The Sad State Of Service On American Airlines

I just have to briefly vent. I don’t want to generalize too much here. US airlines have some fantastic employees, and US airlines have some lousy employees. They’re consistently inconsistent. For example, recently I had an American flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong with exceptional service. Over the summer I had a United flight from Frankfurt to Houston with equally great service.

US airlines can be great, and when you point out their product deficiencies, they respond by saying that they can’t compare with Gulf carriers, that the playing field isn’t level, etc. The irony is that in many ways, US airlines actually have superior inflight products. American’s 777 business class is significantly better than Emirates’ 777 business class. The seat is better, the wifi is better, etc. Unlike Qatar, Emirates doesn’t even offer dine on demand.

What grinds my gears about US airlines isn’t the mediocre food or anything of the sort, but rather the defeatist attitude some (though certainly not all) employee take. I spent the past week flying Gulf carriers, and even when you don’t have a good crew on one of those airlines, you’d still never experience these kinds of things. On other airlines the default service mentality is “sure, I can do that” rather than “let me think of a reason why I can’t do that” (again, this doesn’t apply to all flight attendants in the US, but it does apply to more here than in most regions).

Let me give a few recent examples:

“I can’t do all these express meals, it takes too long”

Last night I flew from Los Angeles to London. I love being able to compliment good crews (as I did on my last American longhaul flight), but this crew was plain lousy. American has an “express meal” option on their menu, where you can be served everything at once, in order to maximize rest. This isn’t some unofficial service, but it’s printed on the menu.

As the flight attendant took meal orders during boarding, Ford (seated in front of me) asked about an express meal. The flight attendant said “ugh, I’m really stressed.”

I also asked about getting an express meal. Her response? “I don’t know if I can do all these express meals, it takes so long. But if you just eat slowly your main course will be out when you finish your salad.”

Seriously?!

Does this call button work?

I decided to skip the meal and went straight to sleep after takeoff (we had a two hour delay, and at that point it was after 7PM, which is my bedtime). I woke up two hours before landing and wanted a coffee, so I pushed the flight attendant call button. No one answered. A couple of minutes later I noticed that the button above my head was turned off. So it’s not that they didn’t see it, it’s that they decided to just turn it off and not see what I wanted.

I pushed it again. A minute later it was turned off again. I pushed it a third time. This time a flight attendant showed up and said “yes?” as if I was confused by pushing the button.

“I’ll get you a Diet Coke after takeoff”

On Sunday I flew from New York to Los Angeles. The flight was fairly empty. Keep in mind that boarding American A321Ts is a breeze, as they have 102 seats. Boarding started over 30 minutes before departure, and 20 minutes before the door was scheduled to close, the flight attendant offered pre-departure beverages.

The guy in front of me asked if he could have a Diet Coke of the water, orange juice, or champagne.

“We’re actually running a bit late, but I can get you one after takeoff.”

As you’d expect, for the next 15 minutes the crew was mostly in the galley chatting, and then we still pushed back early. I get that technically the flight attendant didn’t have to get him that, I just feel like that was a reasonable request for a business class passenger to make, and it would have literally taken her 30 seconds to do. But it’s easier to say “no.”

If the flight attendant wanted to be honest, she should have said “technically I don’t have to get you that, so I won’t,” rather than making up a lie.

“I want to retire this year, I’m so over it”

Lastly I’ll leave you with this, from Ford’s recent flight in American’s three cabin first class between New York and Los Angeles (his texts to me):

Always a nice thing to hear from the person serving you!

Bottom line

Flying with US carriers makes me sad. The US airline industry is in a better position than ever before, they have a better hard product than ever before (and in many cases a better hard product than their competitors that they claim they can’t compete with), and they’ve given their employees pay raises, but they still can’t actually motivate them and give them purpose. More pay doesn’t equal more motivated employees. Rather American is sending mixed signals to their employees as to whether they’re supposed to provide a world class experience, or whether they’re working for Spirit. “Check out these great new first class lounges” doesn’t send the same message as “our newest planes don’t have TVs and are like sardine cans.”

