The New Merged American-US Airways Will Adopt American’s Service Levels (Food!)

With the US Airways – American Airlines merger, expected to close shortly, there are basically three risks for customers:

  • Integrations never go as well as hoped. Training employees on new systems is hard, even when you get the IT right. People are grumpy. They take it out on customers. This is a challenge for any airline merger, and a key reason why many business travelers don’t like mergers – period.
  • US Airways members lose out on generous awards. US Airways is a member of the Star Alliance which means more flight options to Europe and Asia than oneworld, which it will be joining with the merger. There are some great values in the US Airways award chart, like 90,000 miles from the US to North Asia. US Airways agents are generally clueless and their IT systems bad which frequently results in mistakes in the customers’ favor. These ‘quirks’ will most certainly be erased once the two mileage programs combine.
  • American members lose their better premium product. American actually serves meals up front, and across the board provides a more full-service experience than US Airways. The expectation has been that US Airways management would impost cost cuts and diminish the flying experience that American’s elite customers are used to.

We can probably expect the combined airline to use the American IT platform, which means that things won’t go as badly as the systems integration did between US Airways and America West, or between United and Continental. Still, there will no doubt be challenges.

And while there are pluses and minuses to both frequent flyer programs, and some of the preferred features of each may get harmonized away as part of the merger, there’s also real value in the American AAdvantage program inf act I value my American miles more highly than my US Airways miles.

What we learned in a new interview today, though, is at least at the outset US Airways is paying real attention to the importance of the American Airlines premium product.

I’ve been beating the drum on this for a year.

I declared back in February that US Airways elites are hungry. They don’t get fed in first class on a 3 hour flight.

When the CEOs of US Airways and American sat down to pitch the merger to the New York Times, I had 9 quotes in the ensuing piece and pointed out that CEO-to-be of the joint airline Doug Parker has traditionally believed that all that matters is being an on-time airline and thus the importance of actual service might be diminished.

Focusing on good value and good service was one of my key points in a USA Today op-ed a couple of weeks ago.

Fortunately, Frequent Business Traveler interviewed Scott Kirby who will be President of the combined airline and others, and reports that:

  • “The merged airline will use the current American product as its template and, as a result, the current US Airways product will be greatly enhanced to ensure uniformity across both airlines until they are merged under one operating certificate.”
  • US Airways will leave Star Alliance “seven to nine weeks after” January 7.
  • “On April 1, US Airways will adopt American’s meal windows and catering”
  • “[O]n September 1, the US Airways soft product (i.e. in-flight service) will mirror American’s.
  • By September 1, “new aircraft being delivered to US Airways will have the new AA interiors.”

If these decisions hold — beyond a merger honeymoon period — then they’re real wins for frequent flyers and could go a long way towards reducing anxiety over the combination. I remain skeptical, the temptation to cut costs short-sightedly is great. But so far they seem to be saying the right things.

(HT: AAdvantageGeek)

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. Good news indeed, especially after just doing AA DCA-JFK-LHR(New business class product on 77W)-BCN-MIA-DCA this weekend. Service was pretty good as was most of the food. love the new Business seat. Appreciate the switch from Beefeaters to Bombay Saphire for my G&Ts.
    However the food on MIA-DCA was horrible snap peas were uneatable, chicken flavorless, carrot cake okay, but worthless calories. FA was very good though!

  2. I’m absolutely convinced Doug Parker sees a big “X” on United and is determined to go after that airline and its customers in a big way-his number one priority, actually. UA is vulnerable, its executives have “disrespected” Parker and US Air repeatedly and Parker has no intention to join UA in the race to the bottom.

  3. Sure everything should be somewhat business as expected for the first 6 months to a year
    However I’d put money on the table year 2 on
    Parker and his cronies will start cutting everywhere and increasing fees as well as airfares
    Can anyone see anything else I’ll eat my ff card if I’m wrong

  4. Why am I not surprised you’d be excited about airline food? Or, I guess I should have said: “Food!”?

  5. That is what UA told us during the merger. Look at the meal. They kept the higher standards, then after several months begun to slowly chip things away.

