Why What American’s CEO Thinks His Airline Does Best Is So Disappointing

In a meeting last week with pilots, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker was asked what the airline is doing better than competitors, in particular Delta and United. And Parker’s immediate response was, “at the moment..?

Then he offered a discussion which, I think, really points to what Parker sees as the most important thing for an airline: it’s schedule. To Parker’s American the product is the schedule. And then he always acknowledges employees, in particular front line employees.

We’re doing much better job of keeping our schedule integrity in place, therefore carrying a higher percentage of people than we have in the past…keeping our hubs intact, just do a google flights search on some connecting markets. I hope this is true..just go check some markets like Birmingham to San Francisco where you have to connect and you’re going to see more flights on American than on other airlines because we’ve kept more markets like that in place.

..You’ll see it in the results, our revenue per seat I think is going to be higher than Delta or United.

..It’s hard to say what’s going on at the other airlines, but I know I’m really proud of, I can’t speak for Delta or United, is how our team has just shown up and taken care of the customer and taken care of each other. I can’t imagine they’re doing it better, I don’t know how anyone could.

Saying that what American is doing well is flying people in connecting markets is a little bit like the fast food chain Checkers adopting as a slogan “you gotta eat.” Technically that’s true, and what Checkers serves is food so satisfies the minimum critiera. But they aren’t giving you a reason to want to eat there.

American Airlines has more flight options, Parker offers, but it never seems to occur to him to compare the experience flying his airline versus another. And if that’s just because, as he tells it, he’s flown American over 100 times during the pandemic but not a similar amount on other carriers then it troubles the CEO doesn’t find a way to get a better sense of the competitive landscape.

It took six months, for instance, before he even experienced his own airline’s new standard domestic interior once it was flying. (In contrast American Airlines Executive Vice President Elise Eberwein does trip reports on the competition.)

Parker closed the session by the way with the airline’s success in securing government subsidies.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 agree. It always seemed weird to me that airlines like AA and UA constantly advertise “More flights to Latin America (or wherever) than any other airline” or “We connect New York and London with 8 round trips every day”.

    I guess there’s a minority of flyers who will only ever fly on one airline so they need to pick the one that can get them to the most places. But then again, if these people only ever fly on one airline, why bother advertising to them? They are either already on your airline or they’re married to another one.

    For the rest of us, we can only fly on one plane at a time. So if you’re flying from Birmingham to San Francisco and there’s 17 flights under 8 hours, and American runs 4 of those flights, would you be like “I see American runs a lot of flights so we should pick one of them”?

    And by the way, he’s simply wrong about American having more flights on this route. He should look at Google flights.

    Here’s Tuesday May 11:

    Under 8 hours: UA 6 AA 4
    Under 9 hours: DL 7 UA 6 AA 6

  2. I disagree. If AA takes you where you want WHEN you want, that’s a reason to choose AA over another airline offering a time of day that does not work for you. Schedule and frequency are the top criteria for choosing an airline. That’s how Southwest won the West Coast business travel crown pre-pandemic despite the popularity of AAdvantage and MileagePlus.

  3. American, Delta, United, Southwest, etc. are in the transportation business, not the restaurant or entertainment businesses. Getting from point A to point B safely, on time, and with one’s luggage is far more important than how good or bad the food or in-flight entertainment is. I find it hard to tell any important real-world differences among the coach offerings of any of these airlines. The seats are universally uncomfortable and any food on-board is mediocre at best. But that’s not as important to me as getting where I’m going alive and intact.

  4. You seem to think this is a problem.
    Look, I like Delta and think they have a fine onboard product and all and do agree that they probably offer a better experience than others onboard.
    But for where I live and where I need to go (I live in DC), Delta’s schedules do not work. Even though AA is not great, they fly where I need to fly nonstop and pre covid had multiple flights a day. And theyre restoring the schedule. United is almost in the same league – matching where I need to go with a schedule that fits. Having nonstop flights where I need to go when I need to go is #1 criterion for me. Full stop. Going through Atlanta or Detroit every time, despite what might be somewhat of a nicer onboard experience, simply is not going to fly with me. So I dont disagree with what Parker says at all. I go to the good restaurants when I get to my destination. And read a book or watch something I’ve downloaded on the plane there.

