Armchair CEO: American Should Be More Aggressive About A321T First Class Upgrades

Let me start by saying that this is an armchair CEO post, so I’m standing on my soapbox here and sharing an opinion. It’s entirely possible I’m off base.

“Lucky, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Airline executives know what they’re doing.” Sure, largely they do, but they don’t always get things right. Just look at Scott Kirby on basic economy, any airline executive on Cuba, or Doug Parker claiming the airline will never lose money again (well, that remains to be seen).

So this is just intended to be a conversation starter, and I’m curious to hear what you guys think about this.

American’s A321T flights

American has a subfleet of A321s that operate the flights between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco. These A321s are in a really fancy configuration, with 10 seats in first class, 20 seats in business class, and 72 seats in economy. At just 102 seats, they have about half as many seats as a regular A321 has.

American is the only airline still offering a three cabin experience between New York and Los Angeles, and I imagine they have quite a few Hollywood contracts as a result of this. The airline claims that the business model does well for them, but I’m not sure how true that really is.

Airline executives almost always claim everything is rosy until the day they’re ready to officially announce changes, so I don’t put much weight into that. I’m not claiming they aren’t doing well, but there is one area where I think they’re leaving a significant amount of money on the table.

How many A321T first class seats does American really sell?

American’s A321T first class is pretty cool looking, given that it consists of reverse herringbone seats in a 1-1 configuration. It’s awesome to have direct aisle access from every seat on a narrowbody aircraft.

I imagine this is a product that the Hollywood crowd really appreciates. However, this represents maybe 1-2 people per flight, at most. Upgrades from business to first class using miles or other upgrade instruments are super readily available, so I imagine most of the rest of the people are upgrading.

Just about every flight always goes out full, though it’s not with revenue passengers or even upgrades. Instead it’s largely with non-revs. I don’t have numbers to back this up, but based on carefully monitoring the loads for these flights, I suspect that consistently over half of the seats in first class are occupied by non-revs. Don’t get me wrong, they’re entitled to those seats and I’m happy they’re able to get this perk, but it makes me wonder if American is really optimizing their revenue operating a product where they give away so many seats for “free” every flight.

American’s A321T first class soft product is disappointing

We all know airline catering budgets are small, and every penny counts. So unfortunately nowadays the meal service in first and business class on these flights are almost identical.

The one area where first class impresses somewhat is with the wine list.

American always caters the flight for 10 people, since the cabin will always be full with non-revs. So while they’re not spending much on food, they are spending a fair amount on drinks. They’re going to spend that money anyway, but they’re not really getting any revenue out of it.

Is it time for American to get more aggressive with A321T first class upgrades?

I understand the concept of airlines wanting to protect the integrity of premium cabins, and not offer double upgrades, etc. However, in the case of these routes:

  • I imagine the demand for first class is pretty inelastic, which is to say that the Hollywood crowd pays for first class not because it’s a good deal, but because it’s the only thing they’d consider
  • There’s not much to be said for protecting the integrity of premium cabins when every seat is always occupied

So what am I suggesting? I think it could make sense for American to more aggressively sell upgrades to first class on this route day of, at a reasonable but worthwhile cost. Let’s call it $250 per direction, for example, a price at which point they’d almost certainly have takers. Not only would this potentially lead to an extra $250 per seat in revenue, but keep in mind that this would also clear up some business class seats, meaning more people could be upgraded from economy to business class. It’s not uncommon to have seven empty seats in first class (before non-revs) but still have a dozen people on the upgrade list from economy to business class.

While Executive Platinum members get complimentary upgrades, everyone else has to either redeem miles or stickers for the upgrades. Stickers cost $40 per 500 miles, so we’re talking about an extra $200-240 in revenue per flight, while a mileage upgrade would cost 15,000 miles plus $75.

So there’s value in freeing up a business class seat and moving someone up to first class, and if you can get revenue for both passengers, it’s a double win.

Bottom line

American isn’t going to decrease the number of first class seats they have on their A321Ts, even though I’d estimate that consistently over half of them are unsold. While the seats will go out full no matter what due to non-revs, it seems like this is an opportunity to generate more revenue, not just for business to first class upgrades, but in turn every business to first class upgrade also opens up an upgrade from economy to business, meaning they’d be getting double revenue on those upgrades.