    The only area they didn’t water down is the BF catering – only lost the soup.

  6. The America West “soft product” was never raised to the level of US, so I doubt Parker will do any such thing. US and AW employees are still not even allowed in the same cockpit.

    Say one thing, do another.

  7. I’m not surprised that, at least initially, US will adopt AA’s catering policies. Parker is smart enough to know that it’s not in the interest of the world’s largest airline to be perceived as low quality.

    Obviously, domestically, AA’s first class food is better than US’s — and both airlines don’t serve free food in coach.

    Does anyone have a good summary of the differences in their int’l catering practices? I’m assuming AA currently spends a little bit more, but I’m not personally familiar enough with the 2 products to know, and I haven’t seen a good summary of this.

  8. Any speculation on a US Airways or AA award chart devaluation prior to US Airways leaving Star Alliance? Thinking they will be too busy with the other technical aspects of US Airways leaving star alliance to change the award chart now for it to only be in place for a couple of months but that may be wishful thinking.

  9. Regarding the “American … across the board provides a more full-service experience than US Airways.”

    Other than the meal window/meals themselves, what exactly does AA do that’s more full service than US from a ground experience and soft product standpoint? I’m asking this genuinely. I get that AA has a better domestic hard product (IFE, MCE), a more generous meal window, and better meals in F, but is that the extent of the “full service” difference?

  10. I remain skeptical but this is a positive sign. Both meals over the Thanksgiving holiday were outstanding, and what American calls a ‘snack’ surpasses the offerings of what most other airlines offer as meals (Alaska also offers a good culinary experience for ‘airline’ food).
    We did notice one downgrade of service over this past weekend – no pre-departure beverages were offered. Although not a deal breaker, the reduction in service often starts with the little things.

  11. @ SAN Greg,

    I don;t know that pre-departure beverages are gone for good – I had an AA FA somewhat apologize Sunday that on account of loads over Thanksgiving, that FA resources were not being deployed to predeparture beverages.

    And, indeed, it looked as if all of the FA’s were very much engaged in loading passengers. So I am hopeful that this is an anomoly.

  12. I have noticed that preflight bev has been hit or miss on AA of late. I think some of it depends on the FA’s discretion on whether he/she thinks she has enough time prior to departure to serve and pick up.

    I wasn’t pro-merger, but I do have high hopes for the merger. Employees on both sides seem upbeat (I fly both regularly), and I’ve been impressed by the new AA equipment both domestic and int’l. We’ll have to see how it all plays out.

  13. I hope they don’t mirror the AA standards. on a paid F class flight tonight, I really grew to love the service that included the classy “anyone want a drink” bellow on my US flight. Oh, but they did have a very special offer for me on a credit card.

  14. It’s amazing how much time and effort is spent worrying about whether or not we’ll get a high sodium meal that costs the airline about $4. Seriously, what is it with people and airplane food? Literally almost anything you can buy in the terminal for $10 will be tastier and healthier than what you’re getting in flight.

    Does getting served a meal stir some deep seeded emotional association with the romanticism of flying 50 years ago, even if the meal is crap? I just don’t get all the hand wringing over this stuff.

  15. @Andrew, I do think that’s a part of it.

    Otherwise, why bother to scheme for top-tier status and 100% upgrades when you could otherwise just fly the most convenient or cheapest carrier?

  16. AA+US has to compete with the big boys now — I do not mean UA and DA…. I mean the real threats to international travel — Etihad, Emirates, Qatar — they are the guys with the widebody planes that will take you to Sydney, London, Hong Kong, etc. This is where the $$$ are. AA+US need to keep a good International and Domestic F + B class up to par with these guys. Coach on domestic will be there but on International I would rather fly to HNK via Dubai by Emirates Coach then AA coach

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