American Airlines frontline employees received new iPhones and iPads and those come with the ConnectMe tool which allows communication between the gate and crew on board an aircraft as they’re getting ready to depart so that flight attendants don’t have to pick up the phone and gate agents don’t come running down the jetbridge.
American uses ConnectMe to prompt flight attendants to hit “D0” goals of exact on time departures. Each flight attendant’s company device 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.
It’s D0 exact on-time departure pressure that causes employees to lie, telling passengers that overhead bins are full.
All kinds of bin space on my @AmericanAir flight from TPA to PHX, but some manager named Carl forced the last 30-40 of us to check bags because he wanted to “try” for an on time departure after arriving flight was late. Poor customer service! I’ll fly @SouthwestAir pic.twitter.com/bOeaYxNFVH
— @Brian__Ladd (@CosmoBLadd) November 3, 2023
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. Agents are held responsible for delays that aren’t even their fault and it usually seems like missing exact on time departure by two minutes is as bad (worse even?) than arriving 45 minutes late.
ConnectMe rolls out to all American Eagle regional stations by Tuesday.
It’s part of how American is using automation to reduce the burden on gate agents trying to get a flight out on time, such as automatically processing the standby list. At mainline this has enabled them to reduce staffing at gates, so that only one agent works domestic flights that are less than 80% full.
American’s automated process to clear upgrades and standbys (“AgentAssist”) replaced gate agents, generally doing its thing 40 minutes out (standbys processed 60 minutes out only on flights that are less than 80% full).
Agents are expressly now forbidden from clearing standbys themselves more than 40 minutes prior to departure, and employees are complaining that this means gate agents aren’t able to give fellow employee nonrev travelers better seats early. On Thursday official guidance went out that “clearing the Priority List is being set as a universal policy and procedure to create a consistent experience for our revenue and non-revenue customers.”
There are still gate agent tasks, but fewer of them, so that automation replaces agents. Some agents are afraid to do those tasks, including adding both employee and customer standbys to the list after AgentAssist runs and departure time approaches. So be aware that standbys can still be added up to 15 minutes prior to departure. If a gate agent tells you otherwise, they’re wrong.
While automation may be cutting down on gate agents, flight attendants are legally required (generally at a ratio of 1 per 50 passengers an aircraft is configured for), so ConnectMe won’t replace cabin crew any time soon.