I’d argue that in the case of this market, demand for first class is pretty inelastic. Hollywood contracts pay for first class and won’t wait for a day of upgrade, while it doesn’t seem there’s all that much other demand for paid first class. So I don’t see the downside to offering upgrades from business to first class, even for those who already upgraded from economy to business. If the seats are going to be full either way, it seems like they’re losing out on quite a bit of revenue.

I’m curious if you guys think I’m crazy, or think there’s something American should do to fill up more first class seats on these routes with “paying” passengers?

Comments

  1. “It’s awesome to have direct aisle access from every seat on a narrowbody aircraft.”

    Maybe from where you sit, but if you look behind you, I doubt economy has all aisle access. 😉

  2. It is absolutely hilarious that they get away with EP in Y and confirmed J fliers fighting over the same cabin while F gets filled with non-rev.

    It is basically United Global First, and we all know how that turned out.

  3. $12 wines – while some may taste nice, nothing budget busting about that.

    Purely budget wise (wine value snobs don’t chime in with ‘price is not an indicator of quality) Delta and JetBlue are providing $20 – $40 a bottle retail wines.

  4. @lucky they did actually do this at one point (last year and year before). I used to see $200-300 buy-ups from paid biz fares to first. Presumably they stopped because it either discouraged people from actually paying for first or it wasn’t profitable in some other way.

  5. I’ve been the lucky recipient of a double-upgrade on a few occasions (due to an economy cabin being oversold). So it does seem like they use the F cabin to help pad for oversold flights, allowing them to eek out a few hundred more per flight by selling extra Y seats.

    I do, however, think you pose a great idea. It’s a bit of a shame to consistently see EPs on the upgrade list and empty seats in the F cabin. Would be great if they could do a better job of monetizing it.

  6. Honestly, and this is part of the equation, they upped the mileage rate for transcon first from 32.5K to 50K, AND there are never (rarely?) any seats available, even though the seat maps are completely wide open.

    What’s the point? Instead of redeeming 50K AA points for first on a 6 hour flight, on tickets that don’t exist, I used the points, 40K AA, for TPE-HKG-AKL, 2 hours +11 hours, in business, on an A350.

    I find it an insult to frequent fliers that non revs can just walk up and snag first class seats, that are never ever offered for mileage redemption.

  7. As somebody who has worked at AA and actively revenue managed these flights and participated in the planning for these airplanes and their configuration, I can tell you that your assumption that the majority of travelers in the cabin are non-revs is absolutely categorically false.

    The bigger issue here is that when AA planned for these planes, they did so before Mint entered the market with lower fares. Mint’s lower fares have brought down the average fares across the entire market, which has an impact on the revenue quality of the flight. That’s the bigger issue here, not the non-existent “non-revs occupying all of first class” theory that you have advanced without any credible evidence.

  8. Americans policy is that you can only upgrade one class of service. So you cannot get upgraded from Economy to First on the transcon. American also has a policy of space available travel for their active employees , retirees , and guests which includes any seat available including premium cabin. So you’re suggesting American Airlines stop allowing non rev travel in the premium cabins ? And they give more complimentary upgrades to revenue passengers and start up selling unoccupied First Class seats in order to generate more revenue ? Interesting concept. Sounds unrealistic though. Good luck with this.

  9. Sorry, I just don’t trust your data points on this. I recall one review in the past year or so where you saw the cabin mostly occupied by non-revs. I fly this route monthly, albeit mainly in J and Y and routinely the F cabin is full of “normal” passengers. I’ve seen hollywood and music industry celebs and their entourages as well as some major advertising agency leadership. Also, I imagine there are instances when these seats fill up last minute. I chatted with an A-list musician a couple of summers ago in F who booked tix for his whole entourage to fly to NYC with him for the U.S. Open on a whim.

    So ultimately without the stats, it’s all anecdotal but I’m basing my view on maybe 40-50 data points since the 321t launched.

  10. One factor that might be at play here is the extent to which American is using First Class as an incentive to sell corporate contracts for business travel. Maybe some of those non-revs are from firms who have large contracts for business travel and get some complimentary upgrades thrown in. British Airways used to use free upgrades to Concorde quite successfully as an incentive for selling business travel to its largest corporate accounts.

