Why I Choose to Fly American Airlines

I’m probably one of the most vocal and consistent critics of American Airlines. I thought I should explain why I still fly the airline — and generally choose to do so over other US domestic carriers.

I’m not a fan of the direction they’re heading with their domestic product.

  • Less legroom in all classes of service — less space for first class, extra legroom coach, and regular coach.
  • Seemingly little thought into design — seats are uncomfortable with poor padding, and first class seats have a bar that protrudes at back level, and there’s little underseat storage in first class despite not offering seat back entertainment that sometimes requires a box taking up space.

They don’t communicate well with customers during delays. Their solution to poor operational performance is to yell at gate agents and flight attendants rather than invest in getting the operation in order — and as a result last minute upgrades go unprocessed, flights go out uncatered.

American Airlines is worse than it used to be. They keep making decisions that deliver less value to customers. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still my best option. They could be so much better than they are, but right now they’re the airline that best fits my needs.

And they’re hardly the only one squeezing more seats into planes or using uncomfortable slimline seats to help do it, either. Delta’s domestic first class legroom is appalling (and though I find Delta’s first class seat backs hard they’re at least better thought-through than American’s).

  • High speed internet keeps me productive. American and Delta are light years ahead of United with internet, United’s barely works much of the time I fly them. American lets me buy a $49.95 a month unlimited Gogo plan and (1) use it both with Gogo and ViaSat-equipped planes, and (2) allow its use both for the aircraft still using older air to ground technology and for high speed service.

    United Airlines just isn’t an option for me because I can’t light hours of potentially productive time on fire with unreliable internet service. American offers me a better deal on good internet, which means that they have a cost advantage for my total trip when ticket prices are the same.

  • Route network. Living in Austin American is the largest legacy carrier at the airport. Delta is about to grow here with the opening this year of 37% more gates. However their hubs aren’t well-located to get me everywhere I need to go. I’d wind up flying far out of my way for several destinations versus large hubs at Dallas Fort-Worth (American) and Houston (United).

  • Lounges. American has the best lounge product of any US carrier with its Flagship First Dining but almost no one gets to use those (three cabin first passengers out of airports with such a facility). United’s Polaris lounges are better than Flagship Lounges, from food to design, but are only available to long haul business class customers.

    American’s Flagship lounges are open to transcon business class passengers, elites flying internationally, and mid-tier partner elites flying domestically. It’s a quality product that’s far more accessible.

    Delta of course doesn’t have anything nicer than its SkyClubs. And while a few like Seattle and San Francisco are quite good, they aren’t as well-provisioned as Flagship lounges and many SkyClubs such as Portland, Seattle, and New York JFK terminal 2 are well worn.

    But what really sets American apart for me are the agents in their lounges at Austin (best in the system, miracle workers during irregular operations) and at my most frequent lounge destination, Washington National.

  • I redeem their miles most often. For all of my frustrations with award availability on American Airlines itself — it remains quite poor, virtually non-existent for premium cabin international business class, and their attempts to improve coach availability with married segment connecting space makes it nearly impossible to change award tickets, negating a key Executive Platinum benefit — my goal was never to use AAdvantage miles to fly American anyway.

    I find that American miles are the ones I redeem most for my own travel. I like redeeming for international first class and continue to use these miles for some of the very best first class products. I regularly redeem for first class on Etihad, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas. Japan Airlines first is readily available close-in. Until May British Airways is the only flag carrier with a flight from my home airport of Austin.


American Airlines Flagship Lounge LAX

American gave up its huge advantage that its frequent flyer program gave them, in my opinion an own goal. But that just made them more like their competitors (in fairness, if you want to fly business class to Europe or Asia the Star Alliance gives United an edge here).

I no longer go so far out of my way to fly American as I used to. When I needed to travel somewhere I’d just fire up AA.com and see what my options were. I no longer am willing to take connections to stick with American, or ignore price disparities, but I’m still giving them 100,000 qualifying miles a year.

Unfortunately no airline that’s a viable option for my travel really seems to be differentiating itself these days.

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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  1. I have a feeling with the new EQD requirement they will lose a good percentage of their EXPs this year.

    I have another guess that with more Oasis configured planes entering the fleet customers will be choosing to NOT fly American due to the terrible seats.

    This is a crossroads for me I have not reached yet. I truly hope American slams the brakes on this crazy Oasis project. At the bare minimum they need to redesign the domestic F seats so bags can fit under seats and the bar in the seat back is padded or removed.

    Most importantly, the board of directors needs to go in a new direction and fire Doug Parker. They need a regime change in the worst way.

