American Explains Why They Reduced Flight Attendant Staffing on Many International Flights

At the end of November I wrote about American adding flight attendants to Airbus A330 Europe flights from Philadelphia not because they’re required to, or to provide more service, but just so more flight attendants can go to Europe.

I also wrote that they were dropping a flight attendant from their Boeing 777-200s in March arguing that the ratio of flight attendants to economy passengers would be the same as before the retrofit product (dropping first class, adding premium economy).

American has more Boeing 777-200s than any other widebody aircraft, and they’re treating premium economy on that plane as economy from a service standpoint even though they’re marketing it as a premium product.

At a Crew News session in Dallas on Monday American Airlines President Robert Isom and Jill Surdek, American’s Vice President – Flight Service, explained the decision to drop a flight attendant from the Boeing 777-200s and add one to their Boeing 787-9s.

A Dallas Fort-Worth-based flight attendant asked Isom,

Reduced staffing on the 777-200 is a major concern, it’s already a hard service, you’ve added the premium economy which in essence a business class modified plus the front and it’s going to take a lot longer to do the service.

Reducing it by one when we should have kept the 11 flight attendants there and increased on the 787 like on Incheon, increased the staffing on those, it’s a difficult service whether it be the noodle service on Incheon or the regular service on Tokyo Narita and China so we’re just concerned with the staffing levels..the reasoning behind that when we need those flight attendants on the trips.

Isom responded, “When we take a look at our flight attendant staff it’s done with the mindset of we have a product that we have to deliver and certainly there are the FAA required minimums as well and we want to do best for the company overall, not too many not to few.”

It’s the goldilocks approach to onboard staffing.

He continued,

You take a look at moving the number of seats for sale on the 737s and going from 150 up [to 172 since US Airways management took over the airline] and the requirement of additional flight attendants there, you take a look at this past year when we made adjustments to [Airbus A]330 staffing out of Philadelphia, not because of service but to make sure we’re using the available staff that we have.

When you take a look at the widebody product, 777-200s when we took a look at reconfigurations the idea was always that we got to a competitive staffing level and on the 777-200s when you take a look at that staffing level it’s consistent with what you see on a BA and a JAL and other international airlines and there may be some that alter that in one direction or the other but we thought that was fairly competitive in the product we’re offering especially not having first class anymore, it drove studies in how best to deliver that service.

We think we’re in the right direction there but you know through feedback on the 787-9s and people saying hey we just can’t do things there we took it in the other direction on that front.

Overall my hope is we get the right level, it’s something we always take a look at. Service levels will change in the future and we’ve got to be mindful of that.


American Boeing 787-9 Premium Economy

Jill Surdek expanded on this point.

Staffing was originally on the 777-200 was developed based on a 3 class model, and we went through the retrofit, it was completed several months ago, and that’s when the review of the staffing took place. And when you go from having 3 flight attendants in first class and look at how you reallocate the work load and we did do very competitive looked at ratios across the industry, we did make those adjustments, our staffing by cabin is in line on average with every other airline that’s flying that same fleet type. So that changes going in with the March bid month. With the February bid month we did add one additional head with the 787-9.

None of that changes the point that since the beginning of this month there is one fewer flight attendant on Boeing 777-200s doing the same work as last month, and that they justify this by treating premium economy the same as economy when it isn’t supposed to be.

Comparing what American Airlines flight attendants are supposed to accomplish with what Japan Airlines flight attendants accomplish is silly, of course. American can barely get its flight attendants to serve predeparture beverages in domestic first class.

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. Don’t serve noodles. Problem solved. You fly US airline, expect American food. Never understood the food sourcing by departure city.

  2. Rather jingoistic, don’t you think? (Maybe you didn’t mean it that way, but still — ). How easy is it, do you think, to find chili-cheese dogs, Denver omelettes, Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, or PB&J at the catering companies serving Incheon or Narita? (Or another way to look at it, what exactly *is* American food in the first place? Very little of our food was “created” here.)

    Be that as it may, look for a moment at JAL or Korean Air — or virtually any of the other Asian-based carriers, for that matter. Not only do they serve *both* Western and Asian cuisine, but they do it well — serving much better food than the US L3 in most cases.

  3. Maybe they should serve only noodles, Asian dishes on international flights are always much better than the western ones. You fly the best airline you expect the best food. Problem solved. Never understood the food sourcing by departure city.

  4. “Service levels will change in the future” means things will get worse.
    Thanks AA, I’ll take my business elsewhere.

  5. @JB, Nice try. Saying no noodles and using “American” verbiage when referring to “American Airlines” food implies Western food. But go ahead and think that meant serving Nathan’s hot dogs, 72 oz steaks, and other stupid American novelties that have never been served on an airline. And if JAL and ANA can serve Western style dishes out of Tokyo as an option. American can serve only western style dishes on their airplane to reduce FA count if they so chose.

  6. The airlines are like a healthcare organization where can we make cuts and still demand exceptional service. I just resigned from job. I had to cut 5 EFTs (full time nursing prositions) on my night shift matrix. I refused to do it. My nurses went from having to take 5 patients to 6 and now administration wants them to take 7. This is what the airlines are doing to the FAs. We all complain that the service today isn’t anything like the “old” days of flying. There were more FA’s at that time too.

    Also it seems Y+ is all lip service and not it’s own class.

  7. The two times I’ve flown in PE on the 789 there was a dedicated cabin crew member serving the PE cabin and each of us individually without a cart (tray service to table). It seemed logical, premium, and was actually quite decent service.

    As for comparing AA to JAL – clearly laughable as those JAL attendants are NON STOP. They’ve got to be the hardest working crews on average I’ve ever seen. One of the reasons I’ll fly them way ahead of AA in every cabin class (at least once I’ve run out of SWUs).

  8. “‘Service levels will change in the future’ means things will get worse.” — YUP! Absolutely.

  9. Oh. Sorry. I didn’t realize that a reply addressed to “JB” was to me. (FYI, it’s usually “Jason” or “JBL.”)

    No, “American noodles” probably means cans of Franco-American Spaghetti! But you’ve made my point: if JAL and Korean can serve BOTH Western and Eastern food, why shouldn’t AA?

  10. “Rather jingoistic, don’t you think? (Maybe you didn’t mean it that way, but still — ). How easy is it, do you think, to find chili-cheese dogs, Denver omelettes, Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, or PB&J at the catering companies serving Incheon or Narita? (Or another way to look at it, what exactly *is* American food in the first place? Very little of our food was “created” here.)

    Be that as it may, look for a moment at JAL or Korean Air — or virtually any of the other Asian-based carriers, for that matter. Not only do they serve *both* Western and Asian cuisine, but they do it well — serving much better food than the US L3 in most cases.”

    DAAAAAAMN. You nailed it with that answer. It cracks me up to see people so adamant about a subpar product. Ignorance is bliss…….

  11. Just did roundtrip 90 minute flights from Taipei to Shanghai. We were all served **warm** meals, even in coach where we were packed in 3-4-3.
    Can you imagine a US airline providing that level of service, let alone AA?

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