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American Airlines

Doug Parker: Passengers Want On-Time Departure Over Great Customer Service

Doug Parker: Passengers Want On-Time Departure Over Great Customer Service
Jeff Edwards

Some American Airlines employees are starting to rebel against a policy they say values on-time departure over customer service – even in circumstances when taking care of passengers couldn’t possibly cause a delay, but CEO Doug Parker countered that departing on time (and ideally arriving on time) is the definition of customer service for a commercial airline.

Gate agents and crews are beginning to question directions from American Airlines (AA) leadership that they say demand on-time departure at nearly any cost. Although at least one pilot has complained to management that the single-minded focus around on-time or early departures is unnecessarily giving passengers the short shrift, CEO Doug Parker says, far from punishing flyers, the strict policies are actually improving the air travel experience.

American Airlines President Robert Isom has earned the nickname “Captain D0” among American Airlines workers for his near-obsession with on-time departures. Now, however, it’s beginning to look as if the moniker is not necessarily a term of endearment. The building friction between the workforce and management reportedly came to a boil during a recent question and answer session between employees and executives.

When an AA captain questioned why it was important to rush to close the cabin door on-time or early in situations where the plane had very little chance of departing on schedule, it was implied that basic customer service considerations such as offering upgrades, retrieving lost items and even loading last-minute bags often take a backseat to the stopwatch – even in situations in which there is nothing to be gained from the exercise. The pilot is said to have marveled that the very employees responsible for customer service are told to instead focus on making sure planes pushback from the gate on time no matter the circumstances.

“The most important thing to customers is that we deliver on our commitment to leave on time and get them to the destination as they have scheduled,” Parker responded to the pilot’s concerns in comments first reported by the Boarding Area’s Gary Leff.

Parker explained that the strict policies are in place because customers have made clear they value on-time departures over niceties such as inflight catering, preflight upgrades or the ability to bring a carry-on bag onto the plane – all amenities that are sometimes curtailed in the name of leaving on schedule.

“If you depart on time, guess what?” Ison pointed out earlier this year. “You have a really good chance of arriving on time. It’s a surprising correlation between the two, right?”

[Photo: CNBC]

View Comments (43)

43 Comments

  1. sfoeuroflyer

    November 19, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    Dear Doug: This is NOT an either or situation. It’s like saying “I would rather have a house than have food to eat”. So, AA we want on time flights AND great service. Both matter a lot and if you don’t understand that, get another job.

  2. strickerj

    November 19, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    Parker’s mentality here seems to imply that on-time departures and customer service are mutually exclusive, whereas in reality they could easily provide both.

  3. mortgage1

    November 19, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    Tell mr parker why i now fly my 8 rt flites a year on southwest

  4. Irpworks

    November 19, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    The pushback AA and other carriers need is from customers more than from gates. We’ve given up most all of the big business “amenities” and enjoy Southwest more. They are late, full, etc. too but most often they all seem happy to have customers to serve. Problems are much less aggravating when the attitude is right, amazingly so. We’ve now tried Southwest to Mexico and will drop United, not for price but service attitude even with having to book our flight to Houston separately.

  5. FlyingNone

    November 19, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    …”because customers made it clear they value on time departures over niceties……” …..how did they make it clear ?…surveys, reviews, complaints, what ?z

  6. texmanufan

    November 19, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    At least we don’t have to choose. AA fails miserably at both.

  7. MaxVO

    MaxVO

    November 20, 2018 at 1:47 am

    Here’s a good candidate for the Carlos Ghosn severance package.

  8. Spanish

    Spanish

    November 20, 2018 at 5:08 am

    It seems like there is a “We will dictate what you want” mentality into this thought processes. Front line employees need to using their discretion, and not just this particular D0 situation.

  9. MileageAddict

    MileageAddict

    November 20, 2018 at 5:46 am

    No Doug, we want both on-time departures and good customer service.

  10. ksandness

    November 20, 2018 at 8:31 am

    My travel is usually not schedule-dependent (I’m self-employed). I can take a bit of a delay as long as I am kept informed and not treated like inconvenient cargo.

    You know, until the 1980s, airlines used to treat passengers decently and compete on service instead of on price. Let the infrequent travelers have their cheap cattle car flights to Orlando. Those of us who travel frequently would rather have a pleasant experience than a timed-to-the-second flight.

    That’s why I prefer to fly foreign airlines whenever I go overseas.

  11. skidooman

    November 20, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    OK, so I have not flow AA in a while. When I did (PEK-DFW) I found service to be good.

    But since apparently service is expandable, that all that they care to deliver is an ontime departure well… I guess I will continue to give my dollars to airlines that want to depart ontime and deliver good service.

