Failing to Communicate During Delays Disrespects Your Customers

It’s been over 3 years since I wrote about American’s ‘Goldilocks Problem’ boarding planes too early (before stated boarding time on boarding passes) and updating customers about delays too late.

I find that American won’t post flight delays until boarding time for an aircraft, even when those delays are blindingly obvious. And they won’t update delays until revised departure times have passed. That’s an issue because it wastes customers’ time.

If there’s no aircraft at the gate at scheduled boarding time, the plane isn’t leaving on time. It certainly isn’t boarding on time. But unless you’re watching the inbound aircraft (something you always need to do with American) you’ll leave the club lounge, stop working, and go to the gate. That’s lost productivity.

I found myself on an American Eagle flight operated by Mesa out of Dallas Fort-Worth. It wasn’t mainline, but it still illustrated the principle clearly. My flight posted a 30 minute delay, but I knew that wasn’t going to hold.

  • It assumed a 14 minute turn at Dallas Fort-Worth
  • And it assumed that the aircraft would make a 14 minute turn in Lubbock before that.

That’s simply not going to happen, and operations knows that. The plane spent 36 minutes on the ground in Lubbock. The Lubbock departure was scheduled for 1:45 p.m. and it continue to show a 1:45 p.m. departure even as that time came and left.

Once the plane finally got off the ground American showed that it was expected into our gate at DFW at 3:23 p.m.

My flight, through the miracle of time travel, was still showing 3:15 p.m. departure.

And when they finally updated it they planned for the miracle 7 minute turn at DFW.

We began boarding after 3:30 p.m. We were never going to depart at 3:30 p.m., the laws of physics made it impossible unless we were assigned a new tail which didn’t happen either.

American consistently fails to make providing updated (theoretically possible) flight information a priority. While an airline doesn’t want customers leaving the gate area in case the airline makes up time, and if passengers dissipate they lose the opportunity to get back on schedule, the airline insists on stringing passengers along. In so doing the reveal that their operation is much more important than their customers.

At American Airlines nothing is more important than ‘D0’ and it’s often struck me they’d be happier if they could just run their operation without any customers.

D0 means flights departing exactly on-time. American doesn’t provide the gate staff, mechanics, catering and other resources to allow for on time departures, they tell employees to depart on-time anyway. They’re willing to sacrifice most everything else for that goal. Gate agents can skip processing upgrades. Flight attendants get called in if they delay a flight for catering to bring servingware for international first class.

“People waiting on airplanes” rather than planes waiting on people is the old AirTran model. It says that customers’ time isn’t important in the quest for low fares.

In contrast an airline that puts customers at the center of everything they do, that “knows why you fly” as the old American Airlines commercial said, would respect their customers with information that lets them get work done, grab a bite, or even stay at the office a bit longer. At root what is missing is putting its customers at the center of everything they do.

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. and the corollary is NOT updating departing flight to show boarding! In club constantly checking for flight changed to “boarding” from “on time”, but it never did nor change to delay – so 20 minutes before departure I asked the desk if it was delayed NO they said it showed “finished boarding” !*@
    They notified gate, I ran, asked why not showing boarding GA “oh I guess I forgot to flip the switch”!

    Boarded to find a LARGE DOG next to me (I’ve quite allergic) but was able to change seats and I carry a mask. Door didn’t close for another 5 or 10 minutes but I got my exercise for the day.

  2. Surely American can turn delays into opportunities to charge customers more. Gate waiting fees. Gate agent consultation fees. Power port use fees. Everything that has a cost or a benefit the airline can charge for. AA puts its customer’s wallets at the center of everything it does.

  3. I dont get American’s stance on flight delays. Last week i was flying the long flight from DFW-SAT (after a connection….) Flight showed delayed form 7 to 730. However our plane was coming from ORD and didn’t even leave until 8…. After the plane landed and more delays, crew timed out, flight was cancelled and i drove the 4 hour drive at 1am….

  4. Last year I flew American from New York LaGuardia to Washington DC. With no plane at the gate the sign counted down as follows

    Boarding in:
    15 minutes
    14 Minutes
    13 Minutes

    5 Minutes
    4 Minutes
    3 Minutes
    Flight Cancelled

    We ran out grabbed a cab to Penn Station and made our meeting with a minute to spare.

  5. The lack of communication and respect also applies broadly to AA crew. Last week we departed on time out of LGA but sat on the tarmac for over 90 minutes without a single announcement from the crew. There was no apparent weather in the area and no announcement in advance that there may be a lengthy wait. Passengers started getting restless and complaining to the FAs who decided to finally make an announcement that “we have no idea what is going on either”. Pilots finally came on a few minutes later to say that we would be taking off soon – they also said they didn’t make an announcement earlier because they didn’t have an estimate on how long it would be. Lame excuse… we’re not children, we can be told that there’s a delay of indeterminate duration and it’s a lot better than sitting on a packed, hot plane (did I mention AC was not working) wondering what’s going on when everything around us looks normal. There really is a culture of not communicating to passengers that is unique to AA.

