My USA Today Op-ed: American/US Airways Should Respect Their Customers if They Want to Succeed

I offer this wish for the US Airways-American Airlines merger in today’s USA Today: respect your customers and don’t make short-sighted decisions at their expense.

  • We can expect them to retain American’s IT infrastructure. That’s important. Integration of computer systems means pain for passengers. It can mean less pain (Ameriacn’s system), or a whole lot more (the US Airways system).

  • Don’t dismantle American’s premium product. US Airways tried to charge for water in coach back in 2008. US Airways doesn’t serve meals in first class on 3 hour flights. US Airways has less legroom upfront and no extra legroom seating. Turning American into US Airways will chase away customers and cost higher-revenue business travelers and corporate contracts.

  • Be honest with your customers. Don’t promise them “changes you’re going to like” the way United did before taking away upgrades from million mile flyers, reducing bonus miles for elite frequent flyers, and increasing ticket change fees.

Read the whole thing.

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. I like your op-ed piece. For what it’s worth, I believe Parker and Kirby have already committed to using AA’s IT infrastructure.

    I have no doubt that Parker can make the “new American” a very profitable company. He’s managed to make good money on everything he’s touched in the industry, and these are — finally — good assets for him. Like you, though, I do wonder if he can create an airline that people like to fly. The last decade has been pretty miserable for USA domestic fliers: from the occasional vacation traveler to the high elite, it’s gotten suckier for everybody. If these trends continue, I have no doubt that the small “upstart” airlines will do well by either out-servicing the big guys (JetBlue, Virgin America) or using their lower costs to charge less (Spirit). I also believe the aviation pie will shrink further as travelers, particularly business travelers, find reasons NOT to fly.
    It doesn’t have to be this way. Renting a car doesn’t suck. Staying at a hotel doesn’t suck. There’s no reason domestic air travel has to. Especially in an industry with now limited competition.

  2. Saw it in the paper this morning while sitting in the airport, and I liked what you wrote. Great stuff, Gary!

  3. As an AA elite who lives in Dallas, I, along with many others, have been waiting in angst to see how all of this will play out. Your op-ed piece was spot on and I hope the “New American” will follow these very simple premises. Thank you for the great continuing coverage as all of this continues to unfold.

  4. Good article, if any airline would abide by some simple precepts like that they’d be tops in my book.

    Being a natural pessimist I’ll be skeptical of the new entity until we see what happens after a couple of years. Parker’s track record at US doesn’t fill me with confidence.

    A few things lately with AA make me wonder how focused they even are at improving their product overall, e.g., the uncomfortable cramped seating in the new A319; evidently adding a row back into the Mad Dogs…which seem at odds with other improvements. Hopefully those are just anomalies quickly rectified.

  5. Just to echo the last comments, the new cramped F seating on the A319, the new rows on MD80s, the horrible coach cabin in the 777W, the new American is already gutting its new products front and back. Given Parker’s record this will only get worse after the merger in a year or so. I think that with the less competition, nobody including UA/Delta will need to compete on service.
    The solution? We need to open the domestic market to foreign competition like Emirates to see any improvement. BA should have bought/merged with AA.
    The government’s capitulation on this merger and weak deal will only embolden the airlines now.
    As for me, I am giving up the miles and elite game as I see the writing on the wall with that coming. Many bloggers depend and defend the industry but I would look for the airlines thinking of new ways to devalue and even steal your milage stashes.

  6. @Heather opening the domestic market to competition would be at least as likely to give us new Ryanairs and easyJets as Emirates or Singapore… (i’m all in favor, I just don’t want to get my hopes up!)

  7. The unions will not allow foreign competition on domestic routes, and at least this administration will listen. The other party may on defense grounds.

    I like what Gary wrote, including about United’s mistakes and double-speak to passengers.

    Nevertheless, I expect that Parker is a numbers guy and it is a lot easier to measure cost cuts and seat increases than yield increases from better product. And in fact, Parker certainly has a track record of cutting amenities. We shall see but I do not hold out that much hope.

  8. The article keeps saying that customers could “go somewhere else” but where would that be? Not United, certainly. We’re at the point where real choices are vanishing.

  9. Hey, I manageed to get Smisek’s “changes you’re going to like” into an op-ed in a national publication. I was happy enough. (Though my reference to US Airways cockroaches and Delta “best in class” just didn’t have enough space 🙂

  10. @Gary Do you think it is necessary/wise to sign up a US airway credit card now before it disappear? Will they continue to offer 10,000 miles every year?

    I personally don’t have a specific travel plan. I want to apply for this card simply because this would be an easy and last chance to get 35000 US/AA miles through this card.

    Thank you!

  11. Great piece Gary!

    It is my sincere hope too that AA does not join the race to the bottom of the gutter but instead sees that the fact that its competition is beating itself up to develop a commodity product is in fact creating the perfect market opportunity for AA to step into. Let all the other guys go to trash and then rise above them.

  12. @Daniel – I don’t think you’ll get 10k into the future, the programs will merge and the card will eventually go away

  13. A belated thanks! for this op-ed piece. While I love your blog, all your readers know where it’s at; the USA today has more visibility.

    Not that I think it will make a difference. My only hope is that Jet Blue’s new first class approach keeps the pressure on AA. Otherwise, from LAX, where would I go? United? Delta? Southwest? No good options.

    Seems like Delta gutted their award program completely with no adverse affects. United gutted everything, maybe the lost some high mileage business flyers to AA, but not sure it impacted their bottom line. Unfortunately, I don’t think AA has to be good, it just can’t be the absolute worst.

  14. @Daniel. Sign up for the US card NOW!!! get the 30-35k in miles and after 3-4 months close it down once the miles post. Get the lounge passes also to use (may be able to use on US or AA up to a year if they allow).
    Then after the merger get the AA Citi card and get the 50k miles

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