Individually, none of the above things are a big deal, but collectively these little experiences really leave a sour taste in my mouth. I’d love to see one of the major US carriers empower their employees in such a way that they’ll do anything to take care of customers unless they’re explicitly told something isn’t allowed, rather than only explicitly doing what they’re told they have to do.

In closing let me once again emphasize that this doesn’t represent all employees at US airlines. There are so many great people in the industry, from flight attendants to pilots to gate agents. However, it’s clear that these people do a great job because that’s within their nature, rather than because the company gives them any sort of purpose. If the company did, you wouldn’t have so many bad apples.

What has your experience been with service on US airlines lately?

Comments

  1. Excellent post, Ben. And your comments nicely summarize the overall state of service with U.S. based carriers. As U.S. companies have proven time and time again, they CAN effectively compete with anyone, anywhere. But in this case they have simply CHOSE not to.

  2. I recognize it. But to be honest, compared to some of the check-in staff, most of the cabin crew is still digestible.
    My last BC check-in in MIA felt like reporting to jail. Super rude. For the record, this was AA as well. Only extreme self control prevented me from pulling the bitch over the desk.

  3. JFK-LHR, May 2015, AA 77W Business Class, 10.55PM departure:

    I was asked if I wanted breakfast. I said I’d like to sleep. As I woke up with +1h to landing, I asked for a cup of coffee. The FA told me “you said you didn’t want breakfast”. I said “but I’d like a coffee”. She left and I never got any.

  4. US Airline flight attendant crews need to be de-unionized and mostly fired. This has to happen soon. The gulf carrier attendants work for several year contracts then find another career.

  5. Well there is zero incentive for them to act as employees typically do in service oriented business and no risk of job loss either.

    The good ones you get are simply because they care about there company and about there clients.

  6. I actually think the service culture has improved, based on my overall experiences the past 10 years. I think your experience is not uncommon (at all, sadly), but it is less frequent than it used to be. I feel like I would get service like that half the time 10 years ago, and now its maybe 10% of the time.

    Then again, a lot of my flying is on Southwest, and I think it’s generally agreed that their service attitude is significantly better than the other 3 of the Big 4.

  7. Should have been clear- a lot of my flying NOW is on Southwest, much more than 10 years ago.

    But recent flights on American and United had excellent service throughout. Would love to hear generalized experiences from people who fly a lot. What percentage of the time on American do you get attitude like this?

  8. Yes, I completely agree with your assessment. I just flew the other day CDG-MIA in Flagship Business aboard the 777-200 and thought the new interiors were amazing, and think they are some of the best business class seats in the industry. The crew wasn’t rude, but they were so deferential the entire flight. It felt like every request I made was a huge inconvenience to them, and never once did they address me or any of the other passengers by name.
    -“What would you like to drink?” response: “Champagne, please.” response: “Ugh, ok, I have to go back to the galley to get that, it will be a while.”
    -“More champagne with your meal?” response: “I’d like to switch to the Chardonnay please.” response: “Ugh, ok, I have to go back to the galley to get that, it will be a while.”

    I had flown American Flagship first aboard the 777-300 from Miami to Heathrow back in July and aside from the three hour delay, it was a wonderful flight with a wonderful crew. The Miami-based Purser, Richard, was absolutely amazing. Very professional, but eager to please and always addressed me by name. I was so looking forward to this trip thinking that Miami-based international crews were consistently good and found that to not be the case at all with this most recent flight. I’ve all buy resigned myself to expect the worst on my domestic flights, but was hoping for a small glimmer of hope for the longhaul flights. I’m really thinking of moving over to Delta now, but I have so much invested in American that I don’t know if it makes sense…

  9. I had great experiences in AA domestic business class flights in 2017. The flight attendants were young and enthusiastic. They used my name. They weren’t all perfectly attentive but they tried. What I observed was that the FAs for economy seemed terrible. Grouchy, irritated to be there and generally sour. It was much clearer when I was in business and seeing the economy FAs walk through. No smiling. One rolled her eyes every time she got past the curtain so her passengers couldn’t see her. Grow up. If you hate your job, quit. But it’s unnecessary to behave that way. I fly AA most of the time because the routes make sense for me. However for a long haul domestic flight I’d certainly consider something else. And for international travel forget it.

