How I’m Choosing My Flights Should Worry American Airlines


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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.

American Airlines 777-300ER Business Class
American Airlines 777-300ER Business Class

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 Reason

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.

British Airways 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class
British Airways Club World Business Class

Bottom Line

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.

22 COMMENTS

  1. GOOD article on American. Myself, husband, daughter and son in law, are all executive platinum. We all have been for over 10 years. We all totally agree with you. About 10 years ago we use to bring little gifts to give
    to the stewards. But within a couple of years the service started deteriorating. I think now it is at it lowest point. If it wasn’t for the safety fact of having stewards, I really believe they could get rid of them. Honestly we just don’t say anything to them, or they might tell the captain to land and have you escorted off the plane.95% of them have a really bad attitude and they just don’t care. I love their slogan, because great is what we are going for. Great what?

  2. This makes no sense to me. The BA business seat is probably the worst business class product in the sky. Coupled with BA surcharges on redemptions and the lack of AA award availability, I simply don’t understand why one would fly oneworld. I was a 15 year execplat and have been a free agent for the last 5 years. I fly on schedule and product, which has me mostly on skyteam and staralliance for business overseas (6x per year)….and I fly alot of SWA domestically (changes are easy, it’s uncomplicated). BA’s race to the bottom is only surpassed by the issues at AA. I’d recommend broadening your horizons and leaving the oneworld dumpster fire.

    • The BA seat is bad but it’s definitely not “probably the worst business class product in the sky” – it’s not even close (e.g. Emirates angle-flat seats, all other angle-flat seats and some of Malaysia Airlines A350 seats + quite a few other examples I could cite).

      I fly with oneworld because I can achieve top-tier status without having to go out of my way, because the top-tier benefits are better than those offered by any of the other two major alliances and because the airlines in oneworld suit my needs.

      As for oneworld being a “dumpster fire” – that’s a pretty strong statement about an alliance which includes Qatar Airways, JAL, Finnair and Qantas all of who offer some pretty good Premium Cabin products. It’s also a strange statement to read from someone who likes SkyTeam (which is home to a basket of truly poor airlines) and Star Alliance which is home to United (service levels barely above those on AA), Lufthansa (atrocious Business Class seats) and Air China and Air India.

      The fact is that it’s easy to find faults with all the alliances just as it’s easy to find good things in them too and, in my opinion, oneworld is the better of the three.

  3. I’m flying AA less because they don’t have a EWR-LAX non-stop. They used to have one (think it was #119 around 6PM) & I flew it several times. Now I’m doing that flight on UA twice a month. Getting to JFK from NJ for AA’s non-stops to LAX not fun for me so I avoid it. Wish AA would come back with at least one Newark-LA flight.

    • There’s another blog post there: “when people don’t want your airline associated with their area you know you have a problem”

  4. I want to love American Airlines but they don’t always choose to love me back. That is how I summarize my experience with them. I’m not hub captive but have held status with AA in years past. Now my status is with Air France, quite a shift I’d say. I do love Skyteam lately and have had great experiences on Delta and Air France flights. I also agree that service on BA is very good and very professional.

  5. Meh, you’re not wrong. but plenty of people say the same thing about British Airways. The grass is always greener on the other side. If you fly British airways only once or twice a year you probably will win the lottery. if you fly AA 20x a year you’re more likely to have a bad experience. Like you said, i only fly for the seat. my sleep comfort is far more important than the attitude of a flight attendant.

  6. This article is about 15-20 years overdue. Douggie boy has been doing this since the America West/USAir merger. I left his greyhound in the sky attitude many years ago ( no offense to greyhound). He will never change.

  7. This so true BUT ( there is always a but!), it is a staff to staff issue. On a return itinerary the outbound crew is awesome and the inbound needs to find a new career!
    This is why I try to avoid AA or any US carriers. Overall there service is subpar and way below normal standards.
    But they don’t care because their union will always back them, and they know their job is secure.You can complain and it is always ” what did you do? “.
    What happened to the customer is always right ( well not always!!! )?

