Now that American Airlines has rolled out new iPhones and iPads to frontline employees they’ve been given a new tool. The airline has been talking up how they’ll use ConnectMe for four years.
It’s now been extended to 17 airports (including all of the airline’s hubs) to improve communication between the gate and crew on board an aircraft that’s getting ready to depart. This way flight attendants don’t have to pick up the phone and gate agents don’t come running down the jetbridge. There are two new things cabin crew are using it for.
American is using the new tool to prompt flight attendants to hit “D0” goals of exact on time departures. Each flight attendant’s company device now has a status bar and countdown clock for the flight. At ten out from scheduled departure, the status bar changes from green to orange, and then at 5 minutes out it goes red. The company expects the door to be closed.
The tool is also being used to communicate problems, like overhead bins filling up or passengers with duplicate seat assignments.
Hopefully flight attendants will give accurate updates on overhead bin space to the gate, rather than telling them to cut bags off too early. Then if gate agents trusted those real time eyes on the bins, rather than assuming the need to gate check, customers would be much better off.
Perhaps the two most common passenger complaints I see on twitter – regardless of airline – are that a checked bag has been beaten up, and also that a passenger was required to gate check their bag because ‘all of the overhead bins were full’ and then they board the plane and see a sea of empty bins.
Many gate agents are quick to make passengers check bags out of fear that the bins might fill up, because they don’t want to be checking bags at the last minute. Last minute bags take time – at the last minute – and risks missing exact on time departures by a couple of minutes. At American Airlines especially missing exact on time departure by two minutes is just as bad (worse even?) than being 45 minutes late.
Hey @AmericanAir what's up with your gate agents refusing to let my fiance board with her small harp to store it in the overhead bin in violation of FAA law because "it's a full flight with no room for bags" pic.twitter.com/a2WlJXJT9D
— Jonathan Leitschuh – JLLeitschuh@infosec.exchange (@JLLeitschuh) December 17, 2022
Hey @AmericanAir, our flight is fully boarded and look at all this overhead bin space!! Any reason I was forced to check my bag by those extremely unpleasant women at the gate? pic.twitter.com/b5fxBmsR0P
— aiyana (@aiyanajadee) September 18, 2022
In a message to employees about the new tool, the airline highlighted other automation to reduce the burden on gate agents trying to get a flight out on time, “like processing a standby list, allow them to spend more time on more critical interactions with our customers.” That’s… one way to look at it.
In fact, American’s automated process to clear upgrades and standbys earlier (“AgentAssist”) was designed so that a single agent can handle boarding for flights that are less than 80% full instead of staffing gates with two agents. This wasn’t to allow more time for customer interaction, it was part of a plan for reduced staffing that means less customer interaction.
Currently AgentAssist replaces gate agent processing of upgrades and standby passengers at the start of boarding. Agent Assist does it 60 and 40 minutes out (standbys processed 60 minutes out only on flights that are less than 80% full). Upgrades 40 minutes to departure are processed only for domestic flights (both mainline and regional). There are still gate agent tasks, but fewer of them, so that automation replaces agents.
Of course, with flight attendants legally required (generally at a ratio of 1 per 50 passengers an aircraft is configured for), ConnectMe won’t replace cabin crew any time soon.