Last month at an American Airlines employee question and answer session a flight attendant raised his getting in trouble for taking a 14 minute delay because international first class hadn’t gotten any plates (“Like I’m going to shut the door and have a first class service to Brazil with no china plates, I just set the tins in front of them.”).
At the time the airline’s President acknowledged there are times it’s necessary to take a delay in order to provide the service that’s been promised to customers, if the airline isn’t able to get the rest of its processes working properly.
At this past Thursday’s employee Q&A airline CEO Doug Parker was not as open to this idea. A DFW-based captain asked Parker about ‘D0’. He said the airline’s emphasize on exactly on-time departures, and the processes around questioning decisions and following up when they miss exact on-time departures “feels punitive on all the people.”
The pilot went on,
When I’m on a gate as a captain I know my gate agent feels pressure to get that airplane off the ground, there’s pressures from every direction doing that..it feels punitive, when my boss calls me up, there’s 5 chiefs here I’m one of 3000 pilots, when my boss calls me up and asks me information it feels punitive to me, that gate agent it feels punitive to them.
There’s a lot of pressure to depart exactly on time no matter what, and Parker acknowledged “the way we’re getting there does feel punitive at times.”
Parker went on to explain why employees shouldn’t use discretion to do what they think is right, they should defer to the people at the airline whose job it is to make the decision to delay a departure based on all the available information. The airline may decide to hold a flight or not, but it shouldn’t be up to a pilot or a gate agent to make that choice. Parker explained,
[It] may look to any one of us at that point in time from our spot in the world like it isn’t necessarily the right decision, you can make up time in the air or this is the last flight of the day or things like that, we have people sitting not far from here at IOC who really do have all that information.
It may not be perfect but better than any one of us can possibly have at any point in time, that knows things like you can make up time in the air the fact that you’re sitting on the gate right now is keeping someone else from getting to the gate… and [some of those passengers] are trying to connect to a last flight of the day.
All sorts of reasons why the right thing for us to do as an airline is to make sure all of us are working together to get everything just to push at zero, and letting people that have all the information decide ‘ok this we can wait on because we are waiting for 30 people to come in from a different flight, and this one we’ll hold and this one we won’t.’
He knows that the D0 emphasis involves “a lot of stress,” he says that Delta does this well. And he wasn’t willing to give an inch on D0.
The problem though is that American holds its employees accountable for exact on time departures but they haven’t got the rest of their processes to the point they’re reliable enough to deliver everything that’s needed prior to departure time — whether it’s processing upgrades when premium passengers don’t show up for a flight, or it’s caterers failing to deliver everything that’s supposed to be on board.