I’m probably one of the most vocal and consistent critics of American Airlines. I thought I should explain why I still fly the airline — and generally choose to do so over other US domestic carriers.
I’m not a fan of the direction they’re heading with their domestic product.
- Less legroom in all classes of service — less space for first class, extra legroom coach, and regular coach.
- Seemingly little thought into design — seats are uncomfortable with poor padding, and first class seats have a bar that protrudes at back level, and there’s little underseat storage in first class despite not offering seat back entertainment that sometimes requires a box taking up space.
They don’t communicate well with customers during delays. Their solution to poor operational performance is to yell at gate agents and flight attendants rather than invest in getting the operation in order — and as a result last minute upgrades go unprocessed, flights go out uncatered.
American Airlines is worse than it used to be. They keep making decisions that deliver less value to customers. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still my best option. They could be so much better than they are, but right now they’re the airline that best fits my needs.
And they’re hardly the only one squeezing more seats into planes or using uncomfortable slimline seats to help do it, either. Delta’s domestic first class legroom is appalling (and though I find Delta’s first class seat backs hard they’re at least better thought-through than American’s).
- High speed internet keeps me productive. American and Delta are light years ahead of United with internet, United’s barely works much of the time I fly them. American lets me buy a $49.95 a month unlimited Gogo plan and (1) use it both with Gogo and ViaSat-equipped planes, and (2) allow its use both for the aircraft still using older air to ground technology and for high speed service.
United Airlines just isn’t an option for me because I can’t light hours of potentially productive time on fire with unreliable internet service. American offers me a better deal on good internet, which means that they have a cost advantage for my total trip when ticket prices are the same.
- Route network. Living in Austin American is the largest legacy carrier at the airport. Delta is about to grow here with the opening this year of 37% more gates. However their hubs aren’t well-located to get me everywhere I need to go. I’d wind up flying far out of my way for several destinations versus large hubs at Dallas Fort-Worth (American) and Houston (United).
- Lounges. American has the best lounge product of any US carrier with its Flagship First Dining but almost no one gets to use those (three cabin first passengers out of airports with such a facility). United’s Polaris lounges are better than Flagship Lounges, from food to design, but are only available to long haul business class customers.
American’s Flagship lounges are open to transcon business class passengers, elites flying internationally, and mid-tier partner elites flying domestically. It’s a quality product that’s far more accessible.
Delta of course doesn’t have anything nicer than its SkyClubs. And while a few like Seattle and San Francisco are quite good, they aren’t as well-provisioned as Flagship lounges and many SkyClubs such as Portland, Seattle, and New York JFK terminal 2 are well worn.
But what really sets American apart for me are the agents in their lounges at Austin (best in the system, miracle workers during irregular operations) and at my most frequent lounge destination, Washington National.
- I redeem their miles most often. For all of my frustrations with award availability on American Airlines itself — it remains quite poor, virtually non-existent for premium cabin international business class, and their attempts to improve coach availability with married segment connecting space makes it nearly impossible to change award tickets, negating a key Executive Platinum benefit — my goal was never to use AAdvantage miles to fly American anyway.
I find that American miles are the ones I redeem most for my own travel. I like redeeming for international first class and continue to use these miles for some of the very best first class products. I regularly redeem for first class on Etihad, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas. Japan Airlines first is readily available close-in. Until May British Airways is the only flag carrier with a flight from my home airport of Austin.
American Airlines Flagship Lounge LAX
American gave up its huge advantage that its frequent flyer program gave them, in my opinion an own goal. But that just made them more like their competitors (in fairness, if you want to fly business class to Europe or Asia the Star Alliance gives United an edge here).
I no longer go so far out of my way to fly American as I used to. When I needed to travel somewhere I’d just fire up AA.com and see what my options were. I no longer am willing to take connections to stick with American, or ignore price disparities, but I’m still giving them 100,000 qualifying miles a year.
Unfortunately no airline that’s a viable option for my travel really seems to be differentiating itself these days.