New “Star System” Holds American Airlines Gate Agents Responsible For Mechanical Delays, Lack Of Crew

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.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. The ghost of Robert Crandall still hovers over American. Of the big 3, it was always the worst to work for.

  2. I’m not employed in the travel industry at all, but this seems like pretty bad management to just blame all the problems on the frontline employees, particularly over things that these employees have zero control over.

  3. Can someone explain to something to me? In what world does it make sense to hold a gate agent responsible for (e.g.) a weather delay or for that little red warning light on the “dash” that tells the pilot the plane’s not ready to fly?

  4. So I hear over and over about how obsessed AA is with D0, yet every time I land it is a 30 minute wait for a gate. So which is it?

  5. Honestly this is garbage. Years ago I managed for a corporation where reviews affected our bonuses. The problem was that issues we were not in control of (prices, internet quality etc) where part of the scores. Unless it’s a mom and pop, where you make all the decisions, you can’t hold people accountable for things they simply have no control over.

  6. -We have to measure work performance. KPI is the must!
    – Why?
    – Otherwise people get lazy. Besides, that’s what they teach in business schools, To think otherwise is a blasphemy!
    – Do you understand that by measuring too much and especially by linking measurement results to compensation you incentivize people not to do their jobs but do what you measure? KPI is the worst motivator.
    – But we cannot afford better motivators.
    – Like you can afford any KPI…

    Oh, how many times I had this conversation in my corporate days. Different people of all backgrounds and all walks of life fall into the same trap and peddle this senseless corporate drones

  7. This isn’t new. Been this way for years. Even weather delays count against your D0 performance. Trust me on one thing a 1 minute delay is the absolute worst thing you can do. I got yelled at and argue a 1 minute delay for 8 hours once.

  8. Definitely a concern for the culture and morale of frontline employees at AA, especially in the hubs because if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Currently, the airline is supposed to be in the calm before the summer storm and that’s just not the case. The industry is busier than ever and the amount of stress placed on frontline workers is insurmountable in the operation. There is definitely a lack of consistent leadership at AA and the individuals working from behind a desk crunching numbers have zero knowledge of what the operation actually experiences in the airport environment. If these individuals were forced to train and work the frontline environment, most would not last a day in the position because they would see the resale difference between the computer and the actual operation, not to mention the human factor nobody seems to care to acknowledge. AA corporate needs to take the time to speak with frontline workers, observe and work the environment in order to get a full picture of the operation. A desk job is just that, a desk job. These individuals working in the airport environment are the backbone of the company and should not be taken for granted. The summer travel season will be catastrophic, mark my words.

  9. Sounds like some of the very analytic nerds who have ruined baseball are working in procedures for AA Operations. In another life I worked for DL for 20 years, much of that time as a Gate Agt. Very few delays are the responsibility of a reasonably competent GA and the ones that they are responsible for are generally the insignificant ones, the matter of a few minutes clearing standbys or having to check luggage that won’t fit in the overhead. Most delays are due to weather, ATC, mechanicals, crew scheduling, loading cargo, and holding for connecting passengers, something the GA has no control over. Sounds like AA is using them as scapegoats for inept management practices.

  10. somehow DL and UA both manage to get flights TO THE ARRIVAL GATE as good as or better than AA but without the drama.

    AA simply does not schedule with the degree of margin in its system to support the routine and normal glitches that happen every day in air travel.
    Expecting gate agents to take the blame for a system that is wound way too tightly doesn’t solve the problem and will burn out and walk away, leaving the airline worse off.
    But the AA management of today and for decades has been way too focused on the present, perceived or real, to be able to understand the long-term implications of their decisions.

  11. D0 is why I left AA for Delta and I’ve only watched the airline burn ever since. Every Delta headache is a blemish compared to the hatred AA management holds for their customers and their frontline employees. It couldn’t be more evident that flying passengers has become a burden. Sorry you can’t just sit back and vegetate off of credit card co-brand funds.

  12. I’m an American Airlines gate agent in DFW and came across this article because it was shared in our employee FB group and I can honestly say this is 100% correct! To the person that said “there must be another side to the story” THERE ISNT!! Delays due to maintenance, weather, aircraft cleaners still be on, even if the plane ARRIVES late and the making the outbound late it counts against our rating. I’ve already tried talking to our agent union stewards in DFW to see if anything is being done because I’m one of the best agents at DFW yet I’m ranked a 4 star agent because of anything even if we don’t have control over it will negatively count against our rating. So happy someone is exposing this. They are so obsessed with on time departures it’s ridiculous. One thing you forgot there’s also a rating for aircraft door closure and if it’s not closed by 5 minutes EVEN if the flight goes out on time it counts against us. I got some stories to tell. I’ve even screenshot proof of certain flights that I’ve worked that’s impacting my rating negatively that I don’t have any control over.

  13. With so much pressure this may (and probably will) put the flights at higher risks. Just throwing things together so the scores will be at the departments lowest level.
    In the medical field a person arrives in critical condition to emergency rooms. The emergency department does not want their scores of death in their department so patients are rushed to ICU so they will die there instead of the emergency room! This is a fact and not fake news!!

