Over on Tim Hoch’s blog, he has an open letter to American Airlines in the wake of their bankruptcy. Rather than simply leave comments, I’d like to respond to several of his points here. Text in italics, below, is from his original post (linked above).
Every time I fly on one of your planes, it’s a beating. And every time I talk to anyone else who has flown on one of your planes, they describe the experience by using some combination of the words “ass” and “whip.”
I’ve flown 120 segments on AA this year. I’d describe none of them as a beating or a whipping. I’ve certainly had delays, including a 4+ hour delay from DFW to Honolulu while maintenance changed the same part twice, but with that volume it’s to be expected. For what it’s worth, most of my maintenance delays are on the MD-80′s, the old planes American is working hardest to get rid of.
You extort cash for headphones that are as acoustically viable as an empty can of green beans with a string, blankets and pillows that should be quarantined by the Centers for Disease Control, and extra baggage.
Who buys airplane headphones? With the bevy of portable devices that have been on the market in the last ten years, and the advent of smartphones and tablets, who doesn’t travel with headphones? As for the blankets and pillows, they’ve always been presented to me in plastic bags, either new or recently cleaned. I’m not sure where the dirty pillows and blankets you claim to be getting have come from. The next time you’re boarding an aircraft, look around at the fresh new blankets and pillows.
contrary to what you may believe, it’s not really about the money, it’s about the message. Your employees do not mind sacrifice, they just want management to share a little of the sacrifice.
On this point, I agree completely. The culture at American Airlines is not one of shared goals, and it shows. The flight crews and cabin crews go out of their way to make flying a pleasurable experience. Customer service on the phones is significantly higher than I receive with any other airline, especially the Executive Platinum desk. Management, however, is a morass of impediments to satisfaction, from line managers for the gate agents to those in the baggage claims department, each seems to have the job of stonewalling against customer needs and upholding a company line that serves no purpose other than to infuriate. This type of attitude and action permeates down from the top – and it was more and more clear every day that without a change in upper management, American was never going to get back on track.
Hire 150 “American Airlines Amusement Ambassadors” whose only job is to walk your gates, fly your planes meet with your employees and learn how to make the experience of flying more enjoyable.
Better yet, empower your employees to resolve problems and act on behalf of the customer. Don’t spend money for new headcount to do this – allocate that money to a customer service budget to resolve customer issues on the spot. Customer service budgets don’t need benefits, don’t draw pensions and don’t take sick days or vacation days. Let your employees fix problems – they’re the ones that encounter them. For a reference on how to do this, look at Apple. 10 years of JD Powers awards can’t be wrong… and they get to charge a premium for their products because you get that higher quality of service when you’re their customer. It could be the same for you…
Offer creature comforts. Your gate waiting areas are horrendous. Segregate areas for families with children, offer more space to place luggage and spread out. Provide free Wi-Fi and multiple electrical outlets/charging stations.
Tim, American Airlines doesn’t own their gate areas (for the most part) – the airports do. To counter this, American has the Admiral’s Clubs. There are several ways in other than purchasing a membership, and even if you buy a membership, it’s worth every penny. For the infrequent traveler, American offers the Five Star program which includes lounge access while you wait.
Simplify. When I try to make a reservation at aa.com I feel like I am wandering through a maze constructed by Rube Goldberg’s demonic half-brother. The combinations of schedules and fares change by the minute
Welcome to the world of deregulated airlines. While we don’t agree about their website, there are enough other places to buy tickets (Expedia, etc.) that this shouldn’t really matter. For fares changing? This is why sites like Bing and Kayak offer fare advice, and why sites like ExpertFlyer sell access to fare information and fare bucket availability.
If a plane is going to be late, give frequent, honest updates.
Another point where we agree. When I get a text from TripIt 10 minutes before I get an announcement from gate staff or cabin crews, something is wrong. I shouldn’t have to rely on a third-party service to get up-to-date information that they get from you in the first place.
Overall, I sense the frustration in Tim’s letter. I don’t agree with all his points, but he seems to understand the nature of the problem – American has upper-management issues that must be resolved, quickly, and turn the culture of the organization around so that employees are empowered and actually feel like valued, vital parts of the organization. When they do, they need to be compensated appropriately for it, and recognition for being the best of the best will follow. It can be done… the question is: will it?