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A few months ago I explained why I thought American Airlines often makes it easy for travelers to dislike it and with no signs on the horizon that American Airlines management has any interest in improving its customer-facing operations, I thought I’d share how my own travel choices have been changing and why I think this should be of concern to the airline.
My Travel Choices
I’m not loyal to any one particular airline but I am loyal to the oneworld alliance and this means that I often find myself traveling on Qatar Airways, Finnair and British Airways and, considering how often I cross the Atlantic, it would be logical to expect American Airlines to appear in that list too…but that’s not really the case anymore.
I’ve flown on American a few times this year because avoiding the airline on some of the routes that I have to travel can be tough, but a lot of my decisions surrounding which flights to pick have been noticeably different this year than they have been in the past and the key reason for this change is American Airlines.
Historically, for long-haul Business Class flights, my decision of which airlines to fly has been almost entirely based on the seats that the airlines provide, and I’ve generally ignored most of the other aspects of their offering (service, food, IFE, etc…) because, when you get right down to it, the seat is usually by far and away the biggest contributing factor to the comfort of the flights that I take…but that’s not how I’m seeing things anymore.
On the transatlantic routes that I fly most frequently, American Airlines has one of the best Business Class seats and its 777-300ER reverse herringbone seats rank as one of my favorite Business Class seats of recent years – that’s why American Airlines has been my go-to transatlantic airline for most of the past decade.
Sadly, this is no longer the case.
Just recently I’ve been making quite a few bookings for transatlantic trips that I’ll be taking over next 6 – 8 months and I’ve found myself making flight choices that I wouldn’t have dreamed of making 12 – 18 months ago and, on the face of things, the choices I’m making are a little illogical.
While American Airlines has some of the best transatlantic Business Class seats, British Airways offers some of the worst (excluding the new Club Suites product which is only currently available on a handful of aircraft) and yet I’m finding myself actively choosing to fly with British Airways over American just about whenever I get the chance.
I know that the BA long-haul seats and cabins cannot compare to the seats and cabins that American Airlines offers (it’s like night and day) but I’ve had enough of the service lottery that I have to play every time it comes to setting foot on an American Airlines aircraft.
When I fly with American Airlines I never know if I’m going to face rolling delays, gate agents with attitude and a flight crew that would clearly like to be anywhere other than on the aircraft they’re sharing with me (and who do little to hide that fact) and I’m now of an age where I really can’t be bothered to deal with all of that.
In the past, I’ve had some truly excellent cabin crews on American Airlines (a few were even crews in the Economy Class cabin) but, while my experiences with British Airways gate agents and cabin crews have been almost entirely positive over the past two years, I cannot say the same of my experiences with American Airlines….and I’ve had enough.
Why Should This Bother American Airlines?
I’m very aware that I’m little more than an irrelevance to American Airlines so the fact that I, specifically, am going out of my way to avoid flying with the airline whenever possible makes no difference whatsoever.
It makes even less of a difference if you consider the fact that because American and BA share revenue on transatlantic routes my avoidance of American Airlines probably isn’t even costing the airline a dime…but that’s not the point.
The point is that when someone like me (i.e someone who normally values a comfortable seat over everything else in a Business Class offering) starts choosing an inferior seat just so that they don’t have to fly your airline, you know you’ve got a problem.
You just have to take a look at comments all over the internet to see that I’m far from being the only traveler who doesn’t like the way American Airlines operates and who doesn’t like how a significant proportion of its staff treat customers, so I’m also unlikely to be the only one actively choosing to avoid the airline wherever possible.
Sure, in my case American Airlines probably isn’t losing a cent of revenue, but that’s probably not going to be the case with a lot of other flyers who are actively choosing to avoid American and who are flying on routes where American doesn’t pocket a share of a partner’s earnings.
Also, while I often have to put up with an inferior Business Class seat if I want to avoid American Airlines (making it a little harder to ignore the airline completely), others will almost certainly be able to book seats that are just as good (or better) if they decide to choose other airlines over American – they don’t even have to make a sacrifice to stay clear of American’s service failings.
When an airline gives travelers good reasons to avoid it and there’s little to stop them from booking elsewhere that’s a big problem for management.
The crux of the issue here is that while Doug Parker and his cohort in Dallas have fixated on making domestic flying as uncomfortable as possible they’ve also done absolutely nothing to deal with the obviously toxic relations between management and staff, and have done nothing to ensure that passengers (in all cabins) get a consistently good level of service from front-line employees.
The lack of a meritocracy is clearly an issue when it comes to cabin crew (if a good crew member doesn’t get any more reward than a poor cabin crew member there’s very little incentive to be good) but some of the other US airlines appear to manage to make sure their staff know how they should be interacting with customers so why not American?
The fact is that American Airlines management looks like it’s devoid of ideas right now and there are no signs that this is going to change any time soon.
A few years back, American’s management attempted to fix the issue by throwing money at the problem (in a way that a first-year Economics student would have been able to tell them wouldn’t work) and, after that failed quite spectacularly, management’s backup plan appears to have been to ignore the problem in the hope that it goes away (which it won’t) so nothing is going to change.
I genuinely don’t know what more those at the very top of American Airlines have to do to get themselves sacked (have you seen the share price?) but while the current hierarchy is in place I don’t see anything changing.
People like me will continue to avoid the airline and more will join in as they also get bored of dealing with an airline where quality and customer service come very low down on the list of priorities.
American can refurbish as many airport lounges and it likes and tinker with the onboard food as often as it wants to, but until it deals with the highly inconsistent service that it offers its customers these “upgrades” will just be like putting lipstick on a pig…and a very ugly pig too.