  10. The most pathetic and unreasonable thing is that you simply can’t argue anything onboard with them, since “you need to follow cabin crew instructions” or they’ll put you in jail. SO SAD.

  11. AA’s FA are the absolute worst. They never do their job, complain about it when they do, when actually working it is at 50%, and then they are always chatting in the galley. It’s comical. My service on LAX – HND and DFW – NRT in business, has been so bad that I’m done with AA. I switched back to UA last year. Even though UA may not have the best hard product anymore, I consistently get good service in business, unlike AA.

  12. Took a DUB to PHL flight recently where the AA purser got on the PA system to repeatedly tell everyone on the plane the call button was for emergencies only, and that if you pressed it more than once you would be ignored. Nice way to start a 7.5 hour trip.

  13. If American cares at all, they would provide a feedback card for every passenger and get feedback, and reward good apples, and punish/fire bad apples. The mergers in the past have really reduced, or even eliminated competition for some routes, and hurt the service quality across the industry. It’s a sad state indeed.

  14. I have had some very poor foreign crews too… As employees get squeezed more, their desire to give more for less is dwindling.

  15. My last three flights (MAD-DFW, DFW-SJC, SFO-JFK) were all surprisingly good in economy. Then again, SFO-JFK was a redeye so I had zero expectations and never took off my eyeshade and thus was pleasantly surprised.

    “I want to retire this year, I’m so over it”

    We are all so over it — the passengers who really ought to be flying Greyhound

  16. Great post, I couldn’t agree more! The hard product investment has been fantastic from AA in particular for international business class. I flew four legs recently with them in 772, 752, 763, 77W, and was impressed at the business class seat comfort on all flights (was not expecting to be on the 752 or 763). WiFi was excellent in all four legs.

    I got an outstanding crew on the first leg LHR-DFW, two average crews, and a poor effort on the return to London, that sounded a lot like your crew. With the opening of the flagship lounges (recently passed through the one in MIA) AA should be a leading airline for premium passengers. But honestly when I fly transatlantic from UK it’s still a toss-up for me with BA. Why? Because despite the much bettter hard product on AA, I know I have a much better chance of a polite crew, edible food and drinkable wine on BA, even now. (On a side note where do they find the swill they serve as champagne on board some AA flights still?? Amazing they serve Bollinger on the ground only to serve crap in the sky!)

  17. My extensive experience with UA corroborates much of what you have said. The strange thing is that, compared with other airlines, I find the UA phone reps (admittedly the 1K line) far superior to any foreign airline’s reps, both in terms of their politeness and their can-do attitude, and on a par as concerns their training. Likewise, as a 1K, I find the check-in agents to be very helpful. It’s just the flight attendants, especially those working the economy cabin, who can be, and very often are either bad or downright awful.

  18. Your comment on the attitude of “let me think of a way not to do this for you” is spot on and seems completely contrary to most other international carriers I have experienced. I usually try to actively avoid flying any US based carriers long-haul if I can do so, so unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I do not have many points for comparison on long-haul vs long-haul, but your “express meal” service comment reminded me of two experiences I had on my trip this past summer.

    Outbound I flew SAS EWR to CPH and it was I believe an 11pm EST flight. I had already ate a decent dinner hours earlier but was a little hungry again so wanted something quick before trying to get as much sleep as possible. When the FA came by asking for my meal order, I asked if they had an express option and he said unfortunately no. I made a “hmm ehhh” face like I was trying to decide whether to do a full meal or just go to sleep, but then he said, hold on a minute. He walked back to the galley to turn in the other orders, but then returned and said, the main courses will still take some time to prepare, but if there were a couple appetizers I was interested in, he could bring those out with a salad right away. Couldn’t have been more than 30 minutes after takeoff that my tray was cleared and I was in bed mode.

