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.