Apr. 14 - Poor service from flight attendants may cost American Airlines Inc. crucial business customers in the Northeast, according to focus groups with some of the carrier's top customers.
Fort Worth-based American detailed the bad news in a recent letter sent to thousands of flight attendants – and asked them to improve their performance.
If it weren't for American's schedule and frequent-flier program, top corporate fliers said, they'd switch carriers, according to the letter from American regional manager John Tiliacos. Travel managers at major companies "are being pressured by their employees to seek an alternate carrier to do business with instead of American," the letter said.
Several thousand flight attendants based in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., received the letter, which was dated March 30.
A senior American official said the direct tone of the letter reflects the kind of cultural changes being made under chief executive Gerard Arpey, who took the top job at the airline nearly a year ago.
"What we're trying to do in the future is be a little more open and direct and honest with our employees," said Roger Frizzell, vice president of corporate communications and advertising. "We're not going to sugarcoat the news to them."
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing American flight crews, acknowledged the letter but declined to comment on it. The carrier has 25,000 flight attendants, with about 6,000 of them on furlough.
The group collectively agreed to give back $340 million in annual wages and benefits and agreed to work more hours to earn those reduced wages, part of the company's painful restructuring that cut $4 billion from its costs and kept it solvent.
Among the complaints from corporate customers, some of whom recently switched to American from bankrupt United Airlines Inc.:
-- Flight attendants weren't enthusiastic, friendly or helpful.
-- Flight attendants complain to customers about pay cuts and work conditions and blame poor service on cost cutting.
-- "We are afraid of your flight attendants and afraid to ask for anything, as they seem annoyed when we do ask for something," one client said.
The letter quotes an unnamed managing director of global operations for one customer telling American: "You are making it very difficult for us to make our people fly AA because of your poor service."
American is engaged in a brutal fight for travelers in the Northeast, especially the Boston and New York markets. Along with United and other large network rivals, American is dueling with upstart JetBlue Airways Corp. and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co., which consistently wins high marks for its no-frills but high-energy customer service.
The letter from Mr. Tiliacos offered some encouraging words, praising American's flight attendants as "without question the very best in our industry."
One consultant agreed that American has service problems.
American's service quality isn't as good as United's right now, said industry consultant Michael Boyd of the Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colo.
American should count itself lucky that United, the nation's No. 2 carrier, is busy reorganizing itself in bankruptcy protection and doesn't have the resources to try to swipe American's customers, he said.
"I fly a lot, and I'm telling you, if United ever gets its act together, American's in trouble," said Mr. Boyd. "United's customer service is keeping them in the game. American has great management talent, but the passenger in Chicago doesn't care who's in the front office; they care about who's in the cabin."
Under Mr. Arpey, American wants to build a better relationship with employees. He's established a series of new working groups that make decisions at all levels of the airline, and those groups are made up of managers and front-line employees.
Mr. Arpey has recognized that morale remains a serious problem at the carrier. He introduced a bonus system that pays cash if the airline's on-time rating is high enough or if its customer service ranking in a monthly survey reaches at least No. 6 of airlines surveyed.
In the two months it's been in place, the program hasn't paid any bonus money, said spokesman Tim Wagner. But American has made progress in the customer service survey, rising to 8th place from 12th in the first two months, he said.
NIKV69 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 2, posted (11 years 1 week 4 days 5 hours ago) and read 2632 times:
What makes me laugh is they say the AA FAs are the best in the industry, well this is definitely not true, if it was that memo wouldn't have gone out and we would not even be talking about this now. American has a problem on it's hands. If it wasn't for it's loyal biz pax they would be in a bad spot. Especially with B6 gaining popularity. Sounds like moral is in the toilet and these FAs have no reservations talking about it openly which is the first sign you have lost the trust of your troops, once again I thank GOD I fly CO!
Flyguyclt From United States of America, joined Aug 2005, 537 posts, RR: 8
Reply 3, posted (11 years 1 week 4 days 5 hours ago) and read 2563 times:
Let me get this right. AA is letting the flight attendants and flying public know that American Airlines thinks its flight attendants are a liability and wonder why no one produces? This is a co-dependent environment. Or more simply put. It is like working for an alcoholic parent. No matter how hard you work, no matter what you do, it is still your fault at the end of the day. Until corporations everywhere in the world start treating their employees with some respect and dignity, there will be NOTHING anyone can do to change the way people act. In my opinion, when you remove respect. You remove the possibility of getting what you want in the long run. On a deeper level. Some maybe still having delayed issues on a mental side with what happened on 9-11. I am glad that so many hero's where honored from that awful day in human history. But the fact still remains that flight attendants where the first to be slottered and NO ONE basically cared and people still think that even after all the new training, we just sling cokes at 45.000. It is all over these threads time in and time out. From people thinking they have a right to know where the sky marshals are sitting to dictating when you can use a cell phone. Flight Attendants time to time must take responsibility in their actions with customers when out of line. But sometimes, getting beat up everyday for just doing your job. Well, it can make a person a little coarse from time to time.