  8. How could American even begin to worry?
    They have Concierge Key Members that hate them folks like my Dr
    who still flies them and moans and pisses about their repeated failures
    We former Plats and Exec Plats are just mere noise around the edges to quote another failed delusional CEO.American is simply to big to fail now and has very busy flights flying full
    They want to get rid of the value conscious bottom feeders and flush them down the toilet that think they are loyal.They see most of us us as cockroaches they can step on.
    You know the flying roaches with expectations that they should get easy to access saver award availability, be able to use their systemwides in reasonable manor etc
    Doug Parker has massively destroyed the airline people keep complaining and opening their wallets and tell us how they shouldn’t have earned Executive Platinum
    Not me I flew the coop 4 years ago with my hundreds of thousands in spending through the years and they haven’t blinked or worried a second since I left.Didn’t even flinch make an offer or ask why
    Its don’t let the door hit you on the way out! BUH BYE!
    Plenty of gullible others to take my place and business as usual
    with a number of surly condescending .hateful and uncaring unempowered team members
    Nothings changed according to my contacts lying and not following through on resolving problems.Sad

  9. I am working on my Delta Challenge for more than 2 months now. SO MUCH BETTER service and responsiveness from the airlines. I will be Diamond with them soon after almost 10 years of EP with AA. Enough is enough…I only have another 3 or 4 years of flying and don’t have time to wait for AA to fix it’s problems. I don’t know how many have to defect, but it’s got to be really sad to think how badly AA is being driven into the ground. Pretty soon they can be compared to Allegient or Spirit…good company for them.

    • That’s exactly what I did a few years ago. So tired of delays, cancellations and sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate. Delta gets me where I need to go on time with great service. But I disagree about Spirit. Spirit has improved tremendously in the last two years and has now one of the top three on-time records. When they fit my schedule, I fly in the ‘Big Front Seat’ for the price of economy of the legacy airlines – first class but without the meal. Have yet to encounter a problem.

  10. Great article, i actually never flown with American, I have been avoiding them right from the beginning because i know they are always the first one to make things worse, so why would i fly with them?!

  11. I thought I was the only one that felt that way. I am Executive Platinum on AA, but to acquire my EQM every year, I fly over 50,000 miles with Cathay Pacific Airways. I live in Colorado and try to avoid AA like the plague.

  12. I find the premise of this article totally non plausible. I fly trans Atlantic almost once a month, plus a handful of domestic flights. I EASILY qualify for ep, and am probably close to qualifying for concierge key. I work to minimize spending on expensive bookings, if it wasn’t for that I’d probably be ck. Yet I see no reduction in service and I’ve been flying us air / as since the 90s. Yeah it was nice the upgrades that could be had in the usair days, but if you aren’t a problem customer you still get double or triple booked if you need it. American takes care of their customers. I don’t get it. It boggles the mind that you would book a lay flat on ba over aa. You might as well book basic economy at that rate.

    • 1) What’s exactly is “non plausible”?
      2) The statements that “American takes care of their customers” (this is an airline that has gutted its FF program, made premium cabin awards incredibly hard to book and which tried to introduce cabins with a 29″ seat pitch) and that someone “might as well book basic economy” as book BA Club World over AA are both so obviously untrue and/or hyperbolic that your points lose credibility.

      • ALL airlines have ‘gutted’ their frequent traveler programs. Comparing AA to the rest of the domestic industry I stand by my claim – American takes care of their customers. I specifically said in my list that once upon a Time things were better, but that was then, this is now. Once upon a time coach had a 36″ pitch – but thanks to deregulation and customer demand AA flirted with 29″ pitch. That’s not the airlines offering a bad product. That’s the airlines serving the market demand. And the result? Tickets that cost 50% what they did before deregulation after inflation. Don’t complain about AA, complain about the flying public – or sit in first class where the pitch isn’t a concern… as far as making premium cabins hard to book, I don’t know what you are on about. As I said in my last post I make efforts to get my net spend down. That means this year I burned 4 system wide upgrades to europe, confirmed at booking, on $500 economy tickets, plus I booked 2 flights to Europe with advantage points and one with business extra points. I only book travel at saver rates . From my home airport these tickets would average about $4k booked well in advance or $8k booked last minute. This year I’ve booked more award travel than ever but I ALWAYS burn those system wides that way, and almost never have a problem booking saver awards trans Atlantic. As far as the ba thing goes, have you even flown ba in business? Maybe it’s just me but I hate having to climb over someone sleeping to get out of my seat, or worse yet having someone climb over me AND get bumped into by everyone walking down the isle. I literally would take economy with a few empty seats in the row over ba business.