  5. I love Delta and have always chosen them when possible. However their schedules have been cut way back, understandably. But, flight schedules and duration are very important to me. I am just talking about myself. And, therefore, I have found myself on AA for my last two trips and just had to a cancel a third that was AA. When traveling out west from a GA feeder airport taking AA through Dallas to many western destinations just works. So, unfortunately for Delta I prefer a 8 hour trip vs a 13 hour one.

  6. Well, AA is doing a terrible job of getting me from NYC to SLC, SEA, ABQ, or LAS comfortably, at a reasonable price, and with a reasonable number of connections compared to the competition.

  7. Agree with some of the comments above; schedule *is* important.

    Pre-pandemic this was key for United. They offered an unrivaled set of international routes. From SFO for instance, they were in the process of moving the most key routes to 2x daily – one morning and one evening departure – to give business travelers the frequency. If you needed an international nonstop, United was by far the most likely to have it. If you wanted a one stop from other domestic destinations, United was also more likely to have it at the time you wanted it, and United made good money with that strategy.

  8. @nsx at FlyerTalk says: “I disagree. If AA takes you where you want WHEN you want, that’s a reason to choose AA over another airline offering a time of day that does not work for you. Schedule and frequency are the top criteria for choosing an airline. ”

    Wouldn’t it be if an AA flight takes you where you want WHEN you want, that’s a reason to choose that one AA flight over another airline’s flight on that day?

    Then, if you value come other features (accumulating miles on a single airline, seat back entertainment, not getting yelled at by FA’s because you did something wrong, maybe the food etc) you might choose the Delta flight an hour or two later. Or you might think that’s too long to wait.

    The next time you fly, Delta might be right on your schedule.

    But why would you say “Wow AA has four flights today. I’ll definitely choose one of those four instead of the one Southwest flight that leaves right when I want?

    You wouldn’t.

    So that’s why it’s disappointing. The only way to make sense out of what American’s CEO is saying is that he believes that people take whatever flight is closest to their desired departure time regardless of any extras. That would suggest he’s not going to waste time or money on things like better seats, food, or FAs that don’t chew you out because you put your bag in wrong.

  9. Schedule is important. But I found, as an ORD-based flyer, Parker’s comments that AA does this well very funny. Business travel is returning, and increasingly I am having to *turn away* from AA, and use UA, because AA’s schedule for any business flying out of ORD is so lousy. For example: last departures on Sundays to many destinations being at 1pm, vs. UA offering afternoon and evening flights. As a business traveler, I’m not going to pick to fly AA at 12pm Sunday vs. UA at 7:30pm Sunday. We’ll see if a more business-friendly schedule returns as things come back after COVID-19, but AA’s schedule recently has been the worst of the majors for me.

  10. I know you have a great airline. You get back to me pronto. I need to go to Mexico Sunday. 4/25/21. Do you give me Health Questionaire and Visit Visa on plane to fill out before I go through customs in Mexico. Sorry. Just kinda scared.

  11. Dougie must not be doing C-suite training anymore. Any c-suite would half a brain would have said Talent is their differentiator which allows them to have better scheduling, customer service, and so on and so on.

  12. @BB BB says: “Dougie must not be doing C-suite training anymore. Any c-suite would half a brain would have said Talent is their differentiator which allows them to have better scheduling, customer service, and so on and so on.”

    Agree! What’s the point of saying “when you look for a flight on google flights, you’re going to find an AA flight that leaves when you want.” People are either going to find a flight leaving when they want or they won’t.