  12. emcampbe

    November 20, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    Several falacies:

    – Good customer service and on time departures are mostly not related to one another, so you can do both
    – Using an example in the article about getting catering vs. on-time, if I’m on a, say, US-Europe flight, guess what. Cater the damn plane (and the better option is to cater it on time so it can leave on time – win-win!)
    – Focusing on stringent D0 isn’t really necessary to arrive on times. Especially with the amount of schedule padding done these days, many times a late departure still has the ability to arrive on time.

  13. Prof_Dr_G

    November 21, 2018 at 4:23 am

    Doug cares about one thing – the quarterly earnings report that impacts his bonus. His employees know the truth about his greed, and he does not even know that he has customers. However, he does know that his monopoly is protected by our esteemed leaders in the U.S. government,

  14. see2xu

    November 21, 2018 at 4:28 am

    Airline executives lead the league in tone-deafness. But it gives we paying passengers a glimmer of insight into their mindset, which translates into ever-more creative “revenue enhancing” fees, silly rituals like reciting the higher-yield passengers’ names upon boarding, and ever-more complex and unfathomable fare structures.

    As has been cited, over and over again, the problem is a lack of competition.

  15. wdchuck1

    November 21, 2018 at 4:34 am

    Wrong,, wrong, wrong and i’ve had it and i am not alone! i refuse to be loyal to a company who does not care about me!

    i have been a loyal customer since day 1 of the program and have been top level elite since then with over 9.5MM BIS miles.. i have the capacity to book somewhere between 200-250 EQM’s a year

    i have to be foolish to give up my explat status due to the benefits but all that i need for this is 100K (the spend is not an issue).

    This year, i plan to do a “101 and out” and get a status match with Delta and start to use them domestically and give them a try for one international trip to see how it goes

    Why put up with the reduction of service as a result of PROJECT OASIS when i can fly an airline that has committed to new aircraft that caters to travellers like myself.

  16. mglenn

    November 21, 2018 at 4:47 am

    Several years ago, I had a flight from hell which included American Airlines permanently losing 2 out of my 3 pieces of luggage as well as having NO working bathroom on their flight. Yes that’s right…no working bathroom. To their credit, they did announce this prior to people boarding the one hour connector flight. But it seems they were taking quite the chance. In the course of finding my luggage, I emailed someone from American my problems and mentioned the no-bathroom issue; I have it in writing that their stance was “either fix the bathrooms, or be on time.” There is no rule…or wasn’t back then….that airplanes required a working bathroom (and these days, apparently that extends to no rules requiring a bathroom people can actually fit into) in flight…..only if they are stuck on the tarmac. Oh I could go on and on regarding how customer service is a thing of the past with most airlines)…..

  17. FlyingScientist

    November 21, 2018 at 4:50 am

    On-time arrival is what matters, not on-time departure.

  18. alexmyboy

    November 21, 2018 at 4:54 am

    such a tool

  19. MitchR

    November 21, 2018 at 5:49 am

    As a heavy duty frequent flyer (120k miles on AA alone this year) I would like to tell Mr. Parker that he is blessed with an employee pool in which at least 99% understand that efficiency and customer service go hand in hand. I can usually tell the 1% instantly. Gate agents shooting the breeze and not starting the boarding process early enough. Flight attendants showing up at the gate with a surely look and barking orders to the other FA’s. Then strolling onto the aircraft 20 minutes before boarding time.
    In nearly 40 years of flying I have had about 20 issues in about 10,000 flights. Not a bad track record for the airlines. So instead of saying to the 99% “you’re doing a great job, set an example,” he’s saying, “the surely, nasty, employees that hate passengers and treat them like cattle have a point.”
    They have to be nice to me. My profile shows Exec Platinum status and probably my nearly 4 million miles. When the Exec Platinum line rolls over into the general population, or I’m standing behind a distressed traveler at a counter, I get a taste of the average passenger experience. It’s bad enough without the CEO saying “keep up the good work.”

  20. GDubAZ

    November 21, 2018 at 6:06 am

    ““If you depart on time, guess what?”

    You get to sit on the taxi-way for 25 minutes until a gate becomes available, cuz you arrived “early” – THAT’S WHAT!

  21. dkracing

    November 21, 2018 at 6:06 am

    Dirty Doug is simply speaking from the same position he always has and the one that made him a very wealthy CEO. He knows passengers are hostage to what is left of our US airline industry. It’s not open collusion but this “follow the leader” (and Doug is one of the three leaders). Take something away and the rest of the big three follow suit. Customer service left the conversation years ago. Passengers are at the very bottom of the list below traveling pets who are treated with more regard. He works for the large financial institutions who invest in his stock, not the employees or passengers. Don’t like it? Vote with your wallet when you can and fly the few remaining airlines who still believe in the value of the customers like JetBlue and Southwest. #unemployDoug

  22. dennypayne

    November 21, 2018 at 6:21 am

    Hmm that’s funny, ever since I moved away from Dallas, I’ve been flying Delta and been mostly on time, AND had good service, almost without exception. Every time I’ve flown AA to burn some of my points, I’ve gotten screwed on connections and mostly dealt with surly employees.