    Depending on the incentives and deals made with corporate travel departments it could well be that American is doing ok overall.

  11. @ pavel — Fair enough. Just to provide some background on my data points, I’ve been tracking the dozen daily flights in each direction between JFK and LAX on the day of departure. I look at how many seats are for sale, and confirm that there’s “A” space, meaning that anyone who is on the upgrade list for first class has cleared. Based on my data points, the average the past couple of weeks has been right around “F5,” meaning about half of the seats have been sold or upgraded into. Of course within 30 minutes of departure all first class seats on the seatmap show as occupied.

  12. @ Nick — The non-revs I’m referring to are those clearing 30 minutes before departure, which are American employees and their families. There are definitely corporate incentives for free upgrades, but those are clearing before.

  13. 100% agree it is primarily filled with non-revs. on my last 2 LAX-JFK morning flights, first had 3 seats taken and then 6 non-revs wearing their AA badges came on and took seats.

  14. It was pretty funny watching this play out on my two tcons this week. As an EXP booked in Y. I ended up staying in Y on both flights. Ended at about #6-7 on the list each time. On one flight two people in J came an inquired about an upgrade to F. They were told there were still seats but the GA had no clue how to process an upgrade. GA knew they couldn’t use stickers but couldn’t process a VIP and told the person to go to the lounge to see if they could do it. That case a Key came to the podium and ended up upgrading a CK and his wife with VIPs (SWUs) to fill the last two seats. On the way back similar thing happened but the person basically wanted a free upgrade and realized it wasn’t worth burning a SWU. The F seats went to stand-bys which I believe were non-revs.

    I think at a minimum on these flights AA should have UA’s CPU policy and have the same sticker/complimentary upgrades apply for people who booked J to get upgrade to F as they do for people who booked Y and upgrade to J. It seems silly to protect the F cabin these days when you are only protecting it for non-revs to fill the last seats.

  15. If you charge $250 for biz-first upgrade, then you piss off the people paying a steep premium for F. You need to balance the relationships so that you don’t anger the set of customers paying a premium.

    The argument that the ex-AA RM person above brought up is also pretty ignorant (for the company) in that they planned and executed the 321T purchase assuming that nobody else would copy their product. You’ll never win the product game since it is easy for airlines to study what you have and make it better, and then you are stuck with a fleet of 321’s that have galleys/lavs in the wrong spots and are too costly to retrofit.

  16. One other thing to keep in mind is that AA is landing a lot of corporate ‘hollywood’ contracts precisely because they offer a first class cabin and are keeping it exclusive. For example, it’s not uncommon to have employment agreements that require first class air travel if the cabin is offered. Also, for many years, SAG contracts required all on-screen talent (not just ‘stars’) to fly in first (people appearing in movies….but also television and commercials). Even if a company doesn’t send all of their employees in first, it makes sense to have an agreement with AA to lower those costs.

    I fly the route a lot and disagree that it is all non-rev up front. I’m often amazed at how full the cabins are days in advance. Granted, most people are flying on contracts that offer substantial discounts off the (crazy) walk-up fares….but it’s hardly free. AA also uses the cabin to allow purchasers of pricey business fares to upgrade (usually there are a couple of A class seats available per flight).

  17. I think US carriers should stop offering free upgrades altogether. Invest in the quality of the product so it’s worth paying for and then sell/up-sell aggressively instead. If AA/UA/DL all agree to do it at the same time, none of them should lose much business.

    Since that’s unlikely, the next best plan is offering free upgrades to paid J passengers and then upselling the empty J seats to people in Y.

  18. Has anyone tried contacting American Airlines directly and asking them to discontinue non rev travel in First Class ? I’d be curious to hear their take on this.

  19. Quote:
    Arcanum says:
    December 14, 2017 at 12:58 pm
    “I think US carriers should stop offering free upgrades altogether. Invest in the quality of the product so it’s worth paying for and then sell/up-sell aggressively instead. If AA/UA/DL all agree to do it at the same time, none of them should lose much business.”

