SABRE 🙂

  4. Maybe there’s some really routine stuff that can easily be done by typing a single command while you have to make a ton of different clicks using the graphical interface. If you have to do that for a lot of passengers all at once, it can get annoying. It’s kind of like using keyboard shortcuts in Excel vs going through all the menus.

  5. Actually, it doesn’t sound like he’s omitting anything in terms of its capabilities — his own language says Qix should be equally capable, so I think you have the wrong take, Gary, unless you are saying he is wrong, or knowingly being deceptive.

    What’s conspicuous is that she’s talking efficiency, but he responds in terms of capability. What’s he’s omitting saying is that of course a Windows-and-mouse GUI is going to be less efficient than a command-oriented system, because they are by their nature. Every time you have to reach for a mouse when you didn’t before is less efficient than if you touch type and your fingers remain on the keyboard. The learning curve is much shallower with a GUI, but there’s a reason why PowerShell exists for windows and Terminal exists for Mac.

    A well designed GUI could minimize or compensate for these issues, and a poorly designed one could exacerbate them.

  6. @Ivan X – he ACKNOWLEDGES it doesn’t have the same capabilities in the quote. He says it does and then says he knows that’s not true.

  7. As someone trained in SABRE, with almost equal experience in the other GDS, the similarities between them are really large. The overlays never will cover all the needed functions. Their airport terminals should have been set up so that they use whatever they are more capable of using. I can understand why AA uses QIK for new employees, but AA is wasting other employees skill sets. Why do we expect AA to do anything different?

  8. While Delta agents have similar point and click applications, most retain the capability to launch a Deltamatic terminal and interact in a manner similar to AA’s Sabre. The obvious problem is that agents do not go through any real training on that interface anymore so it’s effectiveness goes away as effective users go away/retire. Delta also has pretty sophisticated IROPs software which assists in day of departure hiccups.

  9. Many AA outstations still have one SABRE Terminal to access native. At my Home Airport it is in the office behind the check-in counter baggage belts. Only a couple agents are proficient in it and they always seem to be able to fix things quickly like magic when they retreat to the office after stating ‘this is is a problem for SABRE’ .. the real challenge is getting an agent that 1) knows SABRE or 2) is willing to ask soneone who does to work it for them. At larger stations the hierarchy/turnover seems to have dictated that thou shall not use native SABRE, and it seems the clubs didn’t get to keep their SABRE terminals (presumably since for about a year they had a F-key to pull up native SABRE from their QIK terminals). Taking that away from the premium services folks gives the lie to what Parker is trying to hedge here—forcing QIK onto SABRE trained agents was at least partly an anti-customer worker compliance move to enforce badly coded rules into a not fully developed platform.

    PS: At least until relatively recently you could tell if your boarding pass was issued in native SABRE by the elite watermark across the boarding pass. That was done away with in QIK but they didn’t take the time to un-code it in SABRE. Haven’t had a SABRE printed boarding pass since the first of the year though to see if it still is true.

  10. Thank you Brian!

    As of April 3rd, native SABRE was still available in DFW Admiral’s Club. I got one boarding pass printed there for a flight during IRROPs. Was already holding a printed pass from my home airport which was sans watermark. When the flight was (of course) further delayed, the Club printed another pas with the new time on it. Sure enough, there was the watermark; other than the info underneath the scancode at the top showing place of issue, agent, etc. the passes are identical.

    Last year, the Club agents told me they were getting to keep native SABRE, at least in part because Premium Services pitched a fit about QiK, and none of the senior Club agents were very happy to work on the new software either. SABRE appears to be accessible in the Clubs, but who knows for how much longer. I’ll ask them for an update next week when I’m there.

  11. Hi. My name is Mikey. I used to work for American in Reservations. I understand all sides of it. American has to pay cost for Sabre to run and also pay for training the US Airways employees to the American System, Sabre. It saves costs on extensive training costs. I suggest to keep a positive attitude in all cases because American is laying a strong foundation for workers to have jobs. So, respect yourselves and each other. Transitions are a normal part of life and everyone is learning. Chances are, the people at the top are learning and they are in right there with you in the transition. We all have growing pains at a job and just be grateful you have one in this economy.

    Love from Mikey, American Airlines 🙂

  12. I was a qik programmer. It is designed to restrict users from using native transactions so that the users only have access to functions that their company policy permits. Helping customers was never a priority, helping customer within given premise is expected.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.