The One Area Where American Airlines is Killing It

I criticize many of the decisions that American Airlines leadership have made. They’ve managed to anger shareholders, employees, and customers alike. While racking up more debt and worse operating statistics than competitors they’ve also re-started their project to degrade the domestic product.

There’s one area though that they’ve performed at an outstanding level. In many ways their customer-facing technology is behind competitors at Delta and United, and it’s easy to give that too much focus. Their app lacks many of the functions of competitors. I find their in-app booking experience to be clunky. You can’t even upgrade using miles or systemwides on their website.

Yet in merging US Airways and American, they completed what has to be the largest data migration in U.S. corporate history.


If there’s one area that American appears to excel it’s managing and executing on large IT projects. American Airlines clearly has a capability in managing and migrating data. Goodness knows this was a disaster in some other airline mergers, likely destroying hundreds of millions of dollars in value at least.

Here’s a recent talk by American Airlines CIO (and former AAdvantage head) Maya Leibman on her role in tech as, ironically, fostering connections between people.

With calls for change at American Airlines it’s worth remembering the things that are running well.

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. Something positive to say about American?
    Has he## frozen over? :):)
    Mediocre company that ruins near anything that it touches

  2. When was the merger? Is this current news or a look back?

    AA invented FF programs for airlines too but that was in the early 1980s.

    Robert Crandall said AA wouldn’t exist in 20 years. Anyone know what date it is?

  3. The American airlines app never works for me at dfw. Works great at every other airport but never at dfw

  4. Agree with everything above…plus focus on Enterprise IT issues about adaptor or connector issues between American and US Air applications is off the radar. This year far to many planes are constantly delayed or flights are canceled along with Elite clients abandoning American for other carriers…get real. A 3 million miler

  5. AA is now running the most reliable, or second most reliable (to DL), airline operation in America. That’s where they’re “killing it” right now. Nobody knows this because both bloggers and the media don’t bother to look. AA’s capability with IT is old news.

  6. @chopsticks – are you high?

    Let’s look at September statistics for on-time arrivals. Delta, Southwest, Allegiant and Spirit all beat American, though American certainly performed better than they did over the summer. American’s average delay in September was 50% longer than Delta or Alaska.

    JetBlue, Delta, Frontier, Allegiant, and Southwest all had higher completion factors than American.

  7. Things have not run well at American, well anytime I’ve ever flown them in the past five years. Their IT is no exception – they are years behind United in terms of customer interface and usability. They can’t manage their slots or gates. Yea, seems to be a well oiled machine to me (not).

  8. “Moving US Airways Dividend Miles accounts over to the American Airlines platform was nearly flawless”. HA! I must be the exception here. I had 500K lifetime miles with US and 1.5M with AA. They wouldn’t merge the lifetime status, despite me proving the US history with annual statements, etc. It was the last in a series of issues, and also after one of the significant devaluations. Been interesting to watch the dumpster fire over the past 5 years. Enjoyed the article, but I’ve flown close to another 500K in those 5 years and none of it on AA.

  9. There’s one thing I’ve found consistent with AA, the flight attendants are rude and surly.

  10. American Airlines has a long history with information technology. Their first big success was the SABRE system for flight reservations in the 1960s.

  11. And then….?

    This is another rehash of old news. How has this improved the airline’s current performance?

  12. Having interviewed at several airline IT shops I can see how this could fall under the radar of most of Americans customer base. The IT is pretty solid. I wish Marriott could have taken a page from their book.

  13. @ Gary — Those airlines are not beating AA’s ops in October. Only DL is so far. And it’s getting pretty close — certainly the gap is immaterial. That said, all of the major US airlines now are running very reliably. It’s really just about weather right now.

  14. Maya is LAA and of course under her ownership it went well…..Team Tempe is in over their heads with the combined AA.

    Maya should be the new CEO…..get rid of Parker and Isom.

  15. Flawless transfer? They lost my reservations to a trip to Dallas. I tried booking a flight that disappeared for $400 only to be “replaced” at over a grand. I called and the agent had the same problems I did. That was over a two week process. I loved US Air and live near the CLT hub. I now fly Delta, gave up all my status & points, as well as now having to fly thru ATL/having a connection, bc AA cannot compete with Delta. And I hate that.

  16. I think it’s confusing to tout big projects from 5 years ago as evidence of some superiority over other carriers. My guess is that Laura’s comment above was recent, not a lost reservation during a PNR migration in 2014. Anyway, looks like a home-boy blurb, where you are just reaching to have something good to say about good ol AA.

  17. In your story it was stated that “American angered shareholders, employees, customers alike”. Please add the retirees to the groups Parker has offended.

  18. Add to list:

    One-way off-peak award tickets to/from Europe at 22.5K miles. Yes many have fuel surcharges if flying with BA but if you’re going to/from West Coast USA some of these are a good value. Others not so much.

  19. Actually, if you sit through the 13 minute TedX talk, she does not talk about IT at all. She talks about “human connection” and “empathy”, something that is often sorely missing in the comment section. The talk is about the impact of moving her team to Open Office, the push back against it and the results of when it was implemented. It then goes into the human connection in a broader sense. I am coming away really liking Maya Leibman. If there are more like her in AA management, there is still hope…

  20. Also AA’s tech for advising of the wait time and tech ability to call you back is better than competitors (sneering at your United)…

  21. Just love it! You know the downers are coming out of the closet before I even finish reading the first paragraph. Debbie Dowers here have nothing good just negative comments about everything they see. The glass will always be half empty for the. Reading the comments from smoke of these people makes me wonder why do they even read these blogs. There must be a “Make A Negative Comment Blog” somewhere that they are gold members of.

    Build a Bridge people! Drive to your next destination.

    @Dwondermeant comment was so educational that he must be a Travel Professional or Politician.

  22. @Johhny – “rude and surly”. Perfect description of the cabin crew at AA.

    Over a decade ago one FA walked down the aisle prior to takeoff barking “Belts!” about every 3rd row. Dear Lord, it experienced a catholic school flashback.

  23. This is a bizarre thread. Why are you pulling five year old news and wasting folks time with it now? It doesn’t seem to have any relevancy to today. Agree with others it appears to be an feeble attempt to find something good to say about AA. Something. Anything. Sort of like a police officer trying to make an end a monthly quota.

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