    I don’t want to be in a plane where there is a RUSH ISSUE!

  14. Why would anyone want to have a gate agent career at American Airlines since you would be the designated corporate scapegoat who will be fired, punished, or penalized for late boarding even when the delay is due to weather, lack of crew, late arriving inbound aircraft, or maintenance keeping the gate agent from closing the door on time?

  15. This is what happens when Pop Warner tries managing the NFL. The Cactus pricks are in way over their regional mind set.

  16. I am an AA gate agent, not at a hub.
    Our station management does not use that scoring system, or maybe they don’t let us know.
    We still have to explain any delay but we can say it needs to be “put on” another workgroup such as inflight or ramp.
    If it’s our fault then it’s on us.

  17. The message is don’t be a gate agent at AA. They should organize for better work conditions.

  18. Yep there you have why morale is so bad at American. That and no contacts. Thank you Robert Isom.

  19. As a gate agent in PHX AZ, we are all being told not to worry by management as nothing will be held against us. That’s just not true as this would not be installed if it didn’t apply somewhere in future. Let alone that the manager documented my personal file that we had a conversation that this ranking existed. (Refused to sign it). It has a number ranking me now say (34 out of 221 agents). And more than just the 4 metrics that they let me see, change my rank from 4.0 to 3.0 daily. Somewhere this data will be buried into how they calculate my worth for the job. Bet on it!

  20. This article is accurate.

    We pilots, who have a bit more gravitas when delays are put on us, and find ourselves offering to help these overworked gate agents in order to deflect undue blame away from them and onto us, if that’s what’s needed.

    It pains me to see hard working gate agents going into a Company-induced panic as we approach departure time. I’ve seen some about to break into tears. Not fair at all to them.

    They are being forced, at times, to go against everything that a decent human being would do to please their customers.

    I make it a habit now of asking about late arriving passengers who may be running late to our gate, and how far away they are. I check when the next aircraft is due on our gate. I check today’s flying time to our destination. When all of these point to a no-risk delay to wait for those passengers…we wait. Put the delay on me!!! Even then…the gate agents still fear retribution.

    Those small phone/tablets the flight attendants now carry are, theoretically, supposed to make it easier to communicate to the gate agents about issues needing attention, full overhead bins etc. They do help at times I’m sure, but now passengers are starting to believe that flight attendants are now goofing off during boarding because they are talking on their phones. No…the flight attendants are now supposed to stay connected to the gate agent(s) via these.

    All of this reminds me of my college management classes. If left to the teachings of management professors, a city sanitation department would be spending way too much time, and money trying to optimize how a garbage truck attendant lobs the garbage into the back of the truck.

    AA management….get away from your optimization programs at headquarters…and get to the airport terminal and help the agents do what they already know how to do.

  21. I think executive pay should be based on factors like weather delays. Same principle.

  22. I’ve been an agent for 35 years..things like these come and go all the time .. at the end of the day, this rating system does not affect our rate of pay .. flights can be dalayed for hours, and we are still going to get paid the same hourly rate ( weather you are a 2, 3 or 5 star agent ).

  23. Who cares about a star rating then? You do your best and take pride in your work.

    My greatest joy are my passengers. And acknowledgment from co-workers.


  24. I think it’s really important to hold people to a standard that they cannot meet. I think this is a good standard. I hope they apply it to more people.

  25. Just spoke with 2 AA Gate Agents and they said it’s all coding and there’s not any repercussions from those kinds of delays. They read this article and said it was very misleading. There has been nothing official from AA to the group.

  26. AA flyer based in IAH HOU which would be as crazy as a DL flyer based in DFW. None of this culture is going on here in Houston. I notice a big difference in PHX with this on time and just a hectic place. I connect thru DFW, LAX , and JFK 90% of the time.

    The world is changing I’m not getting any younger so I’d imagine the workerplace is changing.

  27. Being a gate agent with AA is very stressful these days…I have 40 years and I hope I can make it to retirement..yes they focus on numbers….they want me to shut the door in passenger’s face if there not on 10 min before departure..rather they are standing in line or not…The agents are for the…….??

  28. The peabrains running AA haven’t figured out that their customer value low ticket prices and on time ARRIVALS. Then good customer service. They need to settle down and give their competent employees the tools they need to customers where they need to go on time. The employees will get it done if they feel valued and respected. Continue to treat us like insignificant cogs in a machine and….. Well, there’s a reason we recently ranked 9th with JD Powers. It wasn’t because our priority should be on D0 and we’re rocking it.

  29. @Mikey if customers truly value low ticket prices, then they can’t also have on time ARRIVALS and good customer service.

    You always roughly get what you pay for: you pay little and you get a 15 year old Corolla, you pay lots and get a brand new Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck. Airlines are no different.

  30. Is it just the gate agents or are other employees also docked when the flight is delayed? If so, that’s a glaring safety issue the FAA needs to address. “Fixing the problem would delay the flight and get me in trouble” is a recipe for flying non-airworthy aircraft.

