American is Trying to Offer a More Consistent Product. ‘Consistent’ Isn’t ‘Better’.

An American Airlines flight attendant recently asked the carrier’s President Robert Isom at a Q&A last week in Dallas, “What is being done to create more consistency in onboard service for example I commute through Denver, Denver-Phoenix you might see one service with a different crew base side you might see a different service.”

Here she’s talking about the service offered by different crews — largely culture issues between legacy US Airways and legacy American.

Isom, though, saw this as an opportunity to emphasize the theme of consistency which is important to the airline all of a sudden. It hasn’t seemed to matter much that the airline lacked seat power on most legacy US Airways planes for the first four years of the merger (or that it will take nearly four years more to get them across the fleet) and lacked extra legroom coach sections as well.

He offered,

Consistency across all of our products, this is really important. A couple of years ago we launched an initiative called ‘One American’ and the immediate focus for that was really the disparity between our regional product and our mainline product… 60% [of our regional product] is two class RJs. One of the things we noticed is we weren’t doing a great job with our regional partners ensuring that they had the same type of amenities and food and service levels so there’s been a tremendous effort placed on that.

…It extends past just food and flight attendant service, it’s the actual configuration on the aircraft. Sometimes you’re out there flying and you have aircraft with two seats more or two seats less.

As an incredibly large airline we have to simplify. So one of the big efforts that we have right now is to make common all of our LOPAs our seat layouts for aircraft on every single aircraft type. Today we fly I think it’s 52 different subfleets of aircraft. Over the next 3-4 years we want to get than down to about 30 subfleets. I think that will really make life easier. So when you take a look at clubs, same thing, is it different every place you go?

..As an airline we need to do a much better job making consistent everything we do so customers know when they buy a ticket on American they can expect a level of service, the same type of seating configuration, the same type of amenities no matter where they go.

American’s Vice President – Flight Service Jill Surdek was more on point with the issue of different crews providing different service in flight. She acknowledged,

We make it hard for people to know what the right service is. Maybe you’ve been on flights where people say ‘so what service are we doing?’ and it really shouldn’t be a question, we should tell you what it is, it should be on your tablet ‘oh this one does have the follow-on service’ or ‘we’re doing a separate marketplace cart’.

Surdek suggests that ‘setting clear expectations’ would get them 75% of the way there.

Consistency though is why we’re losing business class seats on 13 Boeing 777-200s. And American’s 737s are going to become clones of the dreaded MAX.

It’s not only important to be consistent, it’s important to consistently offer a quality product.

And for employees offering service they need a clear message about what the goal of the airline is — are they providing mass transportation for self-loading cargo, move through as many people as quickly as possible, or are they trying to offer a premium experience? That’s about communicating the vision of the airline and getting team members excited about it. And that’s precisely the piece that, as much as I follow American Airlines, I haven’t even heard it articulated by management.

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, 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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  1. If they practice what they preach, then all international J products would have built in AVOD screens without this tablet nonsense. They would have removed the zodiac seats from those 13 77Es and installed the B/E seats so that we all can expect consistent hard product when flying on a 77E. They would have prioritized the installation of power ports and MCE fleet wide. They would do a better job of ensuring flight attendants in first class are more consistent with hanging coats and offering open PDB.

    I can go on and on but my hunch is they only walk this talk when they see ROI.

  2. Gary – your obsession with the power ports borders on the maniacal.

    – Signed: an EXP who could not care less about power ports on domestic flights.

  3. Consistently bad is not something they should aspire to! I used to enjoy those vary scarce pops of good service.

  4. What the hell is Isom talking about regarding Eagle fleets? They still run CR7’s and CR9’s with all sorts of different configs. I might be on a CR7 with F9 one day, F6 the next. I might fly a CR9 out of PHX with 12 first class seats & the next one has 9. Not to mention the CR7’s that came from SkyWest and ExpressJet that have different rear bulkheads for an extra row while others don’t.

  5. Consistently crappy is what they are headed for.

    I guess they will cut F to two rows to match the A319

  6. Having spent almost a million miles on NWA/Delta and now flying American because they and United are the one stop service to where I travel for business I can say American and United are both competing for the title of you can pay less but you can’t get worse in service. Delta did have ahead start, but at this point you know exactly what you are going to find and get in terms of seat, service, and extras. I refuse to fly United after planning a flight that was supposed to have WiFi and power, and then being stuck on a coast to coast flight on a six month old737 with no WiFi or entertainment. American isn’t that bad, but you still really have no idea what you are getting until you board, and as a customer yes consistency matters

  7. I do think consistency is important. Yes, they need to offer a good product. But they also need to offer a consistent product. I am Hyatt Globalist. The reason I love Hyatt isn’t that it’s the best chain. It isn’t. Many times a more premium experience is available. But it’s consistent. The beds are always great. The rooms are always clean. They are set up very similarly throughout the brand. So if I’m only going to be in a foreign country for a couple days and I need a place to crash and get a little work done, Hyatt always delivers. SPG is great in some places and horrible in others. Hilton is the same. You have to hold your breath and hope for the best. I don’t have time for that. In looking at airlines for domestic travel I would love consistent. Yes I really want power at every seat. I also would love if it were in the same place all the time. If the configuration was usually the same, great, I can pick a seat I like and choose it every time. Done. Move on. If I’m taking a wonderful vacation to somewhere exotic I’m looking for the best business class product and a fun interesting hotel. But most of the time give me consistent. It’s my home away from home.

  8. You’re way off. Consistent is better than inconsistent. Always.

    With consistency, you can make informed decision. Consistently good (like Singapore Airlines)? I’ll pay more to fly them. Consistently awful (like Spirit)? I’ll demand a deep price cut to fly them. But with inconsistency you simply can’t make any of those judgments.

    It’s like a box of chocolates — inconsistency is like not knowing what’s inside the box, which is always worse than knowing whether they’re going to be Godiva truffles or run-of the mill Hershey’s squares.

    BTW, since a quality experience is important to you, it’s time you dump AA and start flying DL.

  9. Agree 100% with Jake. The current level of inconsistency in the AA fleet is frustrating to customers and also hinders the operation of the free market. The CoC doesn’t guarantee an aircraft type, yet customers pay a premium for one – often to see a last-minute switch to an inferior product. With a standardized fleet, a carrier at least has nowhere to run – the market will put appropriate price pressure given what they’re offering.

  10. Isom, the 90’s called. They want their airplanes back.

    Sorry, Bob, but Gary is right. It’s a technological age. Business customers who might be in the air most of the day with multiple connections and still need to work value power outlets.

  11. @Emily, @Jake – Consistency is vital if you’re good to amazing. Sadly, AA is not. As a business owner, I specifically push for a consistently good customer experience, and I’m fortunate in that my people deliver. After all, what possible good does it do to be consistently bad? I suppose that the brain trust at AA is saying something along the lines of “Wow do we suck, but if we consistently suck, then maybe it might be easier to raise the overall level of service in a consistent manner.”

  12. The days of AA being a premium, even reasonable experience, are long gone. Years of continued deterioration of the product have left it a former shadow of what it used to be.

  13. I lived through the NWA/ Delta merger and now through the US/AA merger and I think they are close to the same point in time. Difference is the US fleet was in much worse shape then the NWA fleet and it takes time. The A319, even minus a row of first class and the 737s are a good experience. Once the A321 are redone and the 320s and 757s are gone, domestically AA will be in a better place then DL fleet wise. I have noticed that on flight service has improved and is more consistent so I hope that continues. Not many remember how bad DL and NW were ten or so years ago.

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