American Airlines flew its inaugural Airbus A321T premium transcon flight just a month after its merger with US Airways closed. And this flight symbolized everything that was different between the two cultures.
Legacy American had committed to be the only US airline offering three cabin cross country service. Meanwhile when US Airways emerged from bankruptcy with America West leadership at the helm, its new stock ticker was “LCC” for low cost carrier.
With that same management running American the new premium heavy A321T inaugural flight barely had any festivities, and no speeches, prior to departure. Onboard then-Vice President of Marketing Fern Fernandez, a legacy US Airways executive, told me he didn’t expect first class service to last.
Not only is three cabin first class still here, but in December US Airways veteran and current Senior Vice President for American’s LAX hub Suzanne Boda told me she wishes she had more than 10 first class seats on each flight to sell.
Indeed American’s focus on a strong international business class and great treatment for ConciergeKey members is clear, even if their commitment to a quality domestic product is not — they’ve clearly learned premium customers matter, but seem to think the only routes those customers fly domestically are New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Francisco.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker described some of the evolution in American management’s thinking since the merger at last week’s employee question and answer session in Miami. He laid out how they came in as US Airways management thinking they knew how to run American Airlines better – and cheaper – than legacy management. But they learned they were wrong. And they learned they needed to be a premium airline.
No one is trying to take this company, the American Airlines brand, and turn it into US Airways. And I know that somehow that perception has come across, but it’s absolutely not true.
I told you the major objective..was to have a world class product. Trust me, US Airways never would have had Flagship lounges like we have now at American. They never would have had the kind of aircraft we have now at American. They wouldn’t have the sales force that we put in place at American. Our objective is to have a world class product, and it’s nothing like what US Airways had and it’s better than what American had. That’s where we want to go and that’s where we’re moving. I want to make sure there’s no mistake about that. Nothing about this merger was meant to be ‘oh let’s go take the American product and move to the US Airways product.’
To the contrary – and again there may have been some of that at the start, I’ll be honest about that. When we came in, I know, some of us came from US Airways thought “Oh gosh there’s some stuff American does you don’t really need to do and you still get the same amount of revenue.” We found all that to be not the case because it’s such a different airline.
So indeed things like we came in early and took a bunch of meals out of airplanes, we’ve now gone and added back a lot more than either airline had before. Things like sales force, we came in and reduced a lot of the sales team, thinking US Airways didn’t have nearly as many as American we don’t need as many. We’ve now gone and added back a lot more than we ever had before. So to the extent that was true before, and I think it was overstated versus reality, it’s certainly not true now.
Our objective is to go have a world class product… I know it’s better than it was a few years ago, and it’s gonna get better over time.
Kosher for Passover meals aside, I don’t think they’re back to legacy American standard domestically. And Project Oasis to take American’s current domestic fleet and give it the 737 MAX interior is a step backwards.
Lie flat direct aisle access seats was a decision made prior to the merger, though US Airways management never got enough credit for doing it on their Airbus A330s early on.
However they’ve been committed to rolling out improved international business class (Flagship) lounges and first class dining. They’ve continued to take delivery of (and order) new aircraft.
Flagship Lounge LAX
Parker has promised that the airline will never lose money again. A strong product is necessary to earn a revenue premium. It will be interesting to see what management’s commitment to that long term profitability looks like when the first downturn comes, although they certainly say they’re committed “to the long game.”
Of course former America West-US Airways-American President Scott Kirby is now the President of United, and while they’re about to open their second Polaris lounge they seem to be slow walking the transition to direct aisle access Polaris business class seats and shaving the amenities. So I’m not yet convinced United has learned the same lesson.