  31. This decision sounds similar to those of AA in the late ’80s and ’90s when I was a PSA in YVR – typical non-sensical management decisions that erode employee morale and ultimately have an adverse on everybody.

  32. Upper management needs to get off their lazy asses and give a hand rather than sitting behind a desk and jacking off to the bonuses coming their way. Unions are no good get away from unions they side with the company. Have reasonable directives that can be managed without stress. If something is out of your control learn to deal with it without shifting or putting blame on another party. Have the C.E.O. come and work by your side so they can witnesses what is happening, they are making exuberant amout of money to set at the desk to jerk off about the bonus to be gotten which they do not pass along except to higher management.

  33. The whole idea of incentive programs is to motivate your employees. Such a program should be:
    – clearly stated
    – attainable
    – reasonable

    The above sounds like some airhead at headquarters who was sound asleep in one of his MBA classes. I’ve come across several of these folks the closer you are to HQ.
    In the field, we knew where the bodies were buried and what it took to get things done. Yet, HQ was clueless……..

  34. American Airlines has absolutely PATHETIC management!! The company needs to clean house and lay off 3/4 of its current higher up managers!! Lots of people draining the company dry who do absolutely NOTHING!!!

  35. I work as a flight attendant with AA. Fortunately, this frenzy over door closures hasn’t impacted our work group as it has the gate agents.

    Flight attendants recognized, I guess shortly as the pandemic winded down, that agents became too overly aggressive with boarding and/or door closures.

    Occasionally, they will report something like: “did not board on time because flight attendant said they needed some time.” We’ll get called by our management and explain to them that we asked for more time because the previous flight was late. Then it’s “Okay, thank you.” and the issue is DONE for our work group.

    It is only gate agent world that has unrealistic expectations.

  36. In response to the iodic remark by “Frank” – while on time departure was a strong point of emphasis during the Crandall era, there was nothing to even suggest such a ridiculous, pointless, and outright stupid idea such as the current clueless concept AA management in trying to force down the throats of an already overworked agent group. While “accountability” was the policy it was applied only to conditions under the control of the personnel/group being measured.

  37. This is a gross misunderstanding of how this works. United had this system over a decade ago and just dumped it.

    What AA is doing is assuming a D:0 and if the plane doesn’t release the brakes at D:0 it goes back to the gate as to why. FROM there, it goes back to whether or not it was a delay caused by the gate, or something else. If it’s something else, they can work backwards and find out what. The point of this system is to figure out if there’s something systemic.

    United just stopped doing it because the company felt gate agents were too pressured to get the door closed even though there might have been customer service issues, like a lake arrival of a connection.

    Come on people. Use some common sense. The company isn’t going to chastise a gate agent because of a maintenance issue. The company just wants to know why the brakes weren’t released at D:0 and this provides an orderly line to follow.

  38. Worried that the pushing and misplaced blame will sooner or later lead to people taking shortcuts just to get a plane out of the gate on time. Shortcuts lead to accidents. Who will take the blame then?

  39. @Dan Davis: You said: “Worried that the pushing and misplaced blame will sooner or later lead to people taking shortcuts just to get a plane out of the gate on time. Shortcuts lead to accidents. Who will take the blame then?”

    The dead passengers will take the blame. The FAA has many programs to help reduce accidents. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, passengers are essential to the “Circle of Safety.” The FAA says, “Over the past decade Alaska has averaged 35 commercial accidents per year. Many of those accidents resulted in fatalities, and those losses take an emotional toll on all of us. The Circle of Safety is our new consumer education program that results from the continuing need to prevent and reduce aviation accidents.”

    As a frequent commuter from Michigan to Alaska, I know that an aircraft crash can ruin your afternoon and cause you to miss your connecting flight. To help you fly safer, I have included a link to the FAA Circle of Safety consumer safety education brochure:

    Another FAA brochure titled Passenger Rights states, “Aircraft accidents kill and injure passengers and pilots each year. We want you to have a safe and successful outing, so if you’re not sure about something, ask your pilot.”

    Here is the link to the FAA Train the Traveler guide.

    Read more:

  40. If anyone knows anyone in the news field…please pass on…us agents that work the gates for AA are very stressed out….would love for them to interview the senior agents…..20 plus years……I am speaking for the Charlotte International airport…….thank you…….

  41. Good!! These agents are out of control on power trips and have been blaming flight attendants and other departments for YEARS for delays that are their fault! Reap what you sow!

  42. As a flight attendant, I am now regularly getting messages on connect me teams during boarding to “make an announcement to ask the passengers to go faster”. I do my best to do so in a polite way, but, this is like a restaurant asking you to eat faster so they can get another table in. It’s downright rude and bad customer service. Creating a toxic environment on planes. Which is not safe and will ultimately hurt profitability in the long run due to the bad energy felt on AA planes. All so executives can meet a D-0 goal and get a few more million dollars in their paycheck while we haven’t had a cost of living raise in years due to a stalled contract so I’m now barely living above the poverty level. Oh, and while we’re asking everyone to please hurry up, we stop boarding to serve 20 drinks to first class passengers. Make it make sense.

Comments are closed.