With Poor Service and Cancelled Flights American Airlines is Telling Employees How to Apologize Better

Between the poor operational performance American Airlines has suffered this summer, the airline’s cramming more seats into coach and surly service, the carrier’s employees have a frequent need to apologize to customers.

Management recognizes this. They aren’t going to make coach more comfortable. Increasingly it’s getting less comfortable with less room between seats and taking out seat back entertainment screens. And there’s no immediate relief in sight for labor relations.

Since things aren’t getting better for customers, the airline is working to make employees better at apologizing. Goodness knows they’ll have practice building their skills.

Here’s a message that was recently sent out by the airline:

The Perfect Apology

Hi everyone and welcome to the August Base Managers’ update. I want to start off this month’s letter by thanking all of you for your hard work this summer. It was indeed trying at times with over 900 daily departures. You can imagine the strain it put on our operation. However, all of you stepped up to the plate and did an amazing job keeping our airline reliable, and more importantly, providing our customers with a memorable travel experience.

As we continue on our goal this sunnier to make peak days best days, it’s important we keep our company’s purpose to care for people on life’s journey, at the forefront of every customer interaction. This includes doing what we can to ensure more flights arrive on time. However, when we face IROP (irregular operations) days, maintenance delays, catering issues, customer emotions can escalate, and you may need to offer an apology to acknowledge how they feel. I know that is easier said than done. It’s difficult to find yourself apologizing all day for things that don’t go as planned or are beyond your control. So let us explore what the perfect apology is and how we can deliver It.

Apologizing is both an art and science. The true art of apologizing is understanding what makes an apology effective. It’s not just the words that are written or spoken but how those words are delivered, The art also deals with the surrounding elements that can make the apology more Relevant, effective and ultimately successful. The science is the recipe that forms the apology Itself so let us look at the ingredients necessary for the perfect apology.

An apology should always include:

• A detailed account of the situation

• Acknowledgement of the hurt or damage done as it shows you validate their feelings and the customer begins to sense you understand the situation

• Taking responsibility without making excuses for the situation is important as the apology is about them and how they feel

• Offer a form of restitution whenever possible

Now that we know the art and science behind the perfect apology, I would like to share another model that con help you care for customers and de-escalate difficult situations. I have personally used the LAST model when I flew as a flight attendant and I still use it today when I am called to de-escalate challenging situations.

Listen: Customers need and a want to vent their frustration so show you care through your body language and facial expressions. Make sure you make good eye contact and re-state the customer’s concern to make sure you understand the situation.

Apologize: Remember to apologize on behalf of the airline without making excuses or blaming others. Keep the apology simple and make it genuine. Customers do not want a half-hearted apology.

Solve: In the event of a flight disruption or cancellation, remind the customers of the several options they have to get help while inflight or on the ground.

Thank: Hopefully you have been able to listen with empathy and offer a heartfelt apology for how they feel. At this point you can simply thank them for their patience. You could also end with another apology for the challenges they faced during their travel experience.

Often a simple apology and acknowledgement on how a customer feels can have a tremendous impact. I hope the tips above will aide you in your ability to help our customers when we have not lived up to our standards. In the words of Lynn Johnston, “An apology is the super glue of life. It can repair just about anything.”

That’s it for August. Again, on behalf of your DFW leadership team we thank you for taking care of our customers and each other!

Tom Kilheeney
DFW Sr. Base Manager
Randy Katz, Base Manager — Terminal A

Here’s the Original Message:

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Regardless of the current operational need, those are good scripts and procedures for all customer service employees. It’s unfortunate that this training comes as a result of the operational conditions rather than being a key element of the drive to make culture a competitive advantage.

  2. In air travel as in politics, sincerity is everything. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

  3. Erratic punctuation, mysterious capital letters, typos, and mealy-mouthed expression suggest that no one is copyediting these missives. Perhaps literacy went the way of seat pitch at American.

