One Brave American Airlines Employee Just Told Management How to Fix the Airline

Delta didn’t have a strong SkyMiles program and the airline admitted it, saying that their move to a revenue-based program would make it better. They didn’t have as much to lose as American and United in shifting.

United immediately copied Delta under direction from then-CEO Jeff Smisek. The AAdvantage team had their own recommended changes, but American’s President Scott Kirby directed them to follow Delta too. Both earning and minimum spend for status were virtual mirrors of Delta.

Delta was the first to roll out basic economy, and American copied. Delta was believed to be on the verge of announcing premium economy when American pushed out their announcement. Delta rebranded extra legroom coach and added free drinks, something American is now in the process of doing.

Copyright: idealphotographer

Delta started offering meals on several long domestic flights in coach, so American rolled that out to New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Francisco. Delta bought a stake on China Eastern Airlines, American then bought a stake in China Southern. Delta led a lobbying campaign against Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad and got American to go along – leaving Delta with a new close partner in India and American Airlines severing ties with partners in the Gulf and without a close partner providing lift in and out of India’s broad array of cities or surrounding countries like Pakistan.

There was a time that Delta was an also-ran. American Airlines was the leader in the industry, the brightest minds started at American and learned their craft and then went on to run other airlines. Even a mere decade ago it seemed United did its best to copy American, at least with frequent flyer promotions.

Now the unquestioned leader in the US airline industry is Delta. They’re the most profitable and delivering better operational reliability than their largest counterparts. And everyone just assumes they’re smarter.

In a conversation about de-icing and outsourcing at a question and answer session in Miami last week, one employee winds up and concludes with a profound statement about the airline and management and how to really be the best.

He told the airline’s CEO, “You keep comparing us to Delta. That’s a mistake. American Airlines never compared themselves to another airline. American Airlines always set the standards and the other airlines copied us.”

Doug Parker says he doesn’t compare American to Delta, except to be careful not to have higher costs. But one brave employee stood up, and I hope he takes a moment to reflect on just what was said.

Parker said they’re “playing the long game” but to an outside observer it seems they’re playing it by watching Delta and to employees it seems that way when he responds to complaints about lavatory doors on their new standard domestic interior by comparing to what Delta did, saying at least they didn’t attach the crew seats to the lavatory doors like Delta did (which isn’t actually what Delta did, and then Delta removed seats to give more space to crew to work).

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. The board should have the employee switch jobs with Doug Parker. I’m sure they can do no worse and in fact may turn the airline around.

  2. Parker is an idiot and running it into the ground. This is my last year as an EXP. I shifted my reservations and business trips elsewhere, so no going back. Over it with AA. They have no loyalty to me, and I’ll enjoy not having loytalty to them.

  3. This is the “Airline Formerly Known as American” — not the American that was an innovative industry leader. This is America West disguised as USAir now pretending to be American. We’re unlikely to see a domestic carrier like the former American Airlines emerge again, unless Alaska can get its act together.

  4. Doug Parker has copied much of Deltas tactics and made it far worse than Delta
    Horrible award availability, crap food US Airways style understaffed @ check in desks
    Terrible customer relations,outsourced internet support
    Uncomfortable cramped seating in new planes,Cutting FAs in premium cabins
    Do I mention having to retrieve my bags enroute when my business class ticket from LAX to AKL cant be combined from my departure city because its on a separate locator?
    Everything about American sucks today
    As for the Flagship lounge with its lipstick on a pig blah decor with mediocre cafeteria
    food at best. American Express Centurion Lounges puts them to shame
    Parker wouldn’t know about anything premium except the size of his oversized paycheck
    I’ve gone to considerable expense to avoid flying American at all costs.0 Revenue for AA flights this year and Im sure they wont miss me going forward

    One award booking to get rid of reduce my AA miles and never look back
    Once my favorite US airline and loyalty program for over 20 years
    I hate almost everything they do and now fly almost any other US airline and host of Int carriers Singapore Cathay Emirates Qantas and others who all get what the word premium means
    While Parker counts short term nuisance fee profits he destroys loyalty one day at a time for the companies lifetime value long term.I do not trust American to a large extent
    Sad and now to watch Marriott and SPG self destruct

  5. Perhaps the employees should have considered who they were getting into bed with when their union ran Arpey out in favor of the America West LCC crew. This is all on the unions.

  6. Thankfully I’m on a UA 1K challenge, to be fulfilled next month. Many years as AA ExPlat will come to an end after almost 4 million butt in seat miles. Maybe UA won’t be any better, but after the abysmal experience on AA in 2017 I’d be an idiot not to at least give UA a chance.

  7. I’m waiting for American to start charging basic economy customers a fee for using the lavatory. They could also charge extra if you would like a full can of soda as opposed to a small cup.

  8. UA isn’t any better. Kirby is literally a Doug Parker wannabe but tried to differentiate himself by going where Parker won’t even go i.e. not giving elite credit for Basic Economy and making all domestic routes basic economy. Until the America West guys die off there’s no hope for airlines.

