Make American Great Again

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I am I used to be a raving fan girl for American Airlines.  But that has not been the case in 2016.  For the last 24 months, my patience with my hometown airline has been wearing thin.  Its time to make American great again.

First it was the short-lived changes to inflight service that cut out food on many flights.  That got quickly corrected once the passenger backlash hit, but it was not the way to make American great again.

Then it was the banking of flights at various American Airlines hub.  The concept of banking meant reorganizing flight arrivals and flight departures into tight little banks.  The idea is to have tighter, more efficient operation to drive revenue.

The reality for passengers is that it leads to more time sitting on tarmacs either waiting to take off behind many other flights simultaneously banked or waiting for gates to become available during rush hours.  It also means that concourses are more crowded, lines are longer at airport services, and seats are fewer in gate areas and Admirals Clubs, all due to passengers being grouped into these tight banks rather than spread throughout the day.

For those of us at hubs, it has also meant less variability throughout the day on flight departure times meaning we too are stuck with the lighter selection of flight times.  This is not how you make American great again.

There have also been related issues with delays in flight arrivals and departures.  American Airlines does not accurately display arrival/departure information on their airport signage or within the mobile app.  It is not unusual to be standing at the gate at the posted departure time with NO plane at the gate and NO update from American Airlines ground staff about the updated boarding or departure time.  Requests are often met with a “don’t leave the gate area” response.

Then it was the implementation of the D-0 focus.  Under this push, there are supposed to be “zero delays” (hence the term D-0) so gate agents and pilots are asked to push back from the gate promptly at the published departure time.  Because of this push, gate agents often start boarding earlier than the printed time on the boarding pass and flight attendants refuse to offer pre-departure beverages in first class.

In some of my worst experiences, I’ve arrived at the gate a couple of minutes prior to the printed boarding time only to find the gate agents paging a “final boarding call”.  I’ve rushed to board only to find myself at the back of a 100 person deep line stretching down a hot jet bridge.  This is hardly a premium customer experience or the way to make American great again.

This D-0 focus has lately given way to a bigger issue – the refusal of gate agents to properly process the upgrade list.  American Airlines rolled out mobile application upgrades a couple of years ago that allow passengers to view the upgrade list order.  That list displays check marks next to upgraded names.  Passengers using the mobile application also have their new boarding pass pushed through the app meaning the new seat is automatically assigned.

Many passengers have been reporting, however, that American Airlines gate agents have been refusing to automatically process the upgrade list.  They have instead been paging passengers within the boarding area and only upgrading passengers when they answer the verbal page.  Those who do not answer the verbal page are skipped and the agent moves on to the next person on the list.  Some agents do not even utilize the overhead paging system in the gate area.  This means that passengers on the upgrade list must be standing within earshot of the gate agent counter in order to not be skipped.

I’ve had several personal experiences with this and have communicated with dozens of others with similar stories.  This past week, I had two personal encounters with upgrades that were cleared after the flight was under gate agent control.

In the first instance, I discovered via the mobile app that my upgrade had been processed while I was still in my Uber approaching the airport.  My new boarding pass pushed through to my phone.  I took a screenshot (just in case) and then headed to Starbucks before boarding.  I arrived at the gate just in time for boarding.  My mobile boarding pass scanned but then one of the gate agents chased me halfway down the jetway to hand me a paper boarding pass and scold me for not checking in at the counter since others were waiting for the upgrade.  I believe it would have been likely that my seat would have been given away had I arrived at the gate a minute or two later.

In the second instance, I made a tight connection and was running toward my flight which was already in boarding when I heard my name being paged.  Knowing I was on the upgrade list, I ran quickly before my name was skipped.  The agent told me she had skipped the name ahead of me because he did not respond.  I have no doubt I would have also been skipped had I not quickly gotten her attention.

While I benefitted in the latter instance, the reality is that this policy is not efficient.  All of the changes – from the banking of flights to D-0 have had a negative effect on the overall customer experience.  My time is valuable and it is not efficient for me to hang around the gate area an hour before a flight in the hopes my name may be called for an upgrade (or out of fear that an upgrade might be taken away).  It is especially annoying to spend my time in a place with limited seating, limited or nonexistent power outlets, and no communication about the likely boarding time of my flight.

My time would be better spent in an Admirals Club working – or grabbing food to take onboard.  Or better, I could spend that time on another airline which does not make the passenger experience difficult.

I’d like to be loyal to my hometown carrier.  To do that, we are going to have to make American great again.

Do you agree?  Or do you have other American experiences to report?  Sound off below – or use #MakeAmericanGreatAgain on social media.