Let me strongly clarify however, I am NOT an AA flight attendant nor do I think they have the best flight attendants in the world. I also am a former Braniff employee and have NO respect for the AA way of doing this at all ! Just ask any former airline employee of a company AA has gone after or purchased. They will tell you the same story. While the company has been very successful is making AA strong. The ethics along the way could be debated.
4jaded From United States of America, joined Apr 2004, 248 posts, RR: 0
Reply 4, posted (11 years 1 week 4 days 4 hours ago) and read 2491 times:
It is very true. AA has a horrific culture. I worked there for 15 years. It is a kill or be killed culture at the airport. I left of my own free will several years ago and still maintain contacts inside that have told me " if you thought it was bad then you should see it now". While I never worked inflight myself I had several hundred flights on aa over the years /obviously/. AA FA's tend to think of themselves as safety drones and tend to have a "hall monitor" mentality, much like you see on sitcoms or would expect in prison. The level of contempt they have for everyone /customers, the company etc./ is palpable. However that is true in almost any public contact position there. It goes back to the Uncle Bob days when being aggressive was the way of the world. It worked for along while with great results however when Carty came to power he attempted to turn AA into a " kinder gentler place" which was not implemented well nor recieved well by the troops. So ingrained is the "military" mentality at AA that when the changes started coming they were viewed with great contempt as being weak and unmanigable. It was much like what Iraq is going through now. AA has issues for sure lets just hope that they have the time to either reorganize into a human democracy or return to a military style leadership before they completly loose their way.
Aa61hvy From United States of America, joined Nov 1999, 13977 posts, RR: 56
Reply 5, posted (11 years 1 week 4 days ago) and read 2377 times:
Unfortunately I agree.. I have been flying a lot in the past 4 months. Out of 16 flights, I was greeted 1 time. I also never received a good by when I was deplaning. Every time I was on an aisle seat I got hit with the drink cart. It was a big hit too (I heard it over my headphones) with no apology, or an FA even looking back. I'm a big guy so my elbow tends to hang off the edge. I'm not asking for a massage from the FA, just a smile, a hello, a sorry (if I was hit) and a good bye. Nothing much.
PanAm747 From United States of America, joined Feb 2004, 4242 posts, RR: 8
Reply 6, posted (11 years 1 week 4 days ago) and read 2317 times:
So let me ask this question: Why are the low-cost carriers so successful and some of the legacy carriers having such a hard time?
I think with any long-term successful company, it comes down to respect. While any company is going to have disagreements at some point, the LCC's generally tend to treat their employees much better over the long term. Ask an employee of Southwest of JetBlue about their work environment, and you'll probably get a very positive answer.
Legacy carriers, with the possible exception of Continental, generally treat their employees as serfs. Bad decisions by management are not a problem, because the serfs are there to suffer the wrath of disgruntled passengers. It's so easy to blame the f/a's when there's no meals or the gate agent when the flight is over-booked.
It is a sad state of affairs in this country when we berate people in every sector of the work force for wanting a bit of job security, a raise when economic conditions warrant it, and maybe some kind of health insurance. Airline employees are no longer seen as people there to ensure we get where we are going, but more as hindrances. Ivory tower management is fine with this, as they have their golden parachutes and are completely isolated from their day-to-day unrealistic decisions. Worst of all, if employees actually do their job well, and give 110% every day, management will take the credit and expect even more, which simply is not sustainable in the long run.
Southwest and JetBlue are actually throwbacks to the era when airlines were run by people who loved to fly (think of Eddie Rickenbacker at Eastern or Juan Trippe in the glory days). LCC management cares about their airline, and they frequently talk to their employees, seeking their input. Legacy carriers nowadays treat their employees as less than human - they are the enemy of making money, and must be told that all the time. Realistically, if you feel you are of less than zero value to a company (which looks down on you with a disdain not seen since the British class system of the late 1800's), and knowing you could lose your job on a whim at any time, where's the motivation to provide top-notch service?
