The D in D0 Stands for Dirty: American Airlines Sacrifices Clean Cabins for Quick Departures

Over the summer I explained why cleaners board American Airlines aircraft while passengers are trying to get off. It’s annoying for passengers getting off the aircraft, but the airline wants to clean planes as quickly as possible. Time spent on the ground is time spent not making money. They often schedule flights tightly together and don’t want to risk a delay.

I find that cleaners getting on the plane while passengers are trying to get off just blocks passengers getting off and as a result their getting on too early may not save time.

Since I wrote about the bottleneck deplaning due to aircraft cleaning, American rolled out a policy that focuses even more heavily on ‘D0’ and sacrifices cleaning. Here’s a notice from Dallas Fort-Worth:

Cleaning crew are supposed to get on the aircraft as soon as they can while the inbound aircraft is deplaning. As soon as the last passenger is off the plane, the next flight should start boarding. They shouldn’t wait for cleaners to finish and once boarding begins cleaners should stop what they’re doing.

Because all that matters at American is pushing back exactly on time, customers are forced to gate check bags even when bin space is available, upgrades don’t get processed, and flights go out uncatered. The airline’s CEO stays that’s what customers want. Now we can add to this list: planes don’t get fully cleaned, either.

Depart With Seats Looking Like This? No Problem!

Cleaning crews are only allowed to keep cleaning if they first contact the Control Center who then tells the gate not to board. The people you see cleaning planes aren’t going to dare to do that often.

Of course about a month ago we learned that American’s anti-trust immunized joint venture partner British Airways was testing some routes where they wouldn’t clean planes between flights at all.

Airlines need to clean more and more frequently. US airlines have gone between deep cleans monthly to as long as every 18 months.

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. […] When I’ve questioned broken first class seats, I’ve been asked “do you want us to delay everyone in order to fix it?” I’m genuinely surprised that American Airlines did more here than paper towels because bringing on cleaning crew does take time and jeopardizes an on-time departure. Every minute spent cleaning is a minute before being able to get into the air. That’s why the D in D0 stands for dirty. […]

  2. […] Airlines frequent charge far more than hotels do for a night, especially in business class. But they rush the cleaning between flights. Often contract workers aren’t even given the time to get through trash removal before being ushered off to board passengers, because flights are scheduled close together and the airline doesn’t want to be late (“The D in D0 stands for Dirty“). […]


  1. What a shame! Since the US Air “guys” (Parker and company) started running American Airlines things got worst. I said it before The board of directors need to wake up and fire Parker!

  2. I wonder if not cleaning the airline will increase the number of people getting sick on American Airlines. I guess it is not as bad as the subway.

  3. I fly Southwest a lot and I’ve noticed at certain airports they’ve started force gate checking bags very early as well leaving bin space empty when I’ve gotten on the plane. Wonder if they’ve been focusing on their D0 as well?

  4. AA has gotten worse and worse. Thank you for holding them accountable, Gary. At least they have some decent partner airlines.

  5. We are considering a plan not to allow anything consumable to be brought on aboard. Nothing, nada, zip, zilch, zero.
    No water, gum, candy, etc.
    No catering not even toilet paper. Period.
    This will eliminate any and all “housekeeping”. Save time and most importantly M O N E Y. I know Dug and I have discussed this awhile back.

  6. After 20 consecutive years of earning Exec Plat status on AA, I have switched to DL. Their planes are cleaner, their crews are less stressed/more friendly and their treatment of customers is far better. AA have descended to a new low—too bad.

  7. Well that’s nothing compared to my last experience with AA 3 months ago (and it will be my last experience with AA for sure).
    It was a last minute trip to Europe so expensive but AA operated on BA tickets was about half price than others (UA, DL, AF, LH) so I went for it (that’s maybe why AA is losing money …).
    First the GAs were panicking as they slowly realized they were not going to make the D0 and starting to behave like drill sergeants.
    They started to check bag very early (group 5) and I realized right away that is exactly what was slowing down the boarding process.
    Then the FAs started to panic too and they closed the bins early to try to save time, so the passengers had to reopen them to try to find room, slowing down things even further. Then they literally shut the plane door in the face of the last passengers boarding.
    The situation got worse as the plane started to taxi while the last few passengers were still standing in the aisle looking for their seat and a place in the bins for their belonging.

