Maslow’s Hammer is the Only Tool American Airlines Has to Fight Declining Customer Scores

During American Airlines’ earnings call Thursday morning Cowen & Company’s Helane Becker asked airline President Robert Isom, “If you polled your customers what would they say is the #1 complaint about the airline, and what are you doing about it?”

Isom said that customers “want a reliable airline, they want to be certain they’re getting what they paid for and so from that perspective as we take a look at our goals for the coming year that is top of mind everywhere and for us that is upside.”

Delta talks a lot about their net promoter scores, suggests a key metric for them is improving that number, because they believe it is tied to the revenue premium they say they earn compared to the rest of the industry.

Becker followed up and asked Isom if he could say if the airline’s net promoter score improved Jan 2019 versus July 2018?

Isom said “we have a lot of internal metrics.. we weren’t pleased with our likelihood to recommend scores, they fell year-over-year for the first time in a number of years.”

However he doesn’t think that has anything at all to do with the airline making their domestic product increasingly worse during that time with less space between seats even in Main Cabin Extra and first class, he claims customers are “pleased with service, amenities, airports,” however “if you’re not as reliable as you should be that has a negative impact overall.”

Abraham Maslow said it best: when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Isom is an operations guy, though he hasn’t been running a good operation.

American’s approach is to focus extensively on ‘D0’ exact on time departures, but the way they do this is to measure employee performance along this metric with a willingness to sacrifice most every other aspect of the customer experience rather than ensuring all elements of the customer experience are in place in order to be ready to depart on time.

Depart With Seats Looking Like This? No Problem!

Isom’s approach to unhappy customers – declining likelihood to recommend scores – appears to be to double down on the same approach they’ve been taking at the very time those scores were falling.

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. I’m getting tired of seeing that missing F seat pic. Don’t mind the AA bashing, but please find some other pics to go with the posts.

  2. One has to wonder how old that picture of the broken seat. There are no planes in the fleet with that old interior.
    On a related note, I recently flew two 11 hour international flights. Premium Economy on one and the food was fantastic. I was in main cabin in the other flight and the food was… disgusting.

  3. Was on 4 AA flights last week. All flights departed on time and crew was rushing to close the door on time. However, I was in a paid F seat and two of the flights went out with one open F seat despite very long upgrade lists. I’m sure there were CK or EP flyers on the list, so it was really disappointing to see promised elite benefits sacrificed in order to close the doors EARLY. How much extra time would it have taken to print a ticket and give someone who has been loyal a benefit that they are entitled to? Not a very good strategy to keep your customers – particularly when so many are considering switching to Delta for multiple reasons.

  4. OK, I’m Ancient but I remember the Halcyon Days of American Airlines under Bob Crandall and Mike Gunn when the AAdvantage Program was “On Hit” with frequent, and lucrative, global promotions, and easy peasy bonus mileage, all of which counted toward lifetime status! Following TWA’s Lead (“Comfort Class” [Premium Economy for Everyone]), they inaugurated “More Room for Passengers” by removing coach seats in all their aircraft. Yes, they truly were “Something Special in the Air” but now “Doing What We Do Best” means short-changing their customers by becoming more like U.S. Air after they quit pretending that “U.S. Air begins with ‘U’!”

  5. The content brings up another quote (misattributed to Einstein): “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!”

  6. I have been a loyal AA FF since finally dumping United (now you want a horrible customer experience fly United)

    When I flew a lot rarely did I get upgraded AA is not much better than any others, it will not stop till people who fly a lot don’t. The seats will continue to get smaller and closer together, maybe when fights breakout regularly the airlines will consider a different path, but I doubt it, if no one complains or does anything the airlines think all is good in their world.

    What peeves me off more than anything else is when there is a mechanical delay the airlines always change it to w weather delay, thus screwing customers that miss connections, hotel stay overs etc. This has happened to me more than once.

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