Yesterday Could Have Been an Operational Meltdown, But American Airlines Nailed It

On October 17, 2015 US Airways ceased to exist to customers. That piece went remarkably smoothly.

american airlines customer service
Integration Went Too Smoothly — Customer Service Agents Hung Out With Nothing to Do

Calling US Airways flights American Airlines flights didn’t mean the integration work was over.

American still had to integrate three different workforces — legacy American, US Airways, and America West (!) — and move flight operations onto a single system.

For pilots the impossible has occurred. The US Airways-America West merger was never actually completed in large measure because pilots kept suing each other over seniority, and indeed even over which pilots could negotiate with the airline on a contract and what they had to ask for. The American merger, by giving US Airways and legacy America West (‘US Airways West’) pilots a raise and pre-committing everyone to an outcome, finally created the ability for pilots to integrate.

Yesterday represented potentially the biggest operational challenge for the combined airline, not dealing with customer reservations or frequent flyer accounts but moving to a single Flight Operating System.

american airlines airbus a319
Legacy American Airlines Airbus A319

As I predicted based on the smooth integration work so far, this latest test went incredibly well. As Joe Brancatelli summarized,

Combining flight operations onto one system doesn’t yet ‘finish’ the merger with work still to be done at least through spring.

I think American is making a lot of very bad decisions with respect to how it treats its customers, and the products it’s providing. And while I think customer-facing IT has a lot of work to do, from an operational standpoint they really do seem to have nailed the technology, at least where it’s had the greatest potential for disruption. Real congratulations to American Airlines CIO Maya Leibman are in order.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. American always has had the best IT people. Even after selling off SABRE. No other airline is even close in IT.

  2. Does this mean PHX flyers could start to see better metal on pre-merger US routes? I know AA flyers aren’t going to like the US planes but I’m looking forward to some new 321s and even the older 737s over the aging fleet (or seemingly aging due to lack of amenities). Is looking at seat layout the best way to tell what hardware you’re flying ot is there a better way?

  3. Absolutely, AA needs to do a lot to their customer service organization. The gate staff at DFW and PHL in particular needs to be totally scrapped and start over – really terrible at both locations. These people have all been there too long and are mean, unhelpful, and consistently rude. AA is not worth getting under my nerve during my business trips based on their terrible attitudes. They laugh at Southwest but SW gets customer service. AA still doesn’t.

  4. What’s the impact to the passenger? Better on time performance? More options on connecting flights, better flight schedules? Not sure I get the significance of this event.

  5. @Donna from my perspective the significance of this event is that the American operation could have completely melted down but didn’t.

    Having gotten past this though American will be better able to deploy legacy American and legacy US Airways aircraft wherever they wish across the system. That’s not really a good thing because it makes it harder to avoid legacy US Airways aircraft, which I call a “basket of deplorables” as most lack inflight power and main cabin extra seating even three years into the merger (american hasn’t bothered to invest in the inflight hard product).

  6. It is interesting about the lack of main cabin extra on the legacy US planes. That’s a pretty big service difference. At least now it’s largely hub based: like if you’re flying out of PHL or PHX, you know what you’re going to get. Random would seem worse (although I’m not sure if the pilot integration means much change in fleet deployment). Odd that there seems to be no interest in standardization.

  7. Even before this integration I’ve noticed lots of equipment and schedule changes in the form of regular routes cancelled or moved two hours earlier or later making them really inconvenient for people making domestic connecting flights. A five hour layover on a Transcon connection is a total drag. It’s been three years now and it’s getting harder to remain optimistic with AA. Let’s hope this latest move has some positive impacts. Thanks.

  8. With AA, some airplanes are really good. Especially large ones that flies longer duration. But when it comes smaller airplanes, things are not up to the mark, no LCD screen, pay for everything etc. Still one of the best flight services of the world!

  9. It has only just begun. The system they are using now is so antiquated compared to the system that USAirways used. It is like stepping back in time. I am happy that it went off without a hitch, but it was a cut schedule day and also a good weather day. Just wait!!! The worst is yet to come. All I can say is good luck!!

  10. I agree with Donna. In my opinion, American does not have the customer in mind when they make decisions. I travel a lot, and hear a lot of comments from my fellow travelers. A lot of people are like myself, they take American as a last resort. I have gotten burned quite a few times by American. I was hoping with the merger it would be better, but I guess the same old people are running the show.