  6. I’m always nervous relying on tracking incoming aircraft due to the possibility of them assigning a new aircraft. How do you handle that possibility?

  7. Right on Gary!

    I finally got an early notice of a delay, and I knew it was going to be a bad day. At 4:30 AM, they said the 9:30 was delayed until noon. But I knew that 1 in 20 times, they can sub a plane and get back on schedule, so off to the airport I went.

    Of course, noon became 1:00, became 2:00 finally leaving at 2:30. At noon, and at 1:00, no plane at the gate. Must have been 40 folks on line each time, finally about 12:10, it’s rolled until 1. Same thing happens at 1:00 — 40 folks on line (slow learners, you can see the plane isn’t there), but no announcement until 1:10.

    I could have been productive instead of walking down to the gate. I think they do it deliberately, they think by lying, they will make more money (vs. truthful and then passengers bail).

  8. YES. This is a huge problem–and a huge frustration–with American recently. It’s asinine. And, like you said, it fundamentally disrespects the customer.

  9. Yes totally agree. Not sure if its AA or the airport but it sucks big time. Reason is indeed lack of customer focus, they just don’t give a shit.

  10. What Really ticks Me off about AA in particular besides poor communication is excessive maintenance delays and Hit Cabins due to inop APUs or minimal air onboard….. people need to start Reporting the lack of air onboard to the DOT and force their hand in addressing unsafe conditions in excessive hot temps. I have had plenty situations like This and as a CK I am Over their BS excuses. report Them!

  11. I’ve been flying Southwest, they don’t close the door until very close to departure time. Also they are pretty good about updating delays. I’m at A List now, probably A List Preferred by the end of the year. And I used to be an AA Exec Platinum!

  12. We are going to begin providing ultra slimline seats in the waiting areas to accommodate our treasured passengers.

  13. You’ve over-established that American simply doesn’t care. Get over it and stop writing about the same stuff.

    If being respected as a person is important to you, fly Delta or Southwest. I did, and it solved the problem.

  14. This comes from the company that invented SABRE which I believe led to Travelocity. We know that computers can provide reliable ETA’s for non-weather non-mechanical delays. We know other airlines do. We don’t know why a pioneer in this arena WON’T.
    My theory is that they want those seats to sell to other passengers, and eventually they will find a seat for you. They just have to be consistent with their practice, or else it is obvious.
    I have experienced similar misleading flight data from UAL.
    With Spirit and Frontier, the information is more accurate, but unfortunately their schedules are limited that a missed or cancelled flight could be a one or two day delay.
    Aren’t there websites that compare actual flight data to published data to reveal patterns of behavior? I am interested in the ping-pong graph, whereby the airline publishes a 2 hour delay and five minutes later changes it to a 1 1/2 hour delay. They justify it by updating you with text messages, and sure enough, there it is on your phone. They book you on another flight since your flight is sold out. And some politician or airport commissioner is sitting in your seat because you aren’t as important as they are.

  15. We know that flying AA is very much a do-it-yourself experience. One shouldn’t have to carry luggage with them at all times, nor should it be necessary to watch inbound aircraft more closely than their own ops. In fact, the market gives other airlines (*cough* DL *cough*) a revenue premium.

    I’d write about recent experiences, but I haven’t actually flown them in nearly two years.

  16. Failing to Communicate During Delays (and not being completely honest for delays and cancellations) Disrespects Your Customers

    Booked an AA ticket for my family outbound from Boston to Lima on 11 August, via JFK to a AA code share on LAN. Weather in northeast was horrible that day and I worried that AA would cancel BOS -JFK. They did. Cancelled our 5:40PM flight and the flight two hours prior.
    But I had purchased travel insurance. So I should be fine for incurring extra expenses like missing domestic Peru travel connections Nope.
    See the ‘gold’ travel insurance policy covers delays and cancellations for things like weather and airline problems. But, AA claims, “flight was cancelled by air traffic control due to operational issues.” Not covered. And NOT really the reason for the cancellation.
    See, AA issued its own alert that day about cancellations and delays, entitled ,”NYC Area Severe Weather – Mid-August – Travel Notice Exception Policy Issued: August 11, 2018″ Do you think Air Traffic Control’s problems may had been really caused by weather???

  17. “it’s often struck me they’d be happier if they could just run their operation without any customers.”

    This seems to be their new goal. Each of us should do our part to help them achieve it. I certainly am.

    Doug Parker and his buds couldn’t care less about people who read this blog– or anybody else who isn’t Concierge Key. The feeling is mutual.