And anyone who says "they should start looking for another job" obviously has never been told this to their face. How would you feel if all your hard work and years of service was for absolutely nothing? Do NOT judge a man (or woman) until you have walked a mile in his or her shoes!
Pan Am:The World's Most Experienced Airline - P(oor) S(ailor's) A(irline): San Diego's Hometown Airline-Catch Our Smile!
Milemaster From United States of America, joined Mar 2001, 1083 posts, RR: 2
Reply 7, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 23 hours ago) and read 2275 times:
I'm at ORD right now awaiting my connection to DFW.. I was on American Eagle Flt #4203 OMA-ORD today and when I was boarding my EMB RJ, I hit my head HARD on the doorway upon entering. The flight attendant (Shawna) just looked at me.. didn't say a word. Not even a "That looked like that hurt." or "Are you okay, sir?". Two passengers gasped when they saw my head impact the plane..
I have a knot on just above my hairline.
If that doesn't indicate a lack of giving a damn about a passenger's impression in regards to a positive customer service experience, I don't know what does.
I'm tired of receiving mental middle fingers from so many AA cabin crew for simply being a passenger on their airline.
AgnusBymaster From United States of America, joined Feb 2001, 652 posts, RR: 0
Reply 8, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 23 hours ago) and read 2250 times:
I like to fly AA because of the legroom. The routes I fly aren't served by many 757s or A300s, so I haven't seen LRTC yet. My impression is that flight attendants are about the same on every airline...I haven't noticed AA as being better or worse than the others...some good some bad.
Ckfred From United States of America, joined Apr 2001, 5442 posts, RR: 1
Reply 10, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 22 hours ago) and read 2211 times:
I'm an AMR shareholder, and I fly AA most of the time. While there are F/As who don't care for their jobs, there are ones that shine. But, that is true in almost any large business.
Wal-Mart would have you believe that they have the best employees in the world. I can't remember the last time the greeter actually said hello or a cashier acted like he/she that I wasn't a nuisance.
That said, what is happening at AA is a two-way street. Yes, management needs to treat their employees better. Unlike GM, which sells a manufactured product, AA sells a service delivered by employees. Treat the employees poorly, and they will treat the customers poorly.
On the other hand, F/As, and other employees who interact with customers, can't be so shortsighted. The customer who you ignore or mistreat may be the person who decided to take a multi-million corporate account to UA, DL, or CO. If an F/A was flying non-rev, would he/she want to be treated the way he/she treats passengers? I don't think so.
A friend of mine is an AA pilot. Although he is irked with management, he still thinks AA is head and shoulders better than any other carrier. But he could not convince F/As that forcing AA into bankruptcy was a bad idea. Yes, it would get Carty booted, but more people would lose their jobs, vendors would get stiffed in court, shareholders would be left with worthless stock, and taxpayers would be stuck with some of the costs.
I learned years ago that if someone at my firm screws up, and the client screams at me, I apologize and fix the problem. I don't point fingers at other employees. I don't try to blame the client, absent his doing something that he was strongly advised not to do. And I don't tell the client that the partners are a bunch of tightfisted jerks.
But before anyone starts singing the praises of WN, remember that the F/As there have been without a contract for a long time and are in a striking mood. Apparently, the new president, who started out as Herb's secretray, as not very popular. It just shows you when any business gets big enough, keeping everyone happy is not that easy.
CitationJet From United States of America, joined Mar 2003, 2552 posts, RR: 3
Reply 11, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 22 hours ago) and read 2206 times:
My wife worked for AA for 12 years as a ticket agent. She left AA 6 years ago when her station went Eagle.
There was one AA employee who they tried but to fire because of her attitude towards the customer as an AA employee. As an Eagle employee she is one of the best that they have. And she didn't change. Just the expectation level was lowered.
As for AA F/A's, on a OGG-DFW flight last fall, the F/As provided very little service. Once during flight I found them all playing cards in the galley.
A month later I flew Austrian Airlines from Washington to Vienna, also in coach. The level of service was much higher.
Boeing Flown: 701,702,703;717;720;721,722;731,732,733,734,735,737,738,739;741,742,743,744,747SP;752,753;762,763;772,773.
UALFAson From United States of America, joined Mar 2004, 776 posts, RR: 3
Reply 13, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 21 hours ago) and read 2100 times:
I'd like to know why just the FAs have been singled out for berating. In my frequent experience with AA, ALL their employee groups have consistently demonstrated a total lack of customer service.