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last nineteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Once an "every week" road warrior, she now only travels around 100 days a year. She resides in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and playing with her Border Collie/Great Pyreness mix puppy Harley Quinn.

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  1. All airlines practice what is called “banking” Try sitting on the tarmac at ATL or LAX. Shame on American for trying to increase efficiency. The majority of business passengers do not like long layovers in airports.

    • Improving efficiency is not a bad thing if it actually gets me from point A to point B faster. Having longer block times for flights doesn’t help my personal efficiency as a business traveler. And misconnecting because the connect times are shorter and thus having to spend several hours in the airport waiting for the next departure doesn’t help my efficiency. Not being able to hop an alternative flight during a delay because all the other options also went out in the last bank doesn’t help my efficiency either.

      My primary complaint, however, is the inconsistency in upgrade processing. That seems to be the ultimate inefficiency to require business travelers to stand around the gate rather than relying on technology that has been programmed to avoid that hassle.

  2. The upgrade processing is made worse by the apparent change in the algorithm that allocates seats into the upgrade bucket. For years, on most domestic flights, AA has held 2 F seats for last minute purchase or irrops accommodation, and cleared elites into the remaining F seats well in advance of departure. That changed several months ago, and it’s now common to see a majority of the F seats held back until gate control. My flights last weekend – leisure routes with a good weather forecast – on the way down we had 11 open F seats at T-45, and 9 open at T-45 on the return. Both had a dozen or more names on the upgrade list, that were eventually cleared right before boarding started. So it’s not just a couple of elites waiting around at the gate to be sure, it’s lots of them.

  3. All of these points are spot-on, but the most egregious is American “forgetting” how to update departure status.

    Since it is obvious AA’s management only cares about the bottom-line, the only way for them to get the message is reduced enrollment at Admirals Clubs. After all, why pay ~$500/yr for a membership if you’re forced to sit by the boarding gate anyway?

  4. I whole heartily agree that American Airlines needs to fix Many things.The thing that gets me is they are ignoring the customers that have shown them loyalty over the years. The devaluation of miles in my eyes is at the top of the list.

    That and landing at DFW only to be told that our gate is occupied. Did they not know we were coming?
    I have flown AA for over 30 years and have tried until now to always fly them even if the price was not the lowest.
    You mentioned the Admirals Club and that is another perfect example of an exercise in futility trying to get any type of service from them any longer.

    The only Admirals Club that goes above and beyond is the one at HNL. If they were all staffed with caliber of people as that location I would still be a member. I’ll just get a day pass when I’m in HNL.

    I’m ranting but how best can we demand out old AA back ? Why not let the customer facing employees have more leeway in dealing with upgrades and other customer concerns rather than forcing the almighty on time departure. Just because you pushed back does not mean you are going anywhere.

  5. The astonishing thing is people are loyal to an airline. Even pay more for the privilege. That’s why American doesn’t care – they know that throwing the tiniest bone with the most meager benefit will cause otherwise intelligent people to spend more money. It’s not American who you should be blaming…

  6. I totally agree. I wonder how many upgrades I have missed as I’m sitting in the Admiral’s Club doing work and not standing at the gate early.

    I also get very annoyed at how they handle delays. One day the flight was delayed for over 90 minutes. The first 45 minutes we kept being told to wait at the gate — being postponed 10-15 minutes at a time. . Finally a group of us on that flight went down the hall to the Admiral’s Club and they agreed to monitor it for us and announce when we needed to board. Very frustrating day.

  7. American “ambushed” their loyal customers by going revenue base at mid-year, so Gold or Platinum AA members need to do actual twice or more the miles if they want to requalify. For the past few years, I have been flying over 50k miles on AA and one of the reasons was to be an Elite member and receive some benefits. Now that is gone. So it is time to look to other airlines and hope that one day AA will return to first care for their customers instead of first looking at their bottom line.
    On the subject of upgrades, I actually flew on a 5-hour flight where I was 1st on the upgrade list, I did not get the upgrade and there were empty seats in business. When I complained in writing to customer service, their answer was that I was not entitled to compensation. I was not asking for compensation, just wanted AA to take care of loyal customers. Very frustating…

  8. This is all because US Airways took over American. Doug Parker and his crew are running things in Ft. Worth. All of the leniant policies to elites are GONE. Almost all of The Legacy AA people are out. I too am a former fangirl of AA. Each time i fly with them, I notice a difference in what used to be to now what is. I’ve decided that I am going to become a free agent in 2017, use up my AAdvantage miles and move on. If you fly transcon, jetBlue Mint is fantastic and sold at a much more reasonable price. Just sayin!

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