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American Airlines

Report Sheds Light on American Airlines’ Obsession With on-Time Departures

Report Sheds Light on American Airlines’ Obsession With on-Time Departures
Jeff Edwards

In a conversation with Skiff’s Brian Summers, American Airlines President Robert Isom explained why he has created a culture that prizes on-time departures above other customer service niceties. The airline executive insists that one delayed flight can inconvenience thousands of passengers and cost the airline far more than just time and money.

American Airlines passengers may have noticed a palpable tension in the air during the boarding process. According to a recent Skift report, the often manic determination to make an on-time departure may come down to the uncompromising focus on operations of a single top executive. American Airlines President Robert Isom has even earned the nickname O.D. along the way.

“If you depart on time, guess what?” Ison told Skift’s Brian Summers. “You have a really good chance of arriving on time. It’s a surprising correlation between the two, right?”

Isom wears the nickname “Captain O.D.” (for his notorious insistence on on-time departures) as a badge of honor. He detailed the many factors that must come together in perfect “choreography” in order for a given flight to push back from the gate on schedule. He explained that if even one facet of operations from “ticketing counters to fueling, catering, and cleaning” falls through the cracks, then any hope of an on-time departure can be lost.

Isom noted that even a single early morning flight delay often “cascades through the rest of the day” with little chance for recovery. “You’re not going to just disrupt 150 passengers, or 200 passengers,” he said. “You’re going to ultimately disrupt potentially over 1,000 and lost bags, and staffing, and overtime, and you name it. It’s an issue of disruption.”

Although Isom admitted that AA doesn’t have a perfect record when it comes to on-time performance, he indicated that putting an emphasis on on-time departures might just help countless other less controllable aspect of the airline’s operations to run more smoothly. Summers, however, points out that there is a definite downside to Isom’s vigilance when it comes to keeping the planes running on time. The culture that preaches on-time departure at nearly any cost means flights are unlikely to wait for passengers with delayed connections – even for a few minutes. In other words, customer service can at times be sacrificed in the name of maintaining the departure schedule.

Passengers frequently complain that today’s mega-carriers have a tendency to forget that flyers are human beings and instead hyper-focus on day-to-day the logistics of air travel to the exclusion of common sense customer service. Isom’s near obsession with on-time departures isn’t likely to change that perception. For passengers less concerned about the first class menu options and more interested in getting from point A to point B on time, however, the pressure to make an on-time departure might be a welcome change in attitude.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (15)


  1. formeraa

    October 18, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    AA has a terrible on-time record these days. Obviously, the front line employees are not following his “mandates”. I have been on six AA flights lately. 4 out of the 6 have been late (?15 minutes late). 1 was 7 minutes late and 1 was a couple of minutes early).

  2. FullFare

    October 18, 2018 at 8:37 pm

    Agree. If Isom has been a legend for on-time departure, that legacy is not being perpetuated by AA in these times. If one is looking for a carrier that appears to be a stickler for that, look no further than DL. I know, I switched to them because of that. And there is no palpable “tension” in getting the flight out. They board in a timely and orderly manner, push back, and take off.

  3. fotographer

    October 19, 2018 at 4:50 am

    And dont forget all airlines pad their schedules to allow extra time on both ends.

  4. infinite97

    October 19, 2018 at 5:56 am

    pulling 10′ off of the gate and sitting for 20 minutes does not constitute an “on-time departure” in my book, AA.

  5. strickerj

    October 19, 2018 at 5:58 am

    I’m reminded of a story my dad told from when his parents were in Switzerland back in the 60s. The Swiss are famous for their trains running on time, and at one station, an elderly fellow placed his and his wife’s bags on board, and as he turned around to help his wife up the steps, the door closed in their faces, and the train left with their luggage. This is what rigid policies do, and I’d rather not see American head down that path.

  6. eng3

    October 19, 2018 at 9:24 am

    Who cares about “On-time departures”. I only care about “on-time ARRIVALS”

  7. glob99

    October 19, 2018 at 11:53 am

    For OD improvements do better aircraft maintenance and increase staffing levels!

  8. texmanufan

    October 19, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    Where to start with this:
    1. The ground staff is rewarded by getting the flight off on time – meaning the door closed. This means they almost always board early which means the boarding time on your pass is meaningless and I swear takes longer to board because pax pay attention to this.
    2. Lately there are frequent delays/cancellations on later flights between non hub-hub flights due to illegal slow down strikes.
    3. AA is notorious for blaming weather anywhere in the world for my 2nd point. AA – some of us know how to use FlightAware to check the incoming flight and thus can smell bs.

  9. Mike Jacoubowsky

    October 20, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    Didn’t we go through all this a few years ago with United?

  10. J S

    October 22, 2018 at 7:20 am

    @eng3: On time arrivals have a remarkable correlation with on time departures. Indeed, you might even say that there was a causal link.

  11. Allan38103

    October 22, 2018 at 8:15 am

    Isn’t having the flights run on schedule a good customer service gesture?

  12. jrpallante

    October 25, 2018 at 6:02 am

    Right on Allan38103! Anybody who expects an airline to hold a plane for them has no respect for the thousands of passengers this may impact throughout the day. Unless it is the last flight of the day, YOU should be the ONE inconvenienced.

  13. Pizzipat

    October 25, 2018 at 6:12 am

    Maybe they should concentrate on their planes that constantly need maintenance especially when their stop over is in CLT. Always late, really late, and sometimes cancelled!

  14. booatx

    October 25, 2018 at 6:27 am

    Although I don’t fly AA enough to comment on the personal level about my own flights. I do understand his point. I have noticed that, in general, my morning flights run great. My evening flights seem to generally run late. I have noticed that the later you get in the day, the more likely you are to have a late flight. 1 person or 1000. As part of the 1000, we should definitely be more considerate of an operation that wants to do well by the majority of their customers. If every business were to get bogged down with one customer here and one customer there, we would all be in trouble.
    Not to say that I don’t have sympathy for the 1 customer. I am sure that I will be that customer one day. I try to book with extended layovers if I am taking evening flights. So far, so good.

  15. mbgaskins

    October 25, 2018 at 7:43 am

    What BS. He should I mediatky be fired for such poor performance. I think I would roll over and die if AA ever got a flight departure and arrival on time. It is just one more example how AA does not understand their customer.

    So we wait a little for late arriving passengers late in the evening on the last flight out. Big deal. It wouldn’t cause a cascade of delays.

    If the really wanted to get flights out on time the FAS should be hustling to turn late flights around. That is where the problem is. Not hustle from most AA employees. They are going to go walk their slow pace regardless.

    And I agree. It sprinkles somewhere in the world and it is a weather delay. Even when it is AA failing to adequately staff the flight.

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