An American Airlines Flight Attendant Tells Her CEO What She Thinks of Business Class

At an employee question and answer session this past week an American Airlines flight attendant asked about customer surveys after a flight. The flight attendant had recently flown business class on both American and on Air France between Santiago and Shanghai and was surprised to get surveyed by Air France but not by American.

American’s CEO Doug Parker asked how the experience compared between the two carriers. She told him that the “comfort of the seat..the crew also” were outstanding on American. While she probably flew Air France Boeing 777s, where American and Air France offer comparable seats, if she took the late night departure from Paris to Shanghai that would’ve been operated by an Air France Airbus A380 — which still has angled seats.


Air France A380 Business Class

Was this American flight attendant happy with the overall experience, though? No — because of “[t]he ground personnel at the airport, in the boarding, we had super bad experience with American.” It turns out she was traveling with two emotional support dogs, and felt the gate agent was rude to her about how quickly she boarded and the bags she was bringing on in addition to the dogs. Air France is one of the most dog-friendly airlines in the world.

Parker responded that,

Our survey results do show us, particularly on international flights other than 767s which are old, the product that we’re putting out there and the product that our flight attendants are delivering is as good as any international carrier out there.

And I actually think that Doug Parker is right. They have a very competitive business class seat on their Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s. The seats on their 767 (Thompson Vantage, a commonly used product) are poor, and Boeing 757s have flat seats but lack direct aisle access.

American’s business class bedding is much improved compared to two years ago. I used to feel it was important to bring your own pillow flying American Airlines business class, because the postage stamp-sized one they’d give you wouldn’t give your head much support. That’s changed. I even like American’s new business class amenity kits.

Where American’s business class product needs improvement is:

  • Service. American’s crews are too variable. They also shouldn’t pick up noise cancelling headphones an hour or more prior to landing, especially on overnight flights were passengers are trying to sleep.

  • Food. The move towards pre-plated has led to some meals that look worse than they taste.

  • Internet. Panasonic internet is awful.

If you eat before flying, and don’t draw a bad crew (or don’t need much from them — business class really is about the seat and sleeping), then American Airlines business class is competitive with the best in the world. I think Air France actually may be the best transatlantic business class, avoiding their Airbus A380s. However American’s is up there and certainly adequate.


American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Business Class

Indeed, a pilot also asked Parker what the airline is going to do about its inferior transatlantic business class product, tied to JetBlue’s plan to put their Mint business class into the market, and Parker responded that American’s business class is as good or better than anything else in the market and better than British Airways business class. He’s right.

They don’t get enough credit for that though because of a reverse halo effect from the back of the cabin, a subpar coach experience – which is where most people fly – leads to a reputation that makes it hard to envision American Airlines as a premium carrier. The truth is they’re a lot better in international business class than they’re often given credit for, and even their employees don’t realize it.

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. Gary,

    Can you expand on, or do you have more information or insight, to the American Airline flight attendant who flies with emotional support animals?

    Did I read that wrong? ” traveling with two emotional support dogs”…

  2. So, will you fly AA to Hong Kong or Cathay? Tokyo, AA or JAL? Award travel or revenue? Doesn’t really matter does it?

    This is the question. Otherwise the post seems like an ad for AA. Or a justification for your loyalty to AA.

  3. Gary,

    I flew JFK-LHR and while the hard product on the 777-3 is great, you’re out of your mind to think that the service is anything but average or below average.

    I gave my headset to the crew before take off so I could sleep, gave them the seat number, reconfirmed it, told to just wake me for coffee 30m before landing. 1h5m before landing woken up for the headset. Then had to chase a flight attendant down for coffee because they were all standing in the walkway talking. When the girlfriend tried to talk through the galley because that had space to get by she got yelled at.

    American is inconsistent, their soft product is atrocious at it’s worst and average at it’s best.

    I’m an ExecPlat and steered a colleague with a 12K ticket to buy Delta because if you’re spending that much money, why do it on AA, especially with their issue with delays and cancellations.

    That colleague now only intends to fly DL after those flights.

    As people who can afford J and as they make these FF programs worse, why if I can pay for J do I give a crap about the miles? They reward me for high spend, but I don’t need those miles if the experience is crap.

  4. If she needs 2 emotional support dogs she’s in the wrong line of work. Bet she doesn’t fly with them when working! And how is she supposed to deal with stress and emergencies if she can’t be away from her dogs??????

  5. @JohnB: I don’t get the sense that Gary is loyal to AA; I see more critical posts about AA’s service/policies than praise and oftentimes think the opposite – that Gary has it out for AA! That being said, I do appreciate the critical viewpoints he takes as it is an interesting perspective.

  6. We flew Biz/1st (787-9, 737-8) TUS-DFW-MAD, came home CDG-DFW-TUS two summers back on AAL. Good seat, got some sleep, although the cabin was warm on the CDG-DFW leg. Service was pretty good on the intl legs, food was OK to good, plenty of booze. We used 350,000 FFMs to book and the total fare came to about a grand for 2 pax. Plenty of bathrooms on that 787-9, one large one in particular between Biz and PE.

