The Global “Airline Of The Year” Award Goes To… American?!?

Popular airline publication Air Transport World gives awards to airlines every year, including the sought after “airline of the year” award. Last year this award went to Etihad, while prior to that it went to Southwest, Delta, ANA, Air New Zealand, Emirates, Singapore, etc.

American Airlines won the airline of the year award for 2016, which I’m sure is leaving many of us scratching our heads. Per ATW’s press release, here’s the reasoning:

The ATW Airline Industry Achievement Awards recognize excellence across a broad range of airline operations and are widely considered as the most coveted in the air transport industry.  To win ATW‘s Airline of the Year award, an airline must demonstrate exceptional achievements and capabilities across operations, financial performance, customer service, safety and labor relations.  Its executive leadership must also clearly show innovation and strategic thinking that sets the company apart.

American Airlines was selected by ATW‘s editorial board in recognition of the phenomenal achievements by American’s leadership and employees this past year. The integration of American and US Airways was practically flawless despite it being the largest, most complex airline merger in history. And throughout the integration process, American has maintained a close eye on delivering profitability and shareholder return while also investing more than $3 billion in new customer products and services that include greater onboard connectivity, new entertainment and dining choices, upgraded lounges and new city pair services. American is also spending billions more to upgrade its fleet with hundreds of new aircraft.

“The creation of the ‘New American’ has been a remarkable journey for employees, customers and investors. American Airlines has never been in better shape to deliver more to all of its stakeholders and that is because of the leadership skills of American’s executive team and the dedication and hard work of its employees around the world. I sincerely congratulate Doug Parker and everyone at American,” ATW Editor-in-Chief Karen Walker said.


To me this is puzzling. Don’t get me wrong, I commend American for the job they did with the integration. I think it went very smoothly, at least in terms of technology, minimal customer interruptions, etc. I was hoping that would be the case, given that they could watch the other big U.S. carriers go through their mergers, and hopefully learn from it.

And sure, American is delivering profitability for their shareholders.

But to suggest that American has never been in a better position to delivery more to all their stakeholders, including customers? Hmmm…

Last year American ranked last among the big three U.S. carriers when it came to their on-time record. American’s fleet is more inconsistent than ever before, and they don’t even have power ports on much of their mainline domestic fleet, and don’t have plans to install them. They’ve devalued their frequent flyer program to no end. They’re about to roll out basic economy. Apparently this award goes to an airline that shows “innovation,” and I’m not sure in what way American has done that?

What part of this reflects an airline that should globally be awarded as the “airline of the year?”

On the plus side, I’m happy to see that American’s CEO is using this award to try and boost morale. Per the Star-Telegram, every American employee is getting two confirmed tickets that can be upgraded to first class on a space available basis (I suspect after all other upgrades have been cleared):

“I hope you enjoy a special trip, and the memories you’ll create with someone close to you, as appreciation for all you’ve done to set American on its path to greatness,” Parker said.

The two tickets will be upgradeable to First Class, depending on available space, and employees can begin using the tickets this summer through December 2018. These tickets are for confirmed seats unlike the ticket benefits that employees currently receive which can be used for stand-by.

American-787-Business-Class - 22

That’s a very nice gesture after all that American employees have been through during the merger.

If only he’d make a similar gesture for frequent flyers, for what they’ve been through over the past few years. 😉

Bottom line

I don’t want to discount the hard work of American’s employees, or how well the integration was executed on the back-end. However, the sentiment I’ve heard across the board from American customers doesn’t reflect the feeling that American is the “airline of the year.” I really can’t rationalize this.

On the other hand, I am happy to see that they’re using the opportunity to reward employees.


  1. The industry as a whole, and particularly the Big 3, views the term “innovation” much differently than the rest of us. I’ll just leave it at that.

  2. “If only he’d make a similar gesture for frequent flyers, for what they’ve been through over the past few years.” lol

  3. I fly quite a lot, and always pay for first/biz class. After arguing with AAdvantage customer ‘service’ reps for 6 months over missing points which brought me up to Platinum status, I finally returned to American last week to be horribly disappointed to the point of not wanting to fly with them again. United has made great strides last year, their customer service levels have leaped ahead, their new Polaris product is finally bringing proper business class to America, and they even listened and are serving the much better quality Illy brand coffee in lounges and onboard. United also introduced basic economy well before today’s AA announcement, catering to that portion of the market. And I won’t even get started on how the global airlines are way more advanced than ANY USA product. So how is it that American got this accolade??????

  4. This is an award given by a publication that focuses on the business side of the airline industry. They don’t give a toss about power ports, inflight wi-fi, flat beds, frequent flyer programs or the type of champagne served on board. Go to Skytrax if you want to see that stuff. ATW is an industry magazine who gives this award based on the business decisions made by individual airlines. The metrics that matter to most people here are not part of the calculus.

    AA got the award because they integrated two massive airlines, basically without a hitch.

  5. This is not “Frequent Flyer Program of the Year” award….it’s an industry magazine comparing all aspects of innovation.

  6. Whats infuriating is the fact that AA will tout this in marketing yet we all know what the real experience is when traveling with AA. (Coming from a guy whose checked bag was lost on a direct from from TPA to PHL last night…ugh).

  7. Remember the 2015 Miss Universe fiasco where Steve Harvey made a mistake announcing the winner of the pageant?

    Well I think the same thing happened here. Instead of “airline of the year” award.” AA should have been awarded the “Contempt for Customer Airline of the Year” award instead. They forgot the “Contempt for Customer” part.

  8. I disagree with ATW’s assessment. I have been trying to avoid American Airlines for the past year and in the upcoming year, especially that they are doing cross-fleet now. I like AA’s A321s, but hate those ex-US A321s. There are ways for me to tell which is which, but that is a lot of work. In terms of reliability, it is a bit lacking. Delta is doing a way much better job. In terms of cabin service, it is still dead last on my list of full service and even LCC US carriers. Its premium catering is just pretty bad these days.

  9. I live in Miami. On flights into Miami in 2016 where I needed to collect a checked bag or golf clubs, my average wait time at the carousel is 70 minutes. This is an improvement over 2015. Therefore, Airline of the Year seems entirely justified.

  10. I am sure this is just like any other “_______ of the year award” which I have been involved. You give the people on the committee a bunch of free stuff and everyone who tries eventually will win the award.

  11. Lucky:
    As a retired sales manager for an Orient based Airlne I am baffled by 2 free tickets as a carrot peace offering to it’s employees. Yes customer service from all AA employees needs to improve. The real problem here is the far from amicable relations between AA management and employees. AA’s senior management is not trusted by the AA employees. Ask any ex TWA employee that was forced out with that merger years ago. I commend Doug Parker for offering the tickets to employees of AA. Now continue to build better service through trust with their employees. Happier employees mean better service and assist for the travelers who patronize AA.

  12. They’re just passing the award around. Hard to believe out of that list of previous winners no one received the award two years in a row. Interesting. I go with Bo on his comments.

    It’s like the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Golden Globes. Give me a little something and I’ll give you a statue.

  13. If the main criteria is increased profit for shareholders maybe. Certainly it was done by gutting the Advantage program’s availability. Advantage miles make SkyPesos look really good.

    I appreciate the efforts made by United to become a great airline for customers most this year.Delta’s always been very good. American’s pitiful and just getting worse.

    America West in drag, just like US became.

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