    On my return, I flew Air Berlin (a couple months before going under). Despite it being a daytime flight, I was exhausted and slept the entire flight and clear through the pre-landing meal service. I woke up absolutely starved and asked if I had missed the meal and if anything was still available. She said we were about 30 minutes from landing so unfortunately she could not provide any hot food, but said there was a tuna salad starter from the meal service she could probably create a plate around with some veggies and coffee/juice. I said only if it is no trouble given how close we are to landing. No trouble at all – 5 minutes later I had a sizeable lunch plate in front of me. I started shoveling it (partially because I was starved, but was also trying to be considerate of how close to landing we were). She stopped and smiled and told me to please take my time, it was no problem. Upon finishing, she asked if she could get me anything else! 10 minutes later, we were on the ground. She had to know she would be without a job (at least on AB) in a couple months, yet remained very pleasant and eager to help.

    Maybe with the right crew and a nice smile, a US flight crew would have done the same, but based on my limited experience, I have trouble seeing it.

  19. One can appreciate how poor the service is on US carriers as those rare times when the service is good or great on a long-haul flight stand out in our memories.

  20. Hate to admit it but my policy to sit in my seat 90% of the time is A1 and just have low expections this way I won’t be disappointed.

  21. I agree whole heartedly with both AA (and United being pretty sinilar). I walked up to the counter to ask a question before a flight. I stood their waiting while the two desk agents were complaining about someone. I’m not sure if it was a fellow employee or a passenger. One made eye contact but then they continued to complain as if I wasn’t there, completely ignoring me. After a few minutes of being ignored. I just gave up on asking my question and walked away. It was bizarre.
    Later, the same gate agent, was screaming at people that if their passports weren’t signed, they weren’t valid. I started laughing with strangers around me. We couldn’t believe it. One mentioned she saw me waiting at the counter and how they ignored me. The only good news about the terrible service, is that sometimes you can bond with your fellow passengers as you just sit there shaking your head.

  22. The problem is mostly flight attendants who think they’re better than a service job and the customers they’re supposed to *serve*.

  23. Oh Lord – here we go again in 2018 – Lucky talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to AA.

    January 2018: American Airlines sucks, their employees (for the most part) suck, yada, yada.

    November 2018: Hey everyone, I’m going to do a quick mileage run and once again qualify for EP on AA and continue to support the airline that I continually bash.

    Anyone want to make any wagers on this????

  24. “but they were so deferential the entire flight. It felt like every request I made was a huge inconvenience to them” that’s not what deferential means! Perhaps you mean defensive?

  25. I agree. Although will underscore (as Ben did too) that for every bad apple there are two good ones. In my experience, Delta usually tends to have the nicest flight attendants, United the worst. Having said that, I flew on United last week (Economy) and the crew were super nice. But the legroom was absolutely awful on the 737-800. I’m pretty tall so was forced to have my legs jutting into the aisle for most of the flight and ended up paying 80$for the extra legroom on the way back.

  26. Do we blame this on the Unions? Seems like foreign carriers can leverage actual job loss to motivate their employees.

    We’re an over-privileged under-achieving bunch in America…

  27. complaining about being served a meal over 10 mins instead of all at once seems pretty unreasonable. I love sitting in last row of AA 777 business, im served last and I feel like the dinner service is always 10-15 mins tops.

  28. Lucky, sadly your experience mirrors mine lately in their “business class cabin”. They’re my preferred domestic carrier (not by choice, stuck with them due to routes that work best for my schedule). It really is a sad state in that regard. 🙁

  29. Lucky, you need to seriously forward this to the proper management team at AA (I’m sure you know people at AA that would love to know this). This is absolutely inexcusable behavior. In a customer service based industry, this type of “can’t do sh*t” attitude needs to be called out and the individuals reprimanded appropriately. Otherwise, US based airlines will never improve themselves. I’ve worked in sales/marketing for years in both the US and Germany and if any of our employees openly expressed this attitude and/or exhibited this behavior to the customer they would be suspended or fired immediately.