From the DCA gate agent who held us hostage on an overbooked flight until 8 people stormed off in disgust to the DFW gate agent who yelled so much at a teenage girl for missing her connection that he made her cry even though our flight was delayed by weather. The last straw was the LGB ticket counter agents this Thanksgiving who laughed and joked and REFUSED to check-in a single passenger, requiring dozens of us to line up to use 2 inconveniently located self check-in machines.
I've gone from almost being an AAdvantge Gold to refusing to fly AA again.
"We hope you've enjoyed flying with us as much as we've enjoyed taking you for a ride."
N777UA From United States of America, joined Mar 2010, 0 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 17 hours ago) and read 2001 times:
It's unfortunate American employees are being unfriendly to consumers. It is the sense of being the largest airline in the world that lends a sense of complacency and invulnerability to an airline and it's workforce.....
...look what happened to United.
Thanks to chapter 11, United has learned it is not invisible, and must earn it's good reputation back, which it is doing. United right now is a sleeping giant, in a few months time bankruptcy will be over and United can continue it's climb back to the top.
Artsyman From United States of America, joined Feb 2001, 4747 posts, RR: 33
Reply 15, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 16 hours ago) and read 1965 times:
If we are being honest, this is a problem at all carriers. I've seen at Jetblue, Southwest, Northwest, Continental, US, Delta... they all have it. You cannot have 10,000 -100,000 employees working in an industry that is enduring the problems that this one is having, and not have some bad apples.
DAYGS From United States of America, joined Apr 2004, 62 posts, RR: 0
Reply 16, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 16 hours ago) and read 1922 times:
I have to agree that this isn't just an AA problem. However, I flew UA back in February and I was VERY impressed with their Customer Service Agents and Flight Attendants. The Planes were clean, flights on time and the airport check-in process was smooth. It seems like they're taking the "bull by the horns".
Artsyman From United States of America, joined Feb 2001, 4747 posts, RR: 33
Reply 17, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 16 hours ago) and read 1900 times:
While I am not here to bash United, I am still hearing more or less the same complaints about old, rude flight attendants on UAL. While there is no doubt that UAL is making efforts, the rude ones remain there also.
Dazed767 From United States of America, joined May 1999, 5510 posts, RR: 51
Reply 19, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 16 hours ago) and read 1839 times:
I've been on some flights they seems to go out of their way, even on a short 2 hour flight, the F/A came back 2 times with a breakfast snack.
I recently took them to NRT (MIA-ORD-NRT-ORD-MIA). It wasn't anything special, and I wasn't too impressed with the crew to NRT and back (I had the same crew). One of them seemed to be a bit irritated and snapy. It's hit or miss as I like to say...pretty much every airline I've flown was either really good, or you had one cranky F/A that ruins it.
SQ25J From United States of America, joined Feb 2004, 308 posts, RR: 0
Reply 20, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 15 hours ago) and read 1763 times:
If AA management is truly committed to solving a perceived service failure on behalf of it's FA's-management should get out of the office and get on the airplanes! They should fly as many flights as possible and if they observe unacceptable service-it should be dealt with accordingly.
I have mixed feelings on this matter-AA management has received negative feedback and now they feel it needs to be adressed bluntly.
I also think there are lots of AA FA's that do a great job!
Finally-times have changed! Passengers need to conceed service will never be the same as the 60, 70, 80's.
JMChladek From United States of America, joined Aug 2003, 331 posts, RR: 0
Reply 22, posted (11 years 1 week 3 days 9 hours ago) and read 1630 times:
I've been on ERJs frequently and it is pretty hard to miss somebody clanging their head on the door frame. Admittedly, I haven't flown AA mainline recently, just American Eagle. Service I would rate as about average with Eagle. It was also OMA-ORD and back. The flight out on Nov 18, the FA was pretty understanding while we were sitting in the aircraft awaiting our slot time to head to Chicago. I was almost at the point of panic since I was likely going to miss my connecting flight at ORD (and did). But, after the chat with the FA, I decided to just sit back and relax since I knew the situation was out of both of our hands and getting angry wasn't going to do anyone any good. Now if the FA had been rude, I suppose I might have acted differently.
In ORD on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, things were pretty much ho-hum at the Eagle gates, but there was one Eagle employee who did since I rather nice rendition of "I'll be home for Christmas" over the PA and that got everyone's spirits up for a bit. I would fly Eagle again if the opportunity presents itself. AA mainline is still likely to be an unknown to me though as CO and NW tend to fly the routes I frequent and do it for a little bit better price and scheduling right now.