    Respectfully, such an agreement would see them dragged to court by the Department of Justice to stroke a huge check to settle the antitrust charges.

  20. I imagine AA management probably has better data than you do.

    I suspicion they probably ran the numbers and decided that the total revenue they might generate by selling load factor based upgrades (i.e. day of departure upgrade from J to F for $250) is less than the revenue dillution (i.e. how many people who would have bought F, but now will just buy J, and hope for an upgrade). There is demand for paid F on that market (granted not all 10 seats on every flight), but making that cabin easier to access will just end up diluting the revenue premium for it, meaning long term that cabin will either go away or shrink.

    If you’re interested in flying in the F cabin, perhaps you should consider purchasing that cabin, or use an upgrade instrument.

  21. You could argue that most First Class cabins are more than 50% upgrades, miles/points or someone paying less than list price.

  22. @ Justin H- Looking at their Investor Day presentation, I think AA management is making a big push to improve employee relations, in the hope that it will in-turn improve customer service. I would imagine taking away a highly prized benefit to employees (like the ability to fly in First Class, after all paying passengers are accommodated) would be pretty harmful to morale.

    Also, at least for the non-union employees, I think many times airline employees are under-paid, compared to jobs in other industries requiring similar credentials and experience. Part of the reason for this lower pay is the the possibility of flight benefits. If they want to water down the flight benefits, they’d probably need to increase monetary compensation to be market-competitive, it’s probably cheaper for AA just to provide good flight benefits.

  23. I flew the route twice this year in F and at least half were clearly non-revs. And yes, you can tell and they are typically noisy and annoying.

    The issue is worse in smaller aircraft flying to Europe. I typically fly J to and from Dublin from JFK or ORD. I stopped flying AA due to the lack of sleep due to the noise and lack of relaxation from having a J cabin full of leisure AA non-revenues which keep eating and drinking and talking loudly throughout the flight.

  24. Lower the price in F and they will come, just like for international J fares last year. And if your assumption is true that it’s all non-revs in F then it’s just a matter of time before AA must either lower F prices or reconfigure to two cabin.

  25. AA18 SFO-JFK last Sunday. 4 seats in F occupied until T-1; 10 seats in F ended up full with 6 non-revs. By the seat loadmap those non-revs were also the ones cutting the line to board…

  26. About 50% of my AA flights are on the transcon, and as an EP, I get upgraded from Y to J about 75% of the time out of JFK, and probably only about 10% of the time out of LAX (for whatever reason). In my experience, the flight is usually J=0 from 4 hours prior to departure, F will have availability, but no one is upgraded from J. Non-revs (as in AA space available employees) are cleared directly into F at the gate, and one person will move off the upgrade list due to a no-show in J. Rows 11 and 12 in Y are usually CK and EPs who do not clear. Just my own experience! I did get an operational upgrade from J to F once, so that was nice…and the cabin was mainly AA employees…

  27. I fly these planes fairly regularly. I generally fly a mix of corporate J rates and mileage upgrades to F for 15,000. I also have done a few cheap economy redemptions.

    1) I know a few other commentators have said lucky is off base, but I agree with Lucky that on many of these flights, F is full with AA employees and other non-Revs. I think this a function of the fact that business class is almost always sold out, and economy is generally sold out, so there is no where else for nonrevs to go. Now this doesn’t mean that AA never sells F tickets – it seems that nonrevs probably can tell which flights will be lightly loaded in F and get on them easily.

    2) A few months out, F is often just $100 or less more than business, so they are attempting to make it more valuable for people who plan ahead.

    3) I struggle with the idea that celebrities and Hollywood require first class. Delta, United, Jet Blue all get away without a first class cabin on these routes. Does AA command a significant revenue premium on these routes because they have a higher share of Hollywood? I doubt it. However, I bet during most times, AA would have an easier time selling 40 business class tickets rather than 20 business class and 10 first class tickets.

    All this said, I agree with Lucky, with a few modifications
    1) Switch some of the planes to a 40 seat J configuration, eliminating F.
    2) Add a cheaper mileage or sticker upgrade option for these planes. Say 5,000 mileage upgrade for paid J passengers to go to F, or simple sticker upgrades from paid J to F. However, only paid J customers would be able to upgrade to F. You shouldn’t be allowed to upgrade from coach to F. Then you can go deeper into the regular upgrade list from Y to J, and then backfill with nonrevs in Y.