  2. I don’t understand the following: “American gave up its huge advantage that its frequent flyer program gave them, in my opinion an own goal.” What are you saying there?

  3. “Most importantly, the board of directors needs to go in a new direction and fire Doug Parker. They need a regime change in the worst way.”

    Couldn’t agree more. As I’ve told all the reps from the ‘Executive Office’ who have called me in the past year, wanting to know why my ‘travel was down’, AA doesn’t give me a reason to travel w/them, but they (consistently) give me plenty of reasons not to.

  4. it’s the points for me – I can use Citi AA, Barclays AA and two types of avios, so I have a lot of points to use.

  5. The internet seems like a solid point (I’m a victim of United’s spotty WiFi)…but aren’t we all kidding ourselves that we don’t just regularly fly the carrier with the most flights operating out of our home airport?

    I could write 2,000 words about why I choose United but the fact is that flying out of DEN, United chose me. (Yes I have WN but frequent fliers on Southwest are a masochistic bunch)

  6. So what Gary is saying is that:
    1) He is flying AA because of the AA network. This is certainly a valid point simply because of the large size of the company and more flights out of Austin vs other companies.
    2) Reliable WiFi? Should not be an issue for other carries to fix/catch up.
    3) Lounges? I think those serve as a “lipstick” for the entire operation. Not worse of expense of staying with AA
    4) Burning AA miles is getting more difficult.
    Not much of the arguments to stick with AA unless you like to be jammed. into Oasis.
    From operations, reliability, customer service, airplane comfort, and AAdvantage program. the new AA is finally the same position among other carriers as USAir used to be.

  7. I am curious why you do not jump to SWA? I live in an AA hub and would be EXP but chose SWA for quality and flexibility. I do 2-3 international F flights, but use miles from other sources

  8. Everyone has unique circumstances that influence their decisions, the fact that these are the four best reasons for you to stick with AA provide me even greater assurance that I made the right decision by dropping from AA EXP to once a year customer about 3 years ago. I have found that other airlines provide alternatives better suited to my circumstances in all four of these categories (internet, lounges, route network, and miles usage). Also, ditching loyalty in general has been nothing but positive for me. I wish I had done it years earlier.

  9. I agree that American is “Worse than it used to be”. How does Parker keep his job? How do passengers make a 30-40 minute connection when it takes 10 minutes to get off your inbound flight and they close to door 10 minutes before outbound departure?

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  11. It appears that Gary prefers AA for convenience relative to his home, availability of in-flight internet, and ability to redeem miles for travel. That all makes sense. And we all fly whatever airline is convenient, best suits our work needs and provides potential mile award flights.

    But not all of us need internet to work during a flight, as bloggers obviously do. And UA, through Star Alliance partnership, really does European travel so much better than AA, as Gary also mentions. I find that most US-to-Europe destinations are less expensive when paying cash on UA vs. AA. And the connections are also so much better. The AA mileage “awards” to Europe are more like punishment, often forcing a traveler to take 4 flights versus 2 on UA.

    Given the race to the bottom in the US airline industry, it’s a constant tradeoff as to which option offers the least pain during air travel. And absolutely the best deals are when you can use miles from AA or UA to fly internationally on a foreign carrier. But even these awards seem to be more scarce on award charts than they once were.

  12. If Gary keeps flying AA despite his endless (and often unfair) criticism of the airline, it explains why AA makes the business decisions it does. It’s simply not a good business strategy in the airline industry (or in most businesses) to give customers more than they pay for. This is largely because the industry is essentially an oligopoly, and you have strong incentive to fly the carrier that “works” for you in your personal circumstances (usually the airline with the most frequent service at your home airport). This reality can be hard to swallow, but it is reality. And it’s a good thing you can still take advantage of the not-as-smart credit card companies to get plenty of free travel, who can overcharge their dumbest customers to pay for this largesse. .

  13. I couldn’t agree more, this will be my last year out of 6 as EXP that I stick with American. Once I burn down miles and use up my lounge card benefits I am sure I’ll be on to anyone that offers a better product, Delta seems to at least being reasonable about being on time and handling delays.

    I can’t agree more that a management change is needed to focus on customers and employee satisfation, FAs and GAs could care less about customer’s as it seems American does not care about them…too sad.

  14. @chopsticks – I fly American less than I used to and your analysis doesn’t speak to why American (a) loses money flying, (b) fails to earn the revenue premium Delta does. American is a financial underperformer so I don’t think my still flying American ‘somewhat’ explains their decision-making process.