    I’ve given up expecting much from AAL, their fleet and crews are simply too disparate to ever reconcile in my view, the wide range of cabins on the 737-8 being a prime example. While we use the FFMs for 1st class for my spouse to visit her family on the east coast on her solo trips, our joint trips, be it the east coast or close in Europe, will be outright purchases and on DAL.

  7. It is difficult to separate the full American experience from check-in to off-boarding. The experience is inconsistent.

  8. Your correct in AF having a better biz class transatlantic and yes the 380’s are getting long in the tooth, even with the refresh in LePremier. Their new biz cabins should be the best in class. Service on AF for Americans is like going to a Deli in NYC if your being treated nice something’s wrong !!

    I avoid AA especially internationally even though AS is my main carrier besides all you see is main cabin

  9. Calling Gary a cheerleader for American is laughable. I don’t always agree, but he calls ‘em like he sees ‘em.

    Personally, the 767’s aside, I don’t think AA’s transatlantic coach product is uncompetitive either – compared with, for example, BA or KLM. Food is equivalent (KLM) or superior (BA) on American. I have not flown the ME3 or Asian carriers so have no basis for comparison but I suspect American falls short here.

    The unreliability, inconsistency, and lack of vision about who they should be seem to me to be the problem with this once great airline.

  10. “And I actually think that Doug Parker is right. They have a very competitive business class seat on their Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s. The seats on their 767 (Thompson Vantage, a commonly used product) are poor, and Boeing 757s have flat seats but lack direct aisle access.”

    We actually had this discussion at dinner last night. I said the 787 flights on AA whether to Australia, South America, or Europe do compare quite well with international long-haul flights on other carriers whereas the 767 experience is still so awful as to be literally unfathomable how they can still fly this plane.

    It’s a tale of two different airlines and the 787 story is the narrative they want.

  11. I flew AA business class JFK to Barcelona twice, in October 2016 and this past October. The flights were miles apart in experience! The first I got served individual courses on a tablecloth delicious food, had a big monitor to watch movies and had a spacious lie fly bed with really friendly service. This last time, no tablecloth, the food was almost inedible, the bread presented still wrapped in plastic, my monitor small, and the seat did not lie flat and the service indifferent at best. I felt like I was sleeping in a vise grip. I wouldn’t call that comparable at all to other transatlantic service I’ve had, and it certainly wouldn’t be my airline of choice to fly across.

  12. @ Stephanie Woods:

    Huh? If you flew AA to BCN this past October (2018) and did not have a lie flat seat, had bread wrapped in plastic, and had a small monitor you certainly were not in business class. You may have been in Premium Economy – something that did not exist on AA 2016.

    —-

    This may be best article Gary has written in a long time. It’s absolutely spot-on.

  13. Please explain the emotional support dogs story. You can’t leave us hanging on this one. I won’t be able to sleep until I know more.

  14. I fly the LAX/LHR route in business class for work. The crews are always different in attitude and service; typically being mediocre at best. They’re very senior and just don’t seem to care or very junior without a decent education. Give me a BA, DL or VS crew. Yes, the seats are great, as is the bedding. The food is typically inedible and the ‘hot’ breakfast is never (EVER) heated properly in my experience; eggs are barely warmed on the outside, cold on the inside, rolls are cold and hard, and the fruit isn’t ripe. I’m not being snobby, buy why offer the product if it’s not executed properly? So, yes, for the price you pay, if you only want to sleep, have zero offerings outside of a bed, zero interactions with the crew, and a semi cleaned bathroom, fly American.

  15. Perhaps the attendant was transporting the dogs to users at their final destination? But if so, then why not cargo, like other pets? Hmmm?

  16. “she was traveling with two emotional support dogs…”

    Sorry, but this flight attendant is ruining it for everyone. I barely keep it together when anyone has an ESA, now I have to believe that a woman whose job is to BE IN AN AIRPLANE ALL DAY can somehow do it when in uniform but is just so fragile that she needs Pookums and Snookums to come with her across the globe? Give me a break.

  17. Parker is wrong because he failed to consider the mediocre meals in business class. It is inferior to BA’s food for purchase in Europe (when provided by Marks & Spencer).

  18. Maybe the emotional support dogs weren’t hers…but were with someone she was travelling with…

    It’s a much simpler explanation than an FA who requires emotional support dogs to fly…

  19. Business class is about the seat as fine dining is about the food. You can’t have a good fine fine dining experience if the service is awful, and AA’s business class service is often awful and rarely if ever better than mediocre, starting from the long check in lines to the the on board crew that wakes passengers up for preflight service so they don’t have to work last ;knife requests to the almost always on fasten seat belt.

    I really don’t understand how you can say that AA doesn’t get enough credit: it’s an inconsistent service you can’t rely on and generally 2 stars at best. Give me a BA window seat any day, and of course Singapore, Air France, Cathay, ANA, SAS, Swiss and on and on. Maybe they’re better than UA; I wouldn’t know, but I don’t think it takes much.