  28. I take these transcon frequently too and I agree that F is usually occupied by AA staff. Typically uniformed staff positioning. At the min upgrade EXP and CK from J to F and have the Non rev fly J. I also have spotted a few A lister on transcon F.

  29. HAHAHA. Discontinue non-rev employee in First Class. That’s a good one. You can try to pry it out of their cold, dead union-protected hands.

  30. @Chris hahaha. Anthony has some great ideas though. American should immediately begin retrofitting some of their A321T to 2 class service 40 seats in J and 72 in Y. No need for first class.
    Next they should ban first class travel for employees. And last they should make upgrades discounted and more accessible to their AAdvantage members. It’s only fair.

  31. The level of hatred for airline employees in this thread is rather astounding.

    Certainly AA could perhaps do a better job of deriving revenue from these seats. But the tone with which many posters have talked about non-revs as if they were some disgusting thing that should just go away is sad.

  32. Lucky, i assume you fly this flight only when saver awards are available (as anytime is obscene), which tend to be the early AM or late PM flights.

    i fly this flight several times a month in F (using miles + copay, or sometimes the last minute ticket price is ~$300 cheaper than J)… and when i can get out of JFK on any of the 4pm – 7pm flights… it is all Conceirge Key or VIPs in first.

  33. If you ever get tired of your life (why tf would you?) I would love to hire you… your mind is phenomenal and exactly what I need.

  34. @121pilot I am being 100% sarcastic . I just want these disgruntled bloggers and flyers who think employees shouldn’t fly first class just because their upgrades don’t clear to realize how ridiculous they sound . They should get off their high horses. Good for American taking care of their own and treating them like family when it comes to travel privileges.

  35. 121Pilot – I hope my post didn’t show any disdain to AA employees.

    However, it is somewhat strange that the first class cabin is supposedly the most expensive and “exclusive” cabin AA runs in North America, yet it is also the cabin they are most likely to give away for free to their own employees.

  36. I definitely believe airlines should limit their employees and their family to economy. It waters down their product. If you want to give them a perk, pay them more! I’ve been in a situation where airline employees have filled up a domestic first class cabin and spent the entire time talking like they were at the water cooler (they were all in uniform, so it clearly wasn’t vacation). Also, I tried to change my seat the day before, but none were showing as available and they also offered their friends first choice of meals so they didn’t have the option I preferred. Seriously, it makes you feel like you’ve paid $700 dollars to ride in a van with belligerent employees to a company picnic.

    I think paid upgrades are the way to go. Just remember, business travelers in the premium cabins are not price conscious otherwise their company would have a policy that they would be in economy. Don’t forget all these business and first class tickets can be written off as a business expense so technically tax payers are the ones getting the biggest shaft.

  37. You see the same thing on their HKG — USA routes. There is no upgrade availability from economy to business as business is full. But a few days out, there is a ton of space in first. Yet amazingly, when the doors close 1st class is full. I highly doubt it is SWU’s being used at the last minute (as why not use it when you book initially since there is inventory?) So it has to be non-revs. AA has basically made their best product an employee perk, either through standby or HIGHLY discounted employee fares. Not sure that is a revenue maximizing strategy.

  38. I agree with the statement that airlines employees should be in economy when they fly. What other industry gives their best product to employees over the their customers? That isn’t a sustainable business model.

  39. Currently onboard LAX-JFK, EP sitting in row 15. While I don’t expect every upgrade to clear, it is really frustrating to check premium inventory on EF, see that J is full and know that your upgrade is not going to clear, while there are ample seats in F. I don’t begrudge employees their perks, but they are fully aware that customers come first and they are only entitled to space available seats, wherever they are in the cabin. Bump up your top J pax and make room for upgrades on this route, which is exceedingly difficult for anyone to clear. It still won’t be a guaranteed upgrade, but there is already little value to EP – actually getting an UG on this route every once in a while when it is not full of paying customers would go a long way.