  15. @Edward Lane well I value the miles at 1.4 cents apiece [https://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2019/01/31/how-much-are-miles-really-worth-assigning-a-value-to-points-from-each-program/comment-page-1/] but you generally have the plot

  16. All valid points. Living so close to DCA, I’m “never gonna say never” when it comes to flying American, but I can say I haven’t yet booked a flight on the airline in 2019. I won’t book one if I can find a viable alternative on any of the other “big 4” plus JetBlue. Project Oasis and those domestic first seats are a dealbreaker for me.

  17. For LWT3: “own goal” is a soccer term. It means the defending team accidentally kicked the ball into its own goal, resulting in a point for the other team, just as if that other team had kicked the ball in there themselves. In this case the original poster is saying that AA did something stupid that only hurt itself.

  18. Totally agree with you. It seems like AA has taken the worst attributes of USAir and AA to creat a really crappy airline.

    Unfortunately I live in the DC area and AA has only a handful of direct mid to long haul options that don’t include Dallas, Phoenix, or Charlotte – destinations I almost never go to.

    So after multiple years as a Platinum flyer I am now a loyal UA flyer. While I agree all the airlines are destroying their product to offer a subpar customer experience, UA seems to be trying harder to improve. And they have much better routes out of DC for a business traveler.

  19. FWIW: The reason I still fly AA at all us that I book my 2-3 cross-country domestic trips per year months in advance, so can usually find advance upgrades available for the 15K miles and $75, despite upgrade availability being far more limited these days. And I have lots of AA miles due to the credit cards. But I’m no longer chasing nearly meaningless AA status and I’ve taken my international business class spending elsewhere.

  20. @ Edward, I think it’s a marketing dictum that if you put “only” or “just” in front of a price you can ask whatever insane amount you want and some will fall for it. Nobody ever went broke underestimating the math skills of the general public.

  21. I think AA has improved the lounge experience. At least the trip starts with a decent ground experience before you have to tolerate a bland, disappointing air product. I decidedly AVOID AA when flying OW, when possible. And I’ve been impressed with Southwest operationally for shorter domestic flights. But I see Gary’s point: for him, AA is probably the least of the worst.

  22. Gary, ConciergeKeys access Flagship Dining no matter what they’re flying. It’s a step up from Global Services, which can’t even get into Polaris.

  23. You must really love spending time in lounges over getting places, with Global Entry/PreCheck is a lounge that important?
    Also Southwest has a much larger network from Austin, including nonstop DCA-AUS, your most common destination.

    Southwest
    Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago–Midway, Dallas–Love, Denver, El Paso, Fort Lauderdale, Harlingen, Houston–Hobby, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Lubbock, Nashville, Newark, New Orleans, Oakland, Orlando, Phoenix–Sky Harbor, Raleigh/Durham , Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose (CA), St. Louis, Tampa, Washington–National
    Seasonal: Cancún, Panama City (FL), Pensacola, San José del Cabo

    American:
    Charlotte, Chicago–O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York–JFK, Philadelphia, Phoenix–Sky Harbor

    Do unless you spend a lot of time going to CLT or PHL, what gives other than loving to write hAAte?

  24. I live in a Delta hub (DTW) but about six or seven years ago, began flying US Air almost exclusivley. Mainly flew to the southeast, including FL, and PHX. The prices could not be beat, hundreds of dollars cheaper than Delta (with nonstop as the tradeoff often). The upgrade rate was incredible, even at the lowest level. For me, as one who is very tall, that made all the difference, even without the other amenities. As EXP on AA, I continue to get upgrades quite often (flying early or late makes a difference, along with the routes). I wish I could have experienced the good AA and maybe it will come back, but only if Parker is gone. When I am willing to buy F seats all the time, I will get off the treadmill.

  25. Being based in Miami, I am already actively avoiding MAX8 and Oasis, taking connections, and flying Delta when necessary. I have no interest in that AA hard product. Likewise for the new 321neo. The long-term effect of these configurations will not be apparent until customers have acutally flown them and vote with their wallets.

  26. Flew first and business AA/British Air to/from South Africa and recently Delta/KLM to/from Tanzania out of AUS. Without a doubt, the best segment for quality of accommodations and service was Delta. I am looking forward to a greater presence at AUS and will opt for Delta, regardless of price due to comfort and service.

  27. I think there’s a mistake here – the SkyClub at Seattle is cited as being great but also mentioned in the run down list…

  28. @Gary — AA has been a financial under-performer for less than a year (for reasons having nothing to do with the things you constantly complain about). They seem to have already flipped to over-performance, with this year’s profits forecast to rise at least 40%. If they achieve that, will you change your mind and stop spouting nonsense like how adding more seats to their airplanes makes them less profitable? Seriously. Will you? Or is it like a religious belief where facts don’t actually matter?