    That’s when I realized that AA doesn’t give a damn about passenger safety or basic FAA rules as long as their crazy D0 requirement is met.

    That will not surprise me if AA will soon join SW at the bottom of the airline safety rating list!

    Anyway, this absolutely appalling experience that I never ever encountered in my 27 years of frequent flying life will never happen again as I will never fly AA again no matter what the price is until the incompetent circus freaks executives that created this D0 mess are gone.

    As a comparison, last week on an almost full 747-8 LH flight in ORD, the plane was fully boarded, from the 1st passenger in a wheelchair to the door closing (and no passenger standing), in 27 minutes (yes, less than 30 minutes). And that has happened while the GAs also had to verify the passports of every passenger!

  8. Next step will be to follow JetBlue’s lead and force standby employee passengers to help clean the aircraft as a condition of their travel. AA follows…hasn’t led since that pension pirate Carty was put in charge after Crandall retired.

  9. This isn’t just an American thing. BA isn’t even bothering to clean after every intra-Europe flight,

  10. Aircraft toilets have to go through a deep cleaning process before each flight,
    for a safe and a hygienic

  11. The real story here is a the Kabuki dance around the cleaners, that’s it.
    @Gary: I know you are a self-described germophobe. Me not so much but I do travel with ziplock bags of wipes with added ethyl acohol with which I wipe down my entire seat area — headrests, armrest, table, buckle, remotes etc. Why? Because the airlines next to never do.
    I started this when I was a dedicated Delta flier so it’s not AA specific. The rampage of so-called emotional support animals all dancing the pasodoble over the entire cabin and furnishings set me off. Add the few times when my wipe come off dark grey and black — not often but enough — and I’ll keep it up.
    This is not, honestly, an airline issue, it’s an industry issue.
    Why don’t we talk about BA’s bed bugs again….. ???

  12. I’m on a short haul AA flight right now. Gate agents are just a$$holes, with the way they speak to passengers waiting to board. AHaving lived in South Florida, AA used to be my go-to airline but no more. Also, I’ve noticed another thing that may be done “in the name of D0” – the cockpit crew no longer speaks to the passengers before takeoff. The FA says something like “First officer so and so wants to inform you that tonight’s flight will take so and so hours and minutes and the temperature at the destination is so and so”.

  13. American needs to start giving the vacationing families free space for their bags in the less-valuable belly and charge for valuable overhead space that makes boarding and deplaning such a slow mess.

    The current bag charging system is completely crazy. I just traveled to Asia and a full 737 was loaded in 12 minutes (I actually timed it), less than half the time of what I typically experience with American. I am sure deplaning was just as fast.

    I hear Southwest is very fast too — maybe that’s why they are so profitable? Planes are flying instead of sitting on the ground waiting for passengers to act as cargo loaders with no training?

  14. Ha, what a great story! Now it makes sense that on my last trip to Florida, while connecting in Chicago I was among the last to deplane and I was greeted by a swarm of cleaners. They were already working first class as I muddled my way forward past them. I was impressed at the efficiency of it all but now I know to be suspicious!

  15. DL has been boarding cleaner while passenger disembark for years, this is nothing new. Also, STOP with the US Air First Class seat picture from days gone by. I have NEVER seen that since AA updated the seats even on A320s.

    Oh, and the empty snack bags and used airsickness bag on my last few DL flights made me WISH I was on AA.

  16. I flew Alaska 737-9s RT between LAX and EWR this weekend, and the cleaners were at work while passengers were deplaning at EWR.

    The discomfort of the slimline seat was magnified by the length of the flight from EWR (increased by the hyperactive jet stream) and a gate delay of over an hour for a medical emergency onboard. Some transatlantic flights from the US east coast are shorter than the time we were imprisoned in those horrid seats.

    And, of course, the touted free in-flight iMessage service wasn’t working, so I couldn’t notify anyone of my delay.

    The spectacularly low Valentine’s Day fare I was on was no bargain.

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