  23. mbgaskins

    November 21, 2018 at 6:34 am

    Doug Parker is an idiot. Fire him immediately along with Robert Isom, “MR. OD” who is another idiot.

    They don’t have a clue what their customers want. We want to make our connections. If that means on time departures then that is what it is. But we also want great customer service. If AA could just rise to the level of bad customer service instead of the horrible customer service they provide the late departures wouldn’t be such a big deal. If AA provided great customer service the planes would depart on time more than they do.

    How can anyone this ridiculously stupid rise to this level at an airline.

    On time departures are part of great customer service. The problem is that when planes are late coming in there is no hustle to turn the plane around to get the next flight out on time Southwest busts there buts to do that. Arriving a little late at our final destinations is no biggie. It is the missed connections due to poor customer service such as no gates when we arrive, or no agent to drive the jet bridge, or making departing planes a priority over late arriving planes. It is the missed connection that cause huge delays in our arrival at our final destination.

    Parker is earning big profits today at the expense of his airlines future. He is so alienating passengers that AA will be out of business when the economy turns because he has so alienated his best customers that they wont come back no matter what happens.

    All we want is a little consideration. Well I would certainly settle for a little because it would be a whole lot more than we get today.

  24. topman

    November 21, 2018 at 6:35 am

    He is clearly out of touch with reality. Good customer service AND ontime will keep you in business.

  25. Icecat

    November 21, 2018 at 6:45 am

    Remember before the merger AA motto was “Going for Great”, and since Parker & Co taken over it’s more than “Going fast to ULCC status”.

  26. LL1056

    November 21, 2018 at 7:16 am

    This is not a new concept invented by Mr. Parker, for many years airlines have been pushing for this. Management has created a policy that induces stations/customer service staff to fudge procedures in order to obtain an on-time departure, all for the goal to be named the top on-time airline in the industry. I agree with the opinion of many that both can be attained. I blame not just management but also the flying public. Both groups have created unreasonable expectations and lack of flexibility and logical thought in this process. While we are the beneficiaries of many industry advancement, including but not limited to lower fares, this is no longer the great industry of years past.

  27. Berniecfc

    November 21, 2018 at 7:16 am

    I think there might be a DO missing from Captain DO, should it not read “Captain DO DO”?

  28. Austin787

    November 21, 2018 at 8:22 am

    Many airlines manage on time departures and customer service well. Including Delta which Doug Parker loves to copy – why not copy Delta’s operations and customer service?

  29. ian_btv

    November 21, 2018 at 8:31 am

    I do not fly AA these days purely due to the fact that most of my east coast work is in the NYC area and thus can be accommodated in a non-stop flight from BTV (via JBU, without exception).

    That being said, the two times this year that I flew UAL direct or connecting at ORD, there was a involuntary reroute because the gate was closed early – once at 17 minutes (arguable) and once at >24 minuteschange the official rulesbroadcast the change< for all of us to follow!

  30. POatParker

    November 21, 2018 at 8:37 am

    Parker is an idiot looser, if he truly believes that! He is the most un-customer centric CEO in the industry. He has NO concern for human dignity, for passengers or employees! The sooner he is gone, the better for AA and the industry!
    As everyone said above, good customer service can still be achieved with on time departures. Common sense goes a long way Dougy! You have good people working for you – trust them to do the job right. You are no better than a thug, tyrant trying to control all of your toys! (Seat pitch, smaller bathrooms, more seats, outsourcing maintenance overseas to sub standard practices, risking the lives of passengers and crew, all to save a buck!!!!)
    Grab a scotch Dough, and Go away! Please just go away!

  31. hinshaw

    November 21, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Yet one more example of how these former US Air executives have ruined AA and are either out of touch or don’t care what the customers want. By the way, thanks for ruining what was one of the best frequent flyer programs also..

  32. FlyTex

    November 21, 2018 at 8:51 am

    Oh how I can’t wait for Novermber 29, 2011 to repeat itself. Customer’s do not prefer on-time departures over incredible customer service.

  33. bigislanddave

    November 21, 2018 at 9:09 am

    I have gotten to the gate after they close the doors but while the airplane is till at the gate. Was not allowed on. had to spend the night at a hotel. I had to pay for the hotel. Late due to AA late arrival in CLT. I would rather they hold the airplane for late arriving passengers (like they used to) than leave me behind. I do not mind sitting in an airplane waiting for late arriving passengers. Also have had gate agent at arriving gate call on radio and tell departure gate 7 passengers are coming from late arriving flight only to find gate door closed but airplane still at the gate. We were not allowed on. Mr Parker is wrong.