  4. Sad that it’s needed… but I don’t see anything wrong with it. American SHOULD be teaching their employees how to apologize better.

    I like the part about apologize on behalf of the company, don’t make excuses. Most reasonable people understand a flight attendant or gate agent have no control over the weather or aircraft maintenance. But they are wearing the company uniform, and they are the person standing in front of the customer as the representative of the company, they should be appologizing in that capacity, even if they have no personal control of the situation.

    This is something American is doing right.

  5. @Edward – for what it’s worth, if you’re reading the italicized text in the article body, it looks like it was transcribed hastily from the image, possibly using some sort of character recognition software. For example, “this sunnier” jumped out at me in the article text, while the image clearly shows “this summer”.

  6. OMG. Still one more AAmerican AAirlines AA$$hole (who only flies first clAAss). What an AAdvantage.

  7. Message from Crud Parker Our Worst CEO in history
    You may have received a message about offering a perfect apology on occasion despite our proud and near prefect well oiled operation.Let me set the record straight and please disregard that document
    Always remember to offer your distressed passengers the following
    AA Hostility
    AA Sarcasm
    Continue to roll eyes whenever they request anything (example interlining bags)
    and say sorry but we can’t do that
    Whatever you do no restitution EVER! and be certain to blame everything on weather & God as they are always the problem
    Remember its never our fault its those cheap penny pinching bottom feeders not buying full fare tickets that are ruining our company while flying my redefined luxury coach cabins with exceptionally comfortable seats and spacious bathrooms and our world crass jail wardens (sorry I meant professional polished cheery flight attendants)

    So tell them whatever you think they wish to hear by offering free flights, miles, refunds and just make sure the promise and fulfillment is as strong as when they say the check is in the mail! 😉
    If they aren’t Concierge key members feel no shame spitting or stomping on them on them
    After all where are they going to go no matter how much they complain?
    That’s true we like shooting at fish in a barrel
    And when they complain about the empty unfulfilled promises refer to the 6 month policy before the refund or miles can be re-issued in person etc
    Then they can drive to the airport where there is a counter open 2 hours a day to receive the replacement voucher etc as we don’t do anything online if its restitution related

  8. Actually the best apology involves changed behavior. If AA isn’t going to change the way they run their business, an apology is nothing more than allowing a customer to vent.

  9. I am not as concerned with getting to my destination on time, a comfortable ride or quality customer service. I just want a warm heartfelt apology.

  10. OMG, they actually do not know that corporate apologies — especially scripted corporate apologies written by the legal department — are utterly worthless and years past their freshness date.
    we are sorry for any inconvenience which may have been caused.
    we are sorry for any inconvenience which may have been caused.
    we are sorry for any inconvenience which may have been caused.
    we are sorry for any inconvenience which may have been caused.
    we are sorry for any inconvenience which may have been caused.
    we are sorry for any inconvenience which may have been caused.
    we are sorry for any inconvenience which may have been caused.
    we are sorry for any inconvenience which may have been caused.
    we are sorry for any inconvenience which may have been caused.
    we are sorry for any inco nveni ence which may have been cau…
    we we are sorrrry for any in convenien ce whic h may have
    wearesorry for any inconvenience whi ch may have been
    weeeeeeeare sorry forany in conveni ence which may…

  11. My last European flights with AA were perfect, once we boarded the plane. Prior to that, on the ground they were the most miserable airline I have ever dealt with. Phone folks can’t do anything, go to the airport extra early. Baggage folks can leave 50 passengers bags behind and we won’t let anyone know as they mill about baggage. A pathetic excuse for a former Big Time airline.

  12. Wi\hth moral so low with all employees from AA, I think nobody can even think to say any of those ridiculous SORRYS !!!!!

