Update: Despite a change to American’s published policy in March, per American spokesperson Ross Feinsten they will still check you in and issue boarding passes without checked bags 30 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights. New post forthcoming describing how actual practice differs from published policy.
Update 2: Here’s how the check-in systems work in practice versus what’s on American’s website.
In March American changed the minimum check-in time to 45 minutes prior to flight, from 30 minutes. The airline did not notify customers of this change at the time — no emails, no banners at AA.com, just different information on its website.
(Some specific airports have longer required check-in times.)
Minimum check-in times don’t mean too terribly much for most customers, most of the time, since you can check-in online or via the mobile app. But you can’t always do that, as I experienced last month while in traffic caused by an accident enroute to New York JFK. A 15 minute difference is a big deal.
(Some airports require more time with baggage, and in some cases even without baggage.)
American requires customers to conform to its operational desires more than its competitors.
It’s part of American’s obsession with “D0” — cajoling employees and inconveniencing customers by making every operational decision not based on precision or rule but based on anything that will promote pushing back exactly at the proscribed minute in the schedule.
A year ago I wrote about American’s ‘Goldilocks Problem’ “Boards too Early, Updates Delays Too Late” and suggested management’s focus on “D0” rather than being ‘just right’ and helping ensure passengers get where they’re going on time is actually forcing customers to make significant adjustments for the convenience of the airline.
AirTran years ago operated a hub-and-spoke operation, but kept costs down by pioneering the idea of ‘passengers waiting on planes’ rather than planes waiting on passengers. Connecting passengers in Atlanta often had long blocks of time between flights.
American is increasingly becoming like AirTran, with customers adjusting to the airline’s operation rather than gearing the airlines operation around customers.
On-time performance matters, but Delta’s 30 minute check-in requirement demonstrates that 45 minute check-in isn’t necessary in order to obtain on-time performance.