  40. American is living in a fantasy world where they think their product and service
    is simply Golden and price extortionately
    But the fact is that their Transcons in economy have hideous uncomfortable hard as ironing board slimline seating
    That leaves business and first only to consider of which they are so stingy with their seats on award I no longer fly with them on revenue as I cant see the logic in supporting them anymore
    I am flying Alaska and Jet Blue Mint at a fraction of Americans pricing and short haul Southwest
    Both carriers have better than average quality on average
    Typically American serves in First Class which is usually dry overcooked and tasteless
    Meat is repulsive on American
    American you can count on disgusting catering and weird selections
    American did a superior job in business class in their old 767s back in 2000
    Alpo and Purina Dog chow with cold supermarket rolls in 2017 do not make a First Class dining experience with Crystal Geyser water with sub par melted ice cream for dessert
    American has damaged its reputation by being stingy serving unacceptable food if it isn’t tainted by listeria sadly
    Their horrible near non existent customer service when things go wrong
    doesn’t help their cause
    I likely will never go back after 20 years of flying but there are obvious plenty of others
    to take my place that either don’t care or willing to put up with them
    Signed an ex Exec Plat

  41. @Liam

    Your comment about SAG contracts is requiring first class travel is simply incorrect. Travel days have to be paid out at the same daily rate they’d receive if they were on set, but there is no requirement to provide any form of travel including first class.

    – a producer who travels frequently

  42. Based on my experience as a frequent flyer on the LAX-JFK route, AA F is usually about 1/4-1/2 non-revs. It is super obvious who is a non-rev on these flights and I much prefer to fly B6 mint because of this reason. It is a bit frustrating to pay $1800 one way on this flight and have a flight attendant who spends 30+ mins chatting to a non-rev mid-flight, watering down service and creating noise pollution in the cabin.

  43. As an AA stockholder, along with other airlines, I care about how much money the airline makes and employee satisfaction. I’m also 6’6” tall, so economy is torture for me and I’m not wealthy enough to pay the huge fares for F or J nor do I travel enough to have status upgrades. I’m happy they treat employees well and have no problem with them getting the fancy seats but I wish the legacy carriers would simply price J at a level that wasn’t such an obvious ripoff for those like me who are willing to pay a reasonable price. JBLU with its Mint and carriers like Norwegian are figuring this out. The business model now seems to be to sell a few seats at ripoff prices, give away the rest on upgrades or non-revs, and then stick everyone else in 31” pitch economy. Remember when you got 5” extra pitch on AAExtra or EconPlus but now you’re lucky to get 3”? Seat width is also becoming more of an issue with so many long-haul planes at 17” width or God forbid you’re stuck in a 737. Food or soft product isn’t really that important to me. Just give me a little shoulder room and legroom and charge me a premium but don’t rip me off. That would make me a very happy customer and, I believe, stockholder, too.

  44. What’s interesting is that this whole debate is based on anecdotal evidence. Which is as good as no evidence.
    Seriously Lucky, get some basic facts in order, not your observations based on load factors available online, and then one might be inclined to trust you on this topic.
    But hey ho. Anything for page interactions. Cheers.

  45. I was not willing to pay J prices (never mind F) on these routes for my 9 year stint as EXP, but AM willing to pay B6 Mint prices, and frequently do! AA lost my business as a result. Now if I can just get JetBlue to London in Mint, at a reasonable premium over Y, I will be very happy.

  46. Danny

    My wife worked for a major airline for many years and the ability to fly in a premium cabin on standby was a huge perk. Take that away and the airline loses their better staff – the ones who could work for a better airline.

  47. Your ignorance here is astounding as you absolutely have no way of measuring how many people in first class have purchased tickets, have been upgraded, or are indeed AA employees flying on benefits. As an AA employee I would venture to say that you can’t tell the difference the way you ASSUME you can. Your disdain for us is obvious now. Very sad. I’m proud to work for American and proud to take care of each and every customer. And I’m very grateful for the flight benefits I have. Trust me, the chances of getting on a flight at all, let alone into a premium cabin is harder and harder to do. Some days I wonder if it’s worth staying. This article just makes me sad. Clearly our customers don’t think much of our hard work.