  13. I made my reservation back in March. Treating myself to 1st class from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, Aug 15th -22nd. With a layover to change planes in Phoenix, I am taken out of 1st and moved to the back! I’m told they are very sorry but there is nothing they can do and refund me $95. How does that make it all better? It has been a long time since I flew with AA, will really think it through the next flight

  14. I have for some time called them “We apologize for the delAAy” Airlines.They might as well write that into the script when welcoming people to the flight, with a footnote to delete that part if the flight does happen to be punctual.

    “Offer a form of restitution when possible.” Are agents actually going to be empowered? Or is the “when possible,” a way of retracting that idea before anyone gets ideas?

  15. Gary,

    Sick of the continued AA bashing. I’ve been flying them for many years (lifetime Platinum and current EP). Got off a flight today from Dubrovnik and connecting to CLT. Every flight I have had all year has been on time (or early like both flights to/from Croatia) and the people i have interacted with have been professional and friendly. Maybe I just show them the respect they deserve.

    Sorry you have such bad luck but the agenda you have against AA and Marriott is getting old (then add the Hong Kong political crap). Way too many airline blogs (most of which have exact same material as you so will likely quit following and you will lose those clicks since all you do is frustrate me with your posts lately.

  16. I guess the real question is why is AA not training its employees to do this before it inflicts them on their customers. This is the MOST BASIC customer service possible and they are only addressing this NOW.

    I flew with them internationally in business a couple weeks ago and the airline was ok. The first class domestic cabin really sucks now though… Seriously, there is little different between AA and Spirit airlines now.

  17. @AC, you either an employee at AA worried about your pension or perhaps being forced to act like a genuine passenger; if not, then I guess you’re just a born liar.

    EVERYTHING is great – all flights on time – all the time! Has been all year! Crew is nothing but professional and friendly!

    Yeah, right. Those of us who actually fly the airline as passengers know that this is complete bullshit. Sure, occasionally there is a great pro who is friendly and makes the interaction happy, even enjoyable. And, of course, SOME of the flights do takeoff and land on time. But 100% of the flying public knows that with AA, those are the aberrations – not the normal run of business.

    Maybe someday they will regain some of their former glory, but today, AA is the bottom of the barrell in regards to legacy airlines.

  18. While I might quibble with the quality of the writing, I think this is a display of frontline leadership. Many of the operational problems AA is experiencing are the result of decisions that rest far above this leader’s role; I imagine he and those he leads are frustrated by this. That he is helping his employees deal with the cards they’ve been dealt speaks well of him, as does his communication’s intent to put customers at the center. While I understand the jokes in the comments–indeed, great service and a reliable operation are the end goal–I certainly appreciate, when things do go wrong, a staff member who follows the guidance provided in this message. Far better this from a frontline leader than a list of excuses.

  19. Hi. I have worked for American since 1986. Who can I contact about providing blankets for passengers on a red eye flight? I personally believe it is cruel to not provide at the least… blankets. On a night flight SFO-MIA.
    Thank you
    Smiling everyday in every way

  20. AC – have flown American many times, although I am not a business traveler. It is cold hard cash I am spending, not miles. Coach of course, as we all know the majority of first class are mileage upgrades. But either way, American has greatly deteriorated. My last three flights in last three months were cancelled AFTER I had checked in. What is wrong with that picture? These were paid flights, & two our of the three were more than just me on the ticket. No one can tell me that American figured out at the las minute they had a problem. There were no weather issues. How can you defend them?

  21. The last couple years I’ve found the AA regionals (Piedmont, Republic, Skywest, and even PSA) have FAR better ground and on-board service. How sad that I now look to avoid mainline to fly puddle jumper RJs. That is how bad my experiences have gotten.

    A couple months ago I was admonished by a long haul FA for just looking at a lav door that was occupied. Didn’t touch, push, or pry. Nasty tone from a man who had provided incredibly mediocre service up to that point. Would have loved to have told him what I thought, but… Not worth the handcuffs. And I’m convinced the particularly angry FAs know that.

    Hello DL, UA, WN. I’m back to try you again. Maybe this time for good? :/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.