  9. Last week, we flew JAL, VietNam, Bangkok Airways, Thai, and AA. Quick guess… Which was the only really crappy of the bunch? I felt sorry for the crew that tried really, really hard.
    Parker is an evil spirit who has sucked the soul away from a once proud airline.
    The Flagship Lounges? Give me a Centurion Lounge anytime.
    But, look at One World… BA (run like a Ryan wannabe?) Iberia, goofy unpredictable. Both are the bottom of the barrel of the “Legacy” European airlines. JAL, Cathay and even Qantas are slumming with this bunch.

  10. I wish there were another C.R. Smith handling AA! A truly great man with a vision for what a great airline used to be.

  11. Warren Buffett owns more American stock than he owns Delta stock. So not everyone agree with you.

    And for good reason. Doug Parker taught Delta that fuel hedging was for suckers. Delta lost billions in hedges before copying Parker. They’ve now saved billions since copying Parker’s strategy. This is far more money than Doug Parker ever made copying Delta initiatives.

  12. @ docntx Actually, AA’s transpacific product is shockingly competitive with JAL these days. In the coach cabin, the food is actually better and more plentiful. The IFE system is better. The aircraft are newer. Where AA earns demerits is in coach on a full flight with 10 across seating. And AA flight attendants, like all USA flight attendants, are less attentive than Japanese flight attendants. Still, considering that AA is vastly more profitable than JAL, it’s pretty amazing that their product is competitive from a customer perspective.

    This is true of the other US carriers as well. The days of foreign airlines always offering better service than US carriers is coming to a close. I know I’m more willing to fly them than 5 years ago. But, like most things, it will take perception some time to catch up with reality.

  13. Last month tried UA (business) for the first in time in…….can’t even remember how long. Superior experience to the last few times flew AA business (although not equal to DL). Will probably given them another try over AA when the situation presents itself.

  14. There’s been far too much consolidation in the domestic airline market, and now we’re paying the price. The mindless herd mentality has taken root, and it’s come to the point where when someone announces that their company should consider becoming a leader again rather than a follower, that person is considered brave.

  15. I’m over with AA that doesn’t have respect for frequent flyers and just switched to UA.

  16. I miss The AAngels being able to work miricles in Admirals Clubs.

    I have noticed Qik is a way for AA to generate as much revenue and block certain actions taken in SABRE, eliminating the “goodies” agents used to be able to override or offer passengers during IRRPOPS or because of their loyalty status with the airline

    Silver lining is thag every once and a while, you can still find an agent who does go above and beyond if you are in a pinch and is able to turn a pebble into gold.

  17. Dougie said he’s “playing the long game”…

    …Yeah, yeah, doesn’t he really mean they’re “playing the long CON game”?

    Just sayin’ 😉

    I mean, SERIOUSLY, he doesn’t even bother to fly the crappy planes Coz they’re so crappy, yet he sure doesn’t have any problem profiting off of the sadistic miseries he and his managers come up with that they, themselves by their very actions make clear isn’t a product good enough for them to plop their own butts into the teeny tiny, no legroom seats they demand everyone else pay good money to squeeze into…

    What a joke…why should ANYONE be expected to pay for a product that the CEO doesn’t even want to use himself (or herself)?

  18. That was a particularly damning statement for a CEO. Even if it’s true for other airline CEOs, to openly say it suggests he lives in a little bubble of arrogance…

  19. I’ve got to side with Parker on this one. Most of the time when he refers to Delta it’s in response to an employees question about how or why Delta gets better benefits or better profit sharing or over all a better contract. He tries to explain American employees today tend to focus in on only specific items that are not necessarily as good as other airlines but they forget that the overall total value of their contract or benefits is just as good or better than other airlines. I find in many cases it’s the employee comparing Delta to American.

  20. American sucks because:
    1. their ticket flexibility is AWFUL compared to what Delta and United do for their Elite flyers especially for same day change.
    2. Their pricing is not as competitive as United for most of my flights (70%) of the time.
    3. They reduced their Global upgrades from 8 to 4, when every other airline gives 6 and 8.
    C’mon. This will prob be my last year as an Exec Plat on AA.

  21. As a former Delta employee then a SITA employee working with global airlines, I spent many years studying and understanding airline management, practices, successes and failures. I watched Unions take down once great airlines like Eastern allowing predators like FrankLorenzo to gobble up assets for a song, as he did with Trans Texas and Continental. I watched Ron Allen ruin Delta Air Lines in the 1980’s/90’s while Bob Crandall sat back and laughed as he suckered Allen into overbidding for the failed PanAm assets. Then violated a long standing rule at Delta of “Promoting from Within” to bring in outside management who led Delta into bankruptcy.’
    Delta is being run correctly today by good management making mostly good decisions (not all are that good) Much has to be said and applauded on how they’ve turned the company around into the success it’s achieving today

  22. Oh yes, on unions.. Delta pilots are with a very well run union, ALPA. Delta’s dispatchers formed their own union, The Professional Airline Flight Control Association, which has the contract with the company. They are not part of any national union organization and all their decisions are made within their own membership.
    Keeping national unions that are more political than functional for their membership, is a key to Delta successes. Mechanics, customer service, flight attendants, etc. are well compensated, well managed and have no need for outsiders negotiating on their behalf.

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