  20. It’s far too inconsistent to be world class: one flight is almost perfect , with great understated service, but on the next it’s just as likely to be staffed by a pack of unpleasant, barking grannies.

  21. And yet we get a full page spread about UA tweaking pajamas when its biz class soft product is the same, with better lounges for intl biz class customers.

    Fact of the matter is both AA and UA’s onboard food is not competitive with Air France, even British Airways with its upgrades.

  22. Air France has had a pet-friendly reputation for years. Twenty years ago, my spouse and I flew from IAD to CDG on United, and then Air France, via JNB to Maputo, Mozambique. United gave us the check-in from hell. The rest was wonderful. Our travel agent said, “Air France will treat your two cats better than they’ll treat you.”

  23. I’d say Parker is right in the 777 (especially 777-200s) and 787 being a competitive business class experience. In terms of hard product I put it up there with Cathay pacific. The bed and pillow are comfortable and the new leather amenity kit is well done. It could use a mattress pad and slippers/PJs which are not avaliable on a lot of flights. Food varies. In February I had panko shrimps and on the way back I had seafood fra diavolo with shrimp (were good) fish (which I didn’t eat) and one squid (good). I understand plating on one tray especially on both these nighttime flights. The flagship lounge in jfk is the best I’ve been in. The bathrooms in business were very nicely done with faux tile flooring and a rectangle elevated porcelain sink. One bathroom was handicap accessible and double the size which most people used and it awesome to have the space. The cabin was also done very well with the paneling decoration and the self service bar area.

    Crew wise that is an area of note. On my two flights I’d say American has decent service by “U.S.” standards. These were nighttime flights but of course the service was not like on Lufthansa business and that is why Lufthansa can pull off bringing courses separately while the AA flight attendants couldn’t be trusted to do it right. The difference is European airlines have young mostly under 35 cabin crews who are mostly attractive (aside from a couple of non westerners who weren’t) and energetic. American because of unions had a mix but I’d say quite a bit older and differently not attractive. In Europe the service industry gets the best of the best while in America it is opposite. On my way back one flight attendant was a 65-70 year old woman with grey hair. You’d think people would move on.

    After the great hard product and fine service experience American Airlines on business is something to look forward too. Premium economy is also pretty good. Economy is economy.

  24. If you need two emotional support animals to make it on a plane…you should stay on the ground.
    Perhaps they weren’t emotional support animals but trained dogs for the disabled? That would make a bit more sense.

  25. Interesting article about American Airlines. In this day of so called Make America Great Again, I hope that if an American living in the United States truly wants to Make America Great Again. Although some make love the slogan that President Bill Clinton used and now President Donald Trump uses and some may hate it. My hope is that all in the United States want to make it happen. That being said criticism can be very good if those criticized are done so with intention to actually help to make someone (AA) better and that the one criticized (AA) actually want to change for the better. Does American Airlines need to improve sure as most all Airlines do. One thing I NEVER seem to read about what American Airlines is doing better than the others and that is employ maintenance working in the United States (trying to make America Great again).

  26. Can i just tell you how happy it makes me that you call out American on Panasonic internet?

    Its actually worse, IMHO, than having no internet at all, because the passenger is counting on the internet access being available and the Panasonic internet is so entirely unreliable that you can’t count on even the simplest access, especially over the South Pacific.

    Anyway, thanks for that.

  27. John Hoffer wrote:
    “The difference is European airlines have young mostly under 35 cabin crews who are mostly attractive (aside from a couple of non westerners who weren’t)”
    What exactly is a westerner? So non-westerners are not attractive? Which KKK branch do you belong to?

  28. Totally Agree that AA’s hard product on the newer widebodies is heads and shoulders above the rest. Coach or Main Cabin is on par. Usually the inflight service is 50/50 as is the food, I find the gate agents to be the real issue and it’s usually the old US Airways ones on the east coast, especially Philly.

  29. “And I actually think that Doug Parker is right. They have a very competitive business class seat on their Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s.”

    That’s not what he said. He said their product is competitive with the other airlines. And that’s just flat out incorrect.

    When you factor in customer service and operational reliability (you know, kind of important things in the whole “product we’re delivering” grand scheme of things), AA is towards the bottom.

    Their seat is competitive. That’s it. Every other facet of the AA experience for TATL business travelers is industry worst or close to it.

  30. AA Short-term issues:
    – Customer service from all crews (ground, gate, air, corporate)
    – Reliability and maintenance
    – Food (if you fly First/Business)

    AA Mid/Long-term issues:
    – Identity: Are you a budget, luxury or a mainstream competitor? Decide.
    – Corporate strategy: Cut costs or invest? I believe AA is investing in newer aircraft so this is underway. How they implement those new aircraft is a concern.
    – Direction: Is this progress going to reveal an airline that loyal customers appreciate? Since the US Air takeover, that appears to be a No.
    – Executive management: Are they currently deserving to be rewarded based on the results up until now?

    To be a winner, I truly believe that everyone (especially AA Management) needs to stop comparing AA against DL. AA should stand apart from DL in a favorable way, not copy every little thing DL does. If not, just merge with DL already.

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