The End of American Airlines Skycaps at 38 Airports, and What Position Goes Next

American Airlines eliminated curbside check-in at 38 airports May 1. (It’s still offered at 26 airports including American hubs.)

You don’t need curbside check-in, but if you aren’t going to have it then there’s an entrepreneurial opportunity at a small scale to offer curbside assistance via a third party — someone to help with lots of luggage, more than a person can schlepp to the counter. That exists in some places (and is offered by some airlines) but any startup operation runs headlong into airport bureaurcracy.

American offers Five Star premium service at 9 domestic airports, though only ones that also have curbside check-in.

I’ve only ‘needed’ curbside check-in once, and I wasn’t checking any bags. Instead, US Airways and America West were combining reservation systems.

  • US Airways told customers to check in online that day, but the website didn’t work.
  • Neither did the kiosks.
  • Check-in lines wrapped around the terminal at Fort Lauderdale where I was departing. Even the first class line was 40 minutes long.
  • The only people who really knew how to work the new system they had to use were the Skycaps. They were incentivized, they were working for tips.

I walked outside and gave a Skycap $5 and he handed me a boarding pass. There was no wait at all at security, since no one could get a boarding pass.

I’ll just say that without skycaps, I hope October 17 goes well.

The position I’m most surprised hasn’t been cut (yet?) at American: staff who meet incoming flights to assist with connections.

Just as airline lobby group Airlines for America says the elimination of skycaps is because of passenger preference…

“Passengers have expressed interest in having more control over their entire travel experience, and as such airlines are implementing baggage self-tagging, which enables passengers to either print their baggage tag from a kiosk at the airport, or in some cases at home even before arriving at the airport,” said Melanie Hinton, spokeswoman for the airlines’ main trade group Airlines for America, in an email.

…the elimination of staff to assist with connections will certainly be because passengers have an interest in more control over their entire travel experience, and as such airlines are implementing departure screens which display connecting gates which enable passengers to identify the next step in their journey themselves. In some cases they’ll use mobile apps to tell them where to go next, and those may offer integrated terminals maps to guide the journey. Just sayin’.

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. ia the incoming flight assistant an actual standalone job? I always assumed it was just the person already working that particular counter.

  2. Haha agreed. The only time I’ve ever used the skycaps is when, the line was waaaay to long at CLT and it wasn’t worth my time to wait.

    A $3 fee and I’m ready to be on my way.

  3. The incoming flight greeter is almost always an agent who is working the next flight at that gate anyway, so just simply another task on their to-do list. Additionally, I have rarely seen one when the flight arrives on time.

    I am sure once AA implements more connection display screens at the hubs like DL and key airports like BOS/LGA then they can remove that task from the agent’s daily routine for most part. Except in circumstances where there is a flight filled with boatload of missed connections then they should greet arriving customers at the gate to give out rebooked boarding passes and pre-printed vouchers where appropriate. It is great when they do that beforehand and the customer can just pick up the envelope with their name on it and head over to their rebooked flight than being told to go to the customer service counter. That will reflect a proactive customer service culture, which yields some serious brownie points from the customers than a method that implies laziness (telling customer to go to a centralized desk).

    There are many customers who either do not own a smartphone device (say 10% which is still numerous) or do not want to pay for international roaming data charges.

  4. I have experienced enormously longer confused lines at SAN snaking outside the terminal
    It would be one thing If American increased check in agents but they haven’t
    So for that reason I hate the decision. There are many older customers and families that use and need these services. For them I feel their pain
    It would have been nice to receive an email notifying customers of the change
    I was told American wants to save money and get rid of check in agents forcing all or most customers to use the Kiosk. This is a classic Doug Parker US Airways degradation in the customer service experience something he did at select airports closing first class lines forcing customers to use self check in
    Everything I feared with him coming on board has already happened
    The loss of saver awards and the breakdown of service at select airports
    I’m expecting more destruction of American its just a matter of when
    I’ve already started booking on other carriers after decades with American and did I say their currency is devalued in many instances on AA metal?

  5. I never used to use skycaps. The whole idea seemed dumb.

    Then I had kids.

    Now, on the couple occasions each year when we fly with our progeny (both under four years old), it’s awesome to be able to pull up and immediately drop the bags and car seats that we’re checking before loading the munchkins into strollers and heading into the terminal. (Worth every penny of the $5-$10 in tips.)

  6. Personally I would like to fly the plane to get the most control. Or maybe do the ticketing myself?

  7. I always use skycaps. I don’t want to handle my luggage. even when I arrive, I hire one to get my bag off the belt. Yes, it’s only one 50 lb. bag and one carry-on, but it’s worth $10.00 to have the service. Having traveled all my life (100+ countries)-I don’t want to do the lifting anymore. I’m devastated they have eliminated these jobs. I don’t want to do my own luggage tags either. The easier I can make it on myself, the more I like to travel. I don’t even understand why people want to do it themselves when someone can do it for them and make their trip a little more pleasant.

  8. I’m a commercial photographer who photographs cruise ships and resorts around the world. I regularly check between 10 and 20 cases per flight. Without skycaps I would be lost!!! MCOs lines can get insane but curbside is super fast. Is there a list of which airports are losing this service?

  9. So, when Parker isn’t lying and whining about gulf metal he spends time thinking of other ways to make passengers lives miserable?

  10. I am sick to dear of corporations doing things that save them money and claiming it’s “for our customers’ convenience. ”
    It’s even worse when they claim we ASKED for it. Why can’t they be honest and just admit it’s so they cane make more $$?
    How on earth would customers ASK for no help with bags?! I’ve never used one, but it’s no skin off my nose to have them available. And, who knows, one of these days I might need one.

  11. Terrible decision, but this is what you should grow to expect from the new AA. Next up: RDM based on $ not flight miles, just like UA and AA.

    As Josh says, skycaps serve an important function for families schlepping luggage for vacations. I missed them when I pulled up to the UA terminal at SEA last week and had to figure out how to get Mrs. B and the luggage inside the terminal without leaving my rental car unattended.

    As much as you love to dis’ WN, they always have friendly skycaps and these guys and gals are the only ones that can print boarding passes (including lap child BPs) quickly vs. long counter lines at OAK and elsewhere.

    Penny wise, pound foolish.

  12. So last week my 91 year old mom, a wheelchair assisted pax, was delivered to the skycap by her ride. He checked her bag, gave bp, and summoned wc. Are her traveling days over?

  13. While I’m not a fan or sky caps, valet parking attendants or bellmen at hotels I don’t think they should eleminate this. I would imagine that part of the problem is the cost they have to pay the airports for the facilities they use on this.

  14. We need our skycaps back in Tulsa, what is wrong with the Airlines .Skycaps helped to make American what they are today!!! Bring them back, bring them back, bring them back. They are truly needed in Tulsa, Okla.

  15. Folks complain to American Airlines by email or phone
    Complaining here while lovely to read may never get back to American
    This is a terrible situation for older folks families injured or handicapped individuals
    It also adds to the longer crowded lines at airports for everything from self check in to assisted check in with an agent
    Best Regards

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