While the trend among US airlines has been to cut costs, American has done as much to make investments in their premium products as any US carrier — and has done so throughout their bankruptcy.
Now, many of the investments will take several years to come to fruition. But there’s little question that they are working to position themselves as a top end premium carrier worthy of the corporate contracts (where they already have an advantage) and paid high yield traffic (where there’s less competition among US airlines).
It’s even tough to keep up with all of the product improvements that have been announced over the past year or so.
- They’re putting brand new international seats into their aircraft: a new first class seat (which will ultimately be offered only on their 777-300s) and a business class seat that is as good as anything offered by any airline, similar to Cathay Pacific’s new business class seat.
- They’re experimenting giving their flight attendants Samsung Galaxy tablets with connecting gate information, passenger information to assist in providing service, and the ability to write up maintenance items easily.
- In first class they’ve introduced pajamas and bedding. They’re going to be improving the amenity kit (which is currently like the business class offering) and also improving the wines, they’ve been flying Ken Chase, their wine guy, to events all over the country to promote the image that they’re thoughtful about their high-end product. My wine tastes vary markedly from his, but he’s clearly trying to make the most of a fairly limited wine budget.
- Their business and first class meals are also much improved. (Even coach buy on board is, as well, I love the Marcus Samuelsson nuts and sandwiches.) The Richard Sandoval halibut is pretty good at dinner, and the Sandoval scrambled eggs over a buttermilk biscuit and topped with creamy poblano sauce with potatoes gratin on the side are good as well.
- They’ve introduced new meals and the ability to pre-select your meal preference so they never run out of what you want.
- Inflight wifi will hit 400 aircraft by year’s end, with all domestic widebodies offering wifi during 2013. They’re planning to implement international wireless internet, but that’s farther off (and won’t be added to the 767s).
- They’re adding an economy product with extra legroom, Main Cabin Extra.
- They’re introducing new first and business class products to their New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Francisco flights.
It’s seemed to me that they’ve been consistently trickling out information on their premium product investments, from the time they looked likely to file bankruptcy and throughout the bankruptcy process. I’ve wondered whether the benefits of pushing out a consistent stream of product investments — to counter the notion that they’re an airline struggling by virtue of being in Chapter 11 — has prevented them from offering a more comprehensive image that wraps together all of the product improvements into a more coherent narrative of that of a premium carrier.
Over at TravelingBetter.com, JonNYC has described what American is doing as actually being a ‘relaunch’ and that combined with the introduction of a new livery (paintjob) for their aircraft they have the opportunity to introduce themselves with a new image.
In that same thread, he points to a post on Flyertalk by a flight attendant sarcastically and dismissively describing many of the minor changes and training they’e been getting in order to deliver a higher-end product.
This flight attendant describes themselves in their profile as being from ‘Slackerville, FL’ and that’s apt.
And this employee’s perspective underscores just how the overall gambit that American is making will live or die on the service delivered by their frontline staff. The airline seems to be giving their crews many of the tools to deliver a premium experience, but it is the quality of those crews that will derermine whether or not that can be implemented.
United made big investments several years ago in better seats in business class and first, better than what American has had, better inflight entertainment in their international cabins too. But despite investing nine figures they still deliver a product below world standard, because of the service delivery.
American is going to have better business class seats than United will (eventually…) and nice first class seats (albeit not nearly top of world standard) and they’re actually *trying* to offer a real premium cabin experience. But it’s a big gamble with crews and with union contracts that allow them to do little about noncompliant crews.
I can only hope the airline is committed enough that they can at a minimum incentivize the right crews to bid to work in the right cabins.
When United introduced ‘dine anytime’ to first class, many old school flight attendants who always wanted the forward cabin (because it was the fewest passengers and they could get away with not doing much work on a long flight) started bidding on business class instead. The same things could happen with American, with flight attendants who don’t want to provide the expected level of service choosing to work other areas of a flight.
The flight attendant’s post on Flyertalk, if you can cut through the sarcasm that underscores their desire to provide anything but good service, actually offers worthwhile insight into what American is trying to achieve. For instance, flight attendants are getting updates training and education.
They basically conducted a class to teach us how to do things we have always done but with new china, flatware, and a cheesy water glass. They taught us how to table set. Hmmm, never knew how that was done before.
Yes, how one plates food and sets a table matters. On the better Asian carriers the airline’s logo will always be facing the passenger on any stemware or serving dish. There’s a precision to good service that flight attendants might not have considered before, and may or may not be willing to follow through on.
They are telling everyone in first they can have their meal whenever they feel like having it. One of the 40 year FAs who only works galleys asked if they would be removing the cockpit bunks to add more ovens. On the 777-300 there are only 8 seats. On the 777-200 there are 16. 8 might be doable, 16 not so much.
I do miss the button-hole, now gone from napkins:
The white napkin still has no button hole. That is probably the number one thing people complain to me about. (for real)
Some other details of the service:
They have an amuse bouche. The people teaching the training can’t pronounce it and it seems a little on the side of folly to me.
…The salad to order is gone with a pre plated salad in its place. This seems a little counterproductive to what people want because many people opt out of the entree in favor of a bigger salad with more of the side items available.
A pasta bar will be offered with the choice of meat vs. no meat and other items added into it. Will be interesting to see how they cater plain pasta and the various sauce options.
…Sparkling water will feature different types of fruit and not just lemon. …
They stressed no carts in the F aisle …
…. The bathrooms will feature full sized face wash and other toiletry items.
It’s worth noting that the challenges of service delivery do not rest just with flight attendants.
I find American’s telephone agents to be generally good, certainly compared to their peers at Delta and US Airways (and not just American’s Executive Platinum agents, either).
But it’s all the frontline service employees who are relied upon to deliver a premium experience — checkin agents, gate agents, customer service agents.
The magnitude of the challenge is tremendous. American starts with an advantage, I think, over United and US Airways though arguably not over Delta on average.
In the end I expect that if they remain independent and stick to the premium investment program that they will be able to successful deliver a product that’s superior to other North American airlines, with a hard product better than some international airlines. So when making a choice between American and their domestic rivals on some basis other than price, there will be a reason to do so. But that the frontline constraints they face — the final mile of service delivery — they don’t have the tools, no matter what the investments they make — to outcompete the best of their international competition.