  34. Superjeff

    November 21, 2018 at 9:18 am

    As most here say, service and on time operations should not be mutually exclusive. I’m a medium status passenger on AA (Plaitinum Pro) and fly often with them, both in economy and First Business (both paid and as upgrades depending on the routing). the new 73Max configuration is awful and so is the LAA 319 configuration. Since fares and fees keep going up anyway, why not keep a semblance of comfort. Mr. Parker, you’ve gone too far to alienate your good business customers (not to mention the one trip a year folks).

  35. financier888

    November 21, 2018 at 9:34 am

    Doug is correct. It’s easy enough to say service is important, but in actuality when everyone has boarded, the push back on time (and ontime arrival) is what keeps people satisfied. Nothing is more frustrating than sitting in a stationary aluminum tube past the scheduled departure. When faced with a curt FA vs prompt pushback, most of us would choose the latter.

  36. alphaod

    November 21, 2018 at 9:48 am

    On-time departures is just a part of good customer service. They are not mutually exclusive.

  37. crunchie

    November 21, 2018 at 9:53 am

    A couple of things I’ve observed over the years of flying HP (chairman), US (chairman) and AA (peasant):
    1. Look at DP’s track record running America West and US Airways and number crunching past (he was really good at that). Customer satisfaction is not on his radar. Employee satisfaction is kept at the so-long-as-they-don’t-strike level. Apart from that, his focus is on increasing profits regardless of the cost/impact as that has direct impact on keeping his own compensation high. Keep the board and shareholders happy, he gets rewarded. Short sighted? Perhaps but if you push it to the brink of a blow up then merge and reset the clock, your total compensation just continues to jump. At 56, DP doesn’t have to worry about his next move. His average annual total comp was in the low millions prior to AA and averaged above 10m in AA. So long as he has enough time to cash out after he leaves, even his great grand children don’t need to worry about money.

    2. Regardless of how many complaints, rants, threats to take business elsewhere, etc…. there’s literally nothing any passenger or passenger group can do that will make a dent on AA. They are so deeply connected with so many corporate travel desks, so long as they keep those relationships alive, passengers have no muscle. Sure, most of us can still chose from a list of approved carriers but it won’t be enough have material impact. Higher profit fares like international business and first class are likely to have even fewer options and less likely to matter for the corporate traveler. Coupled with AA’s reach, they’re pretty well insulated. Might even say they have a moat.

  38. kstupfe

    November 21, 2018 at 10:56 am

    I am a 13 year EX-EP that ended my relationship with the America West rebranding experiment. No issue more infuriates me than the on time departure policy. It is emblematic of the lack of passenger empathy and refocus on moving airplanes instead of serving passengers. Once against AA leadership identfies the right problem only to implemented the wrong and heavy handed solution. How about looking at the other stupid decisions like not isolating your hubs (i.e ORD), not isolating out and backs from chronically late airports, or scheduling too many crews changing aircraft as the reason you operational performance sucks? Maybe the peaking of the hubs can be blamed for congestion? The block times are so padded that any flight leaving with 10 minutes of scheduled departure will usually arrive on time so Ison’s condescending wisdom is so emblematic of the greater problem.
    The very last time I booked a domestic connecting itinerary on AA left me standing at the gate 8 minutes prior to departure for the last flight of the night (plane RON’d at destination so no argument of cascading delay). The agent just matter of factly told me they close the door 10 minutes prior. It didn’t matter it was AA”s inbound delay that caused me to arrive late, or that I was EP and on a paid First Class ticket, I was out of luck.

    All the comments here about corporate travel desks are probably true, but there are many of us who work for small business and get to direct our own 30k of travel and this policy is responsible for most of my budget going to AS and DL in 2018.

  39. vegas005

    November 21, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    Doug has been out of touch for years. I have no idea how he has survived so long considering how incompetent, arrogant and downright stupid he is …

  40. Bear4Asian

    November 21, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    When one fetishizes as AA has apparently done with OTD what one gets are response like this string. It turns policy into brain dead obsession.

    How about common sense?

  41. BMGRAHAM

    November 21, 2018 at 7:40 pm

    Like others I also don’t see why it’s one or the other. Delta somehow manages to do both, most of the time.

  42. OZFLYER86

    November 21, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    think what Parker meant to say is ON TIME ARRIVALS

    Who cares what time aircraft depart as long as they arrive on time, especially when connecting.

    Most airlines pad their timetables.

    eg. actual flying time SYD/MEL is 1 hour but airlines say 1 hour 35 mins, so they can take off late & still arrive early, except when congestion issues around peak hour.

  43. HomerJay

    November 22, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    There’s something about being able to walk and chew gum….

    Not all things in life are mutually exclusive.

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