  30. @ steve_s — That’s not really the point. The point is that American advertises a service on their menu, and their flight attendants refuse to offer that because it’s too much work. I wouldn’t have an issue if they didn’t advertise this as a service, but they do.

  31. “Do we blame this on the Unions? Seems like foreign carriers can leverage actual job loss to motivate their employees.”

    No, we can’t blame this on unions. Unions exist in myriad other cases, on dozens of other airlines. Many union flight attendants and check in staff are top-notch.

    I have an idea: why not blame management? They’re over-privileged and under-achieving, especially in the case of AA.

  32. @ CJ — There’s a big difference between my feelings about the quality of a carrier’s onboard product and their frequent flyer program. You can be loyal to an airline while not liking their onboard product, just as you can love an onboard product when you hate the carrier’s loyalty program. Two very different things.

  33. I feet terrorised when i fly american companies,last time i flew LHR/JFK with AA in First class,a night flight and the FA were chatting at loud voice all night,leaving the galley curtain open with the light flashing on me,there are no respect,no manners,no care those nannies will better go on retirement.

  34. Over the past year I’ve flown Virgin, BA, United and American sfo or lax to London. American has a far superior business class seat. But the other 3 airlines had far better service. I’ve had 1 good AA flight and 1 very mediocre flight.
    If I could combine VA service and food with AA hard product and UA bedding id have the perfect flight.

  35. One of the hurdles that the US based airlines face is that with the seniority rules, all the premium heavy routes are controlled by a very small batch of super-senior flight attendants. For example, all the routes mentioned by Lucky are super senior routes, so they attract the “past their prime” FA with the bad attitude. Transcons (JFK) , JFK to Europe (esp. LHR), LAX to Europe, JFK/MIA to GIG/GRU-EZE, and many other of the routes that have heavy premium traffic are stuck with the senior mama FAs because of the seniority system. And if you do not get a senior mama FA, then you get an inexperienced FA off the reserve list who is probably unprepared.

  36. Very recently on a 77W Business trip from JFK-LHR, my flight attendant asked me if she could hang up my dead coyote (referring to the fur lining on my winter jacket). I told her that this was a really inappropriate way to greet someone and she said, “what are you going to do about it?” Of course, I reported her to AA and AA just shrugged.

    I totally understand that everyone has different political view–whatever, but it is still unacceptable to greet a customer with your political statement. Imagine if your flight attendant is a vegetarian and as she brings you your meal adds “enjoy your murder!”

    I’m really locked into AA (EXP), but now I’m flying other airlines when there’s a choice.

  37. I’ve found service in domestic first class on AA to be pretty consistently good. I rarely find what I would consider to be a GREAT experience, but have not had a bad one yet.

  38. @john – certainly management is not doing enough to have motivated employees. Throwing an arbitrary raise at people only pads their pockets, it changes nothing in the workplace. Maybe AA should put under performing crew on the new 737Max, let them deal with unhappy (and wet) customers there 🙂

  39. I usually get excellent service on DL. That said, I find the service to be much more variable on international flights. That seems counterintuitive to me. I suppose it is because you typically get more senior FAs on these routes. For some, the longer they are a FA, the more sour the attitude. But again, my experience on DL is usually pretty good.

  40. Delta is my US carrier of choice now from Europe – hard to beat the 330 service they have into that many points (I don’t do ATL anymore…) – American food is horrible, the hard product ain’t bad (but it usually is FILTHY) and it seems that they constantly screw BA over with flight cancellations and shifting business passengers out of their own metal. Haven’t been back on AA since they screwed my over in ORD in April – 8 trips since then on the Delta/KLM options out of AMS.

    Classic other example, power not working at seat on Delta, they did compo there and then on the phone and charged my laptop in the galley as all seats were full. Same thing on tired AA 777 – they shrugged and said I should be grateful I can blame AA and rest instead of work –
    thanks but the audience waiting for me the following day expects me to be showing and saying something. $8k ticket. Ain’t been back.

