American Airlines has a new rating system for gate agents, ranking each one on a five star scale. Based on details from multiple agents, this rating system includes everything related to the flight – including things they have no control over whatsoever. If they touch a flight that delays, that’s on them, even when it’s a maintenance delay.
- Their interactions using ConnectMe to contact flight attendants over things like overhead bin capacity and crew meals can earn them (negative) points.
- The system measures what time boarding begins and ends, and penalizes gate agents for late boarding even when the delay is due to weather or lack of crew or a late arriving inbound aircraft. If maintenance keeps them from closing the door on time too, that gets reflected.
American Airlines management is obsessed with ‘D0’ – exact on-time departures – as the metric they can control to influence on-time arrivals. They’re similarly focused on ‘T0’, turning around an aircraft in the exact allotted time. They generally draw no distinction between a two minute delay and a ninety minute delay.
As a result the stories of supervisors yelling at flight attendants from the jet bridge when doors are closing late, or crew getting called in because they took a catering delay because Flagship first class didn’t have service items, are myriad.
Gate agents play a role in on-time departures. It makes sense to hold management accountable for broad issues that are both in and outside of their direct control. They move the pieces and have to be prepared for and responsive to things that include both good and bad luck. But if you run into gate agents who are more stressed than usual this is a piece of it.
And this comes even after reducing the number of gate agents working flights so that only one is now assigned when an aircraft is less than 80% full. It’s not an enjoyable time to be a gate agent at American Airlines.
The alternative of course is to publish reasonable flight schedules, staff at a level needed to board planes, move bags and address maintenance issues promptly, and ensure that all vendors (such as caterers) are doing their job right every time. Putting metrics on gate agents for things outside of their control might move the needle a little bit? But it hardly seems likely to move it very much.