  48. Totally disagree, first and formost, just as previous people noted, your assumption/attempted statistical analysis is wrong; sorry to say. As an active employee of the company I can tell you that these routes are not only profitable but so, as a result of the premium seats sold, especially those being occupied in business class. I’m sure you noticed that business class rarely if ever goes out without every seat being filled by REVENUE paxs. Upgrades are always carefully analyzed to determine eligibilty and if the requirements are met, there is no hesitation in granting it.

    In regards to non-revs/employees, they not only have the privilege of occupying these seats but understand the luck it takes to be along the lucky few that do.

    Finally, I was just curious as to how you access our flight loads and departure records? You stated that u have been “monitoring”; to whatever extent that can be defined.

  49. Corey, I haven’t found that Mint is significantly less expensive than AA (or any of the legacies) on transcons. In my experience, Virgin and United are the most expensive on these routes, with Delta, American and Mint all behind.

  50. Hey understand all the AA staff that are upset but I am on the 6AM today from Lax-JFk and there are at least 4 staff members in the first class cabin. I do this journey around 6-5 times a month sometime in paid J sometimes in Y. When in J i prefer to board late and it is frequent that i see at least two or three staff members with some sort uniform or id in first class. To all of us outsiders it obviouly comes across as a weird strategy to give your most exclusive product to employees when the upgrade list is 20 plus in J . Why not bump some of the payimg biz class pax or take in some extra cash. I think it’s a slight loop whole as people can’t get comp upgrades from biz to first (although last year i did get a few) and AA staff rightly take advantage. Just a bit odd and sometimes frustrating to outsiders.

  51. Reading this article and the comments is truly fascinating. Clearly, the readers who are AA employees that commented are uncomfortable because customers are discussing a quirky perk they receive. It seems bonkers to me that the airline doesn’t upgrade business class passengers who are already paying well above economy pricing. The first class cabin should definitely not be treated as an employee break room or shuttle service.

    @AA employees: We are not attacking you. We appreciate how you make us feel safe. We are commenting on your employer’s service in their highly priced F cabin. As individuals this isn’t your problem, but your management should be concerned because it ends up dissatisfying revenue producing customers.

    @747always / @Working for you / @Alex Lane: Respectfully, t’s my opinion that Lucky has provided statistically sound data assuming he followed the same procedure each time and didn’t cherry pick flights. You could submit this at a college statistics or business school class and write a very interesting report. It sounds to me like the customers’ eye witness observations reinforce the data. Perhaps AA will invite McKennie or PWC to run an audit now. I’d be very interested in reading that report.

    Happy Holidays Everyone!

  52. @mark g if your upgrade doesn’t clear from coach to business class you are flying in coach bottom line. as you are not eligible to fly in first class. Be a man about it. If an upgrade is that important to you then pay for it. Don’t take it out on American , their employees , and their policies. Merry Christmas !

  53. @Justin honey, did you even bother to read what I wrote? I do pay for upgrades or outright first class tickets. I think AA employees should do the same as matter of policy, because frankly the service becomes watered down in both cabins as a result. If you can’t take customer feedback and work in a service industry, then I suggest you do yourself a favor and find another job. (I’m assuming you or a family member are an airline employee based on previous comments from other employees and you personally have benefited from this.) Or am I wrong? Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  54. I wish upgrading wasn’t a thing. You either pay for your ticket in First, Business, or Economy or you don’t. Not fair for us paying thousands for a ticket where someone else gets a free upgrade. So dumb.

  55. @mark g I have gold status with AA and am the survivor of an AA employee. I would have no problem flying in economy when non rev . It’s unfortunate that no airline in the industry allows double upgrades 2 classes of service from economy to first. Customer satisfaction is important. Had the transcon route planes been configured F6 J28 Y72 it would have been more suitable to meet today’s consumer demands . Oh well.

  56. I flew in first recently NYC-LAX after using SWU from business. Only myself and one other person boarded up front, and the remaining 8 seats seemed to be boarded immediately before the cabin door was closed. However they didn’t seem non-rev. Most seemed to be connecting to/from international flights. I’m assuming other Oneworld premium seats or Emerald status, etc. Of course I’m just assuming, but there were way too many international passports seen in that first class cabin to be filled with AA employees.

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