  11. While we can celebrate this new process, I’m hoping that Maya expands the team a bit to work on their mobile products – the apps are behind their peers in functionality.

  12. American is really the worse airline in the world. They really need to get their Act together. Usairways was truly UsScareways!
    I took my husband last year on US Airways via PHX and DCA all the way from SNA to CDG. We arrived late and missed our connection. No hotel provided and no compensation. It was mechanical and crew delay but we were told it was weather and therefore no compensation will be provided.
    Then, we had the rudest nastiest Flight Attendants. We had ordered Moslem and Hindu but they they were not boarded. They brought my husband a dried piece of Asparagus and rice and they said that was a Moslem meal. They were clueless. When I went to get a Pasta dish, they accused us of eating too much! We did not even have one single meal. The Pot calling the Kettle black! Because these old women were hugely over-sized and most of them had to walk sideways. This was the Philly CDG crew on the A330, absolutely disgraceful and trashy. They were rude to all passengers. One guy moved from the right side of the aircraft to our side to avoid the Super Duper Rude Bitchy Waitress on his side and then he ended up with the much larger meaner (lot bigger I mean size 24- Because we heard her bitching about not getting her uniform peace and my husband is a Fashion Designer)…much much meaner waitress with gravy on her Apron on our side! 🙂
    I like to know how does this big/large waitress fit on the Double Jumpseat with another one of her size? Is this safe for the passengers? Don’t they think if there is a crash, passengers are just going to be smashed by these large waitresses? If one of them weight at 250 pounds we are talking about, X 2 and times the weight of Gravity at the Crash time!

    We were rerouted on our return flight because of Mechanical, then because of fuel, diverted to another city. Then we made it to Philly 6 hours later. The agents could have cared less. Then when I called I was told that we could not fly another airline or even on AA through DFW because we had booked our flights with US airways miles.

    The Agent clearly had no idea what she was talking about. We were booked on another flight via LAS to SNA. We arrived two days later. No accommodation or voucher or compensation was provided.

    I am sure legally we are owned each min of $1300 dollars because we did not arrive home within our ticketed time. To make the matters worse, my luggage was lost and I was going back and forth with US Airways luggage people and still no compensation.

    I wrote another email recently and I was told that they are sorry about the Rude Staff and they want to make sure we will fly them again! That is all.

    Why would anyone travel on this horrible airline is beyond my belief. We really need a miracle in the US. We need a young/hip/fun airline with great customer service that can put AA/UA/DL to shame. We should be able to decide to have a choice to fly one descent airline like people do in Asia and in Europe.

    We flew Air Asia in Thailand recently. Yes, it is a no frills airline but the Flight attendants and the agents are polite.

    I flew Turkish lately and my heart was pounding because my luggage was about 5-7 pounds over the 23k weight limit between Istanbul to Porto, Portugal. The agent just winked and smiled and basically acknowledged that I was over my limit but let me go on my way.

    We flew over Christmas from LAS to NYC. My bag was 51 pounds. First of all, this horrible bitchy nasty agent name Blossom in Las Vegas, (she was more of a thorn and an evil) told me that we had to pay per piece and also for the over weight. First of all, I told her that I have the Aviator master card. She would not take my word that this credit card that I pay $89 dollars annually entitles me for a free piece of luggage and my companion who happened to be my husband.

    She kept harassing me. Told me if I did not pay, she would not check me in. I had to pay and never got a refund, although I talked to a manager at the gate and he told me that no all agents were familiar with all credit cards. They would not even let me have priority boarding. I was told that the system automatically does not recognize the status from the US Airways side to American.

    They need to get their act together. We have not have a single penny, a single mile as compensation. I feel as I have to take American Airlines/US airways to court but I know that is a lot of hassle and the airline can come back and ban us from flying them and cancel our mileage account. I keep thinking that we might want to use our accounts someday because of their routing and some of their partners. We go to Morocco a lot and we have read that Royal Air Maroc might join the one world.

    Otherwise American airlines is literally the Nazi of the skies!

  13. Gary, do you know if all these system changes are affecting AA award availability? I’ve been monitoring awards the last couple of months for a US to London trip in leaving the last week of Dec returning after New Years, and the only saver awards both in Economy or Business are in BA, which means hundreds of dollars in surcharges each way. Seats look wide open. Any idea what’s going on? New policy or something else?

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