        • Here’s why I disagree with you:

          You said that “American takes care of its customers” but…

          When I point out that it has gutted its loyalty program you point out that others have done the same – copying negative moves that other airlines make is not “taking care of customers”

          When I point out that American wanted to (and tried to) introduce domestic cabins with 29″ pitch, your defense of the airline is that it was simply working to market demand and that the flying public should be blamed – an airline that “takes care of its customers” isn’t one that attempts to put the least legroom possible into its aircraft and only relents when flyers cry foul.

          What appears to be happening here is that you’re confusing an airline that looks after you (and which works for you) with an airline that looks after its customers as a whole….and that’s simply wrong.

          Your comment that you can easily use your SWU’s every year is not in agreement with a lot of other people’s experiences, you say that you booked 2 flights to Europe with “AAdvantage points” but you don’t say if they were premium cabin redemptions and, even if they were, that doesn’t mean that others find it easy to use their miles in a similar way.

          Take a look around the other blogs, read FT or use Expert Flyer to see just how little premium cabin award availability American opens up at the saver level – it’s a joke. This isn’t the work of an airline that looks after it’s customers.

          There’s more…

          American’s fixation with D0 departures has seen the level of service at the gate degenerate dramatically. Gate agents are more stressed than ever, upgrades are not being processed and boarding is often being called well before the published time leaving elites boarding out of turn and often finding they have nowhere to store their carry-on – those aren’t examples of how an airline that takes care of its passengers should work.

          Lastly, if you would really take “economy with a few empty seats in the row” over BA Business Class (which, incidentally, isn’t what you originally claimed) then, as I said before, I find it hard to find credibility in what you have to say.

          Having flown multiple Economy Class cabins across the Atlantic over recent months and after just having flown Club World twice in the past 10 days I could not disagree with you more. Cub World may be a comparatively poor Business Class seat but the idea that you’ll have a better flight in Economy (“with a few empty seats in the row”) is laughable.

          What it all comes down to is this: American Airlines may well work well for you and you may well feel that the airline takes care of you but that doesn’t make it an airline that takes care of its customers.

          There are a lot of other flyers out there who neither share your experiences or your sentiments as your experiences are not the norm – American Airlines may well take care of a very small proportion of its customers but it’s most certainly not an airline that takes care of its customers as a whole.

  13. Ziggy, if American had 36″ pitch economy seats and prices that reflected the rest of the market they would quickly be out if business. Part of taking care of your customer is ensuring that you are in business to ferry your customer, not just today, but tomorrow. The things you are complaining about were the direct result of customers spending with the lowest price in pricewatch. Don’t blame the airline, blame the public. They got what they wanted.

    Sorry for not being more clear. All of those award tickets were business class…

    And yes, I did make this about my personal experience, because that’s the only data I have to go on. If we look at flyertalk or any if the big forums all you normally see is someone venting about a problem. You rarely hear the good. It’s a running joke on flyertalk that airlines could be online 99% of the time and first class seats could cost a dollar and yet FT members would still find something to complain about and declare that they would never fly an airline again…

    I average about 150k buts in seats miles. The worst thing that has happened to me in years is that as didn’t cancel a flight till we had been onboard for two hours and when they deplaned the oax they didn’t announce right away there would be hotel accommodations, so I had to wait a few weeks to get reimbursed for the room I booked myself…

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