  13. People are getting way too worked up about this and reading way too much into it. For the vast majority of people out there, schedule is the most important consideration when booking travel. No airline is going to be everything for everybody nor will they always be able to fulfill every need for every customer in every market. But the overall point is that having a reliable schedule in the markets that matter is key. I hear you about not having a full business schedule back yet in Chicago, but they’re starting to restore everywhere and come back from market lows. Right now, for me, AA has 6 or 7 flights in DCA-ORD. UA only has 3. Yes 3. So whereas normally I’d fly UA because in normal non-covid times they have hourly flights, now I’m choosing AA because in this case AA has what I need when I need it. You can find several examples like this everywhere. I just think people on this board, author included, like bashing AA no matter what nor how matter innocuous their comments are. Also, the possessive of the word “it” is “its”, not “it’s” as mentioned above. “It’s” means “it is”, which wouldn’t make sense in this context.

  14. American should concentrate on getting more agents to answer the phones or Twitter for that matter.!!! I have spent two hours at the time to try to change a ticket that “cannot be changed on line, please contact American.”
    When I tried (various times,) to use the call back feature; it rings, I answer it – prompt to press “1” – I do then Booooooooooooo (disconnect.) Really American?????
    You want loyalty the way you are showing us how much you “care”?
    Thank Got Jet Blue is part of One World now.

  15. I think it is on two levels. Route, schedule and dependability are just the fundamentals. If you are lacking in any of those things, a customer won’t fly you. If you have those, a customer will consider flying you. If there is no real other option on that route, the customer will likely buy that ticket.

    But if a competitor has the same things, then other factors come into play. Such as, service, comfort, food and beverage, lounges and so on. If the competitor is much better product for not much more in price, the competitor gets the business.

    At that point, you are only competing on price. And you can compete on price. But that does not give you the premium revenue.

  16. Airlines should really focus much more on customer service and providing a more hassle free and comfortable ride! Everyone uses the same airplanes and it’s the service that should set carriers apart.

    IF I was an airline CEO I’d focus on customers first, employees second and shareholders third. If you cannot deliver the first and second matters it wouldn’t be worth investing in a company.

    I think American Airlines could use brand new management. Get rid of these small and cramped airplanes and install larger seats with more legroom. Bring back free baggage and meals in coach. Bring back when flying was fun and not a challenge.

    Airlines need to break even at best but with better service you would have a better demand is my thinking.

  17. I became a free agent when United shuttered the hub in Cleveland. Tried Spirit (once). Tried Frontier (once). As a result my flights are split among Delta, United and Southwest, based on the convergence of price/duration/connection. AA just has never been in the ballpark for me given those criteria. I’ll go in the air 4-6 times a year in North America and Europe. So, to that extent, AA fails on their #1 performance metric.

    Fully agree with Jason above… the metal tube is just a way to get me somewhere. Years ago flying became old. I read blogs like this to get a more tolerable flying experience without undue expense.

  18. They all suck. Poor service, cramped seating, always needing a bailout…blah, blah, blah. Oh, and who made them so powerful when it comes to being the final word on who flies for whatever reason ‘they’ deem yes or no????

  19. Interesting that many agree with Parker’s sentiment. During the pandemic, I’ve found that AA is often the least convenient, and I’m flying out of PHL. Unless I want to kill my day with a mid-day flight, I’m often having to connect through CLT now…

  20. AA are only concerned about their shareholders not their consumers. They are still overbooking their flights along with a long list of standby customers. The employees were only concerned with what time they are getting off. I have never seen anything like it .They were giving seats away. Somehow I lost a seat and had to fly the next morning. It was a horrible experience.

  21. For us that fly between major metro areas, wide-body flights are an important differentiator.

  22. Just experienced AA recently on 4 legs. It was the worst trip I have had in well over ten years. My loyalty is typically Delta and their reliability is damn near perfect in my travels. AA service was below the gutters. Most sour employees I have ever seen. Never make that error of flying them again.

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