  29. @Greg R — I agree. Anyone in the middle part of the USA whose primary paid travel is domestic is crazy to avoid any airline (well, maybe the ULCCs like Frontier and Spirit if they’re fussy) that will get them to their destination the fastest (assuming similar fares). The flights are basically 3 hours or less. If WN was fastest, I’d take them in a heartbeat over AA (and UA and DL). There is nothing special about flying AA. Nor is there anything bad about, either. They all fly the same airplanes with similar service (OK, maybe WN doesn’t have FC, but who cares for a couple hours?). It would be like preferring Exxon gas to Shell.

    @Brian — if you are truly taking connecting flights to avoid AA’s new fleet, you are suffering from a new disease that I will call American Airlines Derangement Syndrome. BTW, do you check out the configurations of the DL planes you fly? They likely have the same density!

  30. Gary, agree with your points, but you are bring too charitable as it relates to married segments. Those are designed specifically to pad the claimed percentage of seats available, but be so inconvenient that unless desperate, no one would actually book.

  31. This article will be used by AA (internally, at least) to justify the relentless and ongoing kicks in the pills that they administer to their most loyal customers. I really wish you had not published this.

  32. @Johhny – they only help pad the statistics to the extent that people do book them, though they are designed to be itineraries no one would actually pay cash for so that redemptions don’t trade off with paid bookings

  33. @chopsticks – forecast of something that hasn’t happened yet makes them an overperformer? that’s priceless. their underperformance, according to isom, is in premium revenue. why do you think that is?

  34. I appreciated this post and most of the comments.
    How one flies and where, will have a profound influence on one’s experience with an airline. I have had the good fortune to be a paid passenger up front domestic and internationally. Were I to have been flying in back, I might have a completely different view.
    Prior to returning to AA 3 years ago, I was a dedicated Delta flier. Ed Bastion and his team’s demonstrated attitude that they couldn’t give a flying f*ck about his premium paying passengers ran me off. That and the fact that on my routes, OneWorld has better options than SkyTeam, pushed me back to AA.
    As I have stated here before, I honestly believe, based on my flying experience, that AA has been working to improve. Their lounges are better than Delta’s. I am a little spoiled since I currently have KEY status which I will likely lose later this year (let the lamentations begin), but I really do think they are doing better.
    My biggest complaint with AA, and this was true of Delta too, is that while they will work hard to get a flight out on time, once the window is missed everything goes to Hell in a handbasket. e.g., already an hour late DFW-LHR we then spent another hour while the captain rebooted the in-flight entertainment system.
    @Gary: A value added post that would be appreciated is a summary on how to use AA miles on other OW carriers, inc Quatar, esp. if it doesn’t involve having to call a mysterious number in Tuvalu in the middle of the night 🙂

  35. I usually fly the hub airlines (TWA in STL; NW/DL in MSP and now AA in PHX). I have found good and bad about any of the carriers today, but get used to how AA operates and usually I have a good experience (it’s been since the USAir repaint was completed that I can remember a bad one with AA). Last summer my DL experience was AWFUL (3 out of 4 flights were late; horrible board process; no flight info screens working at DTW; flight attendant missed several rows of service and then had an attitude when we call her/them back), but know it happens and will fly DL again when it makes sense. AA has taken good care of both my wife and I (she fly’s more than I do now) and so long as that continues, they will get our business and support. I do like the install of power, larger bins, the new seats (yes I do find them comfortable. . .sorry) hi-speed WIFI and the tablet holders ( 3 out of 4 DL flights had no IFE and the one that did, it didn’t work) so much prefer to prop up my tablet and watch Live TV. I agree the 30 inches is getting tight but European airlines have been there or less for years and DL and UA are equally tight. Plus the new restrooms (DL, UA, AK and SW have them too) need to go, but overall I am happy with AA, the route system and I have had few performance complaints in the past several years.

  36. Gary, if the logic on married segments was to offer routings that people would not otherwise pay cash for, you would not see the common situation where for example a flight from DFW to LHR routes thru RDU, but if you attempt to book RDU to London you get routed through PHL. They are strictly window dressing

  37. “There’s little underseat storage in first class despite not offering seat back entertainment that sometimes requires a box taking up space”

    Been flying a lot of converted 738s lately Gary and figured it out…they have lowered the seats to the floor so the overhead bins hang lower and therefore hold more. Quite right, not enough space for my 17 in screen laptop in the middle…have to cram it into the little slice in front of my seat.

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