Domestic flights in the US aren’t particularly pleasant for most anyone. With elite status, and TSA Precheck, it is less of a hassle most of the time. I’ve had 2 trips so far this year on American, both had significant delays. Hopefully just a run of bad luck, since I’ve not had a single one way journey without at least a delay. On my last trip, I misconnected in both directions due to mechanical issues. Lack of reliability is among the excuses for customer satisfaction metrics going down. Skift reported on a one particular metric dropping year over year. With several more trips booked, and others likely to come soon, I’m in wait and see mode.
American’s plans for 2019
The Chicago Business Journal posted a slide showing American’s goals in 2019.
There remains a focus on D0, which means departures exactly on schedule. While not meaningless, arrivals being on time are drastically more important to me. I don’t expect the airline to hold a flight for me, that wouldn’t be realistic. But I got burned by this on my last trip, I made it to the gate before departure, but to make DO, AA closes out flights 10 minutes before departure, I had to wait 4 hours for the next flight. D0 sounds good in concept, but due to overcrowding at many hub airports, this doesn’t necessarily lead to on time arrivals. Even with planes departing on time, often time is lost to congestion taxing to and from gates leading to arrival delays.
The above slide seems to show some predictable corporate talking points. Not bad ideas for the most part, but the last one is the one I expect is the toughest to meet. “Improve Likelihood to Recommend scores to best in company history”. Without changes in culture, I don’t think this is trending in the right direction.
American Airlines has misplaced priorities
Doug Parker is CEO of American Airlines, and in late 2017 said the airline “would never lose money again”. Extremely arrogant, but possibly correct for a few reasons. Most of all there is drastically less competition, and fees charged for countless things that were free. Worst of all is Basic Economy, which basically leads to people buying more expensive tickets just to assign seats in advance. Status doesn’t matter, even top-tier elites must buy up to avoid this.
Mr Parker is also willing to gamble on the success of his airline. He bet an airline analyst at a hedge fund that AAL stock would be above $60 by late November 2018. At the deadline of the bet, AAL was trading at $38.10. Mark that one as an L. More arrogance from the CEO, but in this case, he only owes his friend a bottle of wine.
More concerning to me as a frequent flyer, is what is happening to the fleet. American is cramming more seats into the same space on their airplanes. The “Oasis” project is the name for retrofits to the 737 fleet which will match the configuration of the new deliveries of the 737-MAX8, with 172 seats on board. These same 737s had 150 seats as recently as 6 years ago. Other fleets will also add more seats in coming years.
How does this work? Less legroom, and smaller bathrooms. I haven’t had the displeasure of flying on one of these Oasis birds yet, but I’m sure it is happening as the retrofits are moving fast. Related, I did try out one of the narrow lavatories on a Qantas flight. I’m 6’3″, but not too wide, and the lavatory is noticeably narrow.
It’s not all bad news
American is finally adding power to their fleet. Mostly the legacy US Airways Airbus fleet is lacking. Years behind the competition. This project won’t be complete until 2020 at best, well behind the competition. For my needs, I can generally plan and make this work. I rarely take flights long enough that I can’t get by without power. That American still runs near-transcontinental flights on new-ish A321s without power from Charlotte to the west coast is inexcusable. I fly on regional jets fairly often, and I’ve been pleased to find that AA is finally adding power on these planes, at least in First Class.
Another nice feature is high-speed wifi onboard. I’ve written about this a few times. Viasat wifi is going into the 737s and A321s. Gogo 2Ku is already in place on most A319 and A320s in the fleet. These planes also have free live TV, which is a nice perk, considering there is no other in flight entertainment.
While most of my flights on American are domestic, the international fleet is not subject to quite so much blatant cost cutting. At least in regard to the customer experience. There is in seat video except for 757 and 767s which are mostly on their way out. Most American Airlines business class seats are excellent, and all have aisle access again excepting the 757 and 767 fleet.
I still have serious concerns about the direction American is taking. Airline loyalty is mostly dead, but while Delta is adding comfortable new A220s to their domestic fleet with generous legroom and in seat video, American is adding more seats, and pulling out video screens. American remains the best option for my flight patterns right now. But I’m certainly keeping my eyes open. Delta has long been tempting, but I just see no value in their loyalty program.
Will the board ever hold CEO Parker’s feet to the fire? While AA is still making money, they continue to underperform, both with binding predictions made to Wall Street, and ‘gentlemen’s’ bets the CEO makes with friends.