  18. This sort of thing is rude as hell and infuriates me.

    And all the airlines do it to an extent. Then they lie to your face about it when you inquire.

    Not sure of a solution except competition. And we can’t have that, can we?

  19. All of this is true. However, unfortunately, I have come to learn that you cannot trust the GA, the screens, the app, or any other source of information besides just being at the gate when there is an IRROPs. I wish it were otherwise, but relying on anything else could well end in tears.

  20. Had similar issue with DL this summer and my past experience with them was it was better, but not the case. None of the monitors were working at DTW, and the gate agent would change each announcement, forward and backwards over an hour and a half. Wasn’t a weather issues either, but MD90, could have been mechanical. The airlines should really not let the computers make the decision in these cases but let a human review the message before it’s sent out.

  21. This exact scenario happened to me yesterday, RDM to PHX. Inbound flight was delayed, but you’d never know it from the AA app. Gate agent showed up 20 mins after boarding was supposed to begin, no announcement was made there was a delay. I have screenshots of my AA app at 12:27 saying my 12:01 departure was on time even though we hadn’t even boarded. Terrible communication.

  22. AA used to be really good at this and their systems make it possible to do this well. I hate that I have to depend upon Flightaware and Flightradar 24 to let me know what’s really going on.

    It’s infuriating.

  23. AA CLT – JFK around 5pm last week, with one overnight stay, returning LGA – CLT 4pm. Outbound was delayed, weather all along the east coast. Weather happens and I do not blame AA for it. I do blame them for showing their flight on time when FlightAware already has them 1.5 hours delayed. I went to the desk when the boarding time approached and there was no plane. Gate agent said their systems showed “on time”. I showed them Flightradar 24 and where the plane was (had just left Minneapolis with said 1.5 hour delay). I asked them to rebook me on the earlier, already 2 hour delayed flight. They did and I went to that gate. It had not started boarding yet, and the time kept changing each time it approached departure time. Eventually we left and arrived a little over 3 hours late at JFK. The return portion was uneventful and I even managed to get on the 1pm instead of my 4pm due to my meeting finishing early. Hit or miss, and lack of accuracy/consistency in information sharing is normal OP…

  24. @Dug
    I can beat your adding ultra slim line seats in the waiting area:
    We’ll drag out those new 737MAX lavatories that Gary loves, just so our passengers will never have to walk a mile to the nearest head during IRROPS.

  25. Why is i I think AA would be a better airline if we had a reg similar to EC261? Just the cost for “duty of care” would have them wait a few minutes for connecting passengers, and would create a passenger -centric culture.

  26. DO is a priority? You live in an alternate universe from mine. My flights on “We apologize for the delAAy” airlines are almost always late. Last time it was crew rest. The time befire it was mechanical. As I sit and wait right now it is paperwork. Next flight it will be weather and the one after that will be a late arriving aircraft. This is barely a scheduled airline in my experience.

  27. The “D-zero” thing has nothing to do with this (is it a debate trick to pile on irrelevant stuff, or just sloppy thinking?), but AA does have a problem with communicating delays at their hubs. Like a few times this year, I’ve left the lounge for my “on time” AA departure that wasn’t on-time at all. Indeed, sometimes it wound up being two hours late!

    I also wonder if their crew scheduling practices are too complicated, and THAT is the main problem (other than, perhaps, the inadequacy of our ATC systems) that results in unexpected delays. Not only do you need an aircraft, but you need a crew, and I’ve waited several times at AA hubs for crews arriving on delayed inbound aircraft.

    I do have good success watching for delays at out-stations where you can track the in-bound aircraft on the AA website. Obviously, you’re not going to leave before the plane and crew arrive. But this strategy doesn’t work terribly well at the hubs because AA does often swap aircraft/crews for delayed aircraft.

    It is obviously wrong to leave your pax in the dark about likely delays, and it is also wrong to create a scheduling system that is prone to unexpected delays as you have to match up crews with aircraft — essentially doubling your chances of something going wrong.

    It is a shame that you level so much unfair and ridiculous criticism at AA (like aircraft configurations and lavs) that management probably now just ignores everything you say because you sound like a crank. If you focused more on real problems, like this one, you likely could be an effective voice for better airline service.

  28. I work for a catering company that handles American flights. You think updates are frustrating from a passenger point of view? They don’t update us either. Wasting your time, wasting my time, our payroll and creates chaos.

    Every other airline provides timely updates, American waits till the last minute and then beyond.

    It’s not a big deal they are running late, however they need to be more timely and upfront with their updates.

  29. It’s incredibly stupid that the plane the family was supposed to be on today to dca never left dca yesterday for the flight this am. When aa finally updated to say flight was delayed it was 7 hours later and about the time we had to leave our house to make the airport, and way to late to cancel our scheduled ride. Waste of time and money.

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