  41. Nothing disappoints me more than being in business class and being made to feel bad for wanting a drink refill. That just ruins it all for me because despite everything, I don’t feel welcome. People pay for premium cabins for a better experience, not to be treated as a nuisance.

    A good customer experience is not about how lavish or amazing things are but the extent to which customer expectations are met or exceeded relative to what they have spent for their experience.

    In my view – I think what is happening now is that there is a whittling down of the service experience such that the only experiences that are consistent and reliable and worth the money are low cost or a premium cabin on a gulf carrier/Singapore or whatever – everything else is too inconsistent and unreliable to be worth it.

    The proof is in the pudding – My five trips this year are on:
    Interjet – kind of low cost
    Wow Air – low cost
    Icelandair – kind of low cost
    Emirates First Class – reliable, premium, luxury cabin

  42. Not Surprised. I have zero expectation toward international premium class FAs.

    Once I asked for Champagne during drink service (it was right on the cart!!) and all I got was a glass of white wine. I felt humiliated that he thinks I’m a person who can’t distinguish between champagne and white wine.

    And after that, the passenger across the aisle asked for white wine and she got red. She said ‘I’m sorry but I asked for white wine’. That FA’s face got sour and seriously, his mouth was about to say fxxx .. Really? I don’t even expect them have smile on their face but, seriously? Come on guys. If you don’t wanna work, quit the job!

  43. @Kerry

    Maybe this might change Lucky’s mind at least a little re BA?! He had that one bad experience but otherwise in my experience their cabin crew are generally excellent and what I love is that they keep the champagne flowing. I often send them constructive and/or positive feedback and several times they have called me to discuss it, even offering me Avios sometimes to compensate!

  44. I would add that meals AA serves in either Flagship business on long haul routes or domestic F still suck big way. This is an added insult to the poor service. On a recent DFW->LAX flight three of us pre- ordered omelettes. FA did not have any pre-orders. We have ordered omelettes (or whatever AA think is an omelette) again. I have received an omelette while my wife and my mother were served oatmeal “because you ordered it”.

  45. And something else about AA – they keep gate checking my damn bag EVERY time in First on a CRJ700. It fits (as it fitted the first time and does on Delta every time) – but yet I always get a gate check even if I’m first on board. Wouldn’t mind but they keep trashing my bags.

  46. And thats why i don”t like flying within America (and try to avoid it) and i have never flown an American airline on an international flight i will always go with the other countries airline(s) (maybe not China Eastern) though i have had a few good crews on American flights . Lucky what you described above where horrible especially the call button one its horrible after you spend a lot of money or miles on a premium cabin its neglected though its not like they didn’t respond to your call button they turned it off ( i would have confronted them and threatened to file a complaint).
    I am glad I live In Australia where service is generally very good.

  47. Not quite the same experience, but on Delta AMS – DTW recently, I overheard a passenger ask the FA what was the best appetizer on the menu and he responded “the lobster on Air France”. When further pushed about his favorite item on the menu, he said that it was a new menu and hadn’t tried anything yet.

    Having flown AZ and AF in J in the last 6 months, I can’t imagine ever hearing a response like this from one of their FA’s…

  48. Great post, completely agree with all your comments, and experienced them myself.

    On several occasions I’ve deliberately asked the FA “how’s your day going” in a quizzical fashion, to determine if there’s a glimmer of a reason for being so blatantly unhelpful / bordering on mean. Sometimes this hits the reset button, and then civility / helpfulness returns, or they appreciate someone taking an interest. However, it’s sad that I have to ask.

    My expectations are sadly very low of AA flight crew and I hope for indifferent at best, but on rare occasions, I’m pleasantly surprised and then I’m sure to thank them to show appreciation and hope their approach carries over to the next flight.

  49. I fly to England every 3 weeks on Delta One. My company is based in the UK so most of colleagues are from Europe. They laugh at me that I fly Delta to Europe. They fly Lufthansa, BA, Virgin, etc… Although I fly Delta because it is convenient for me I feel embarrassed when they tease me because I know they are right. However, they admit Delta is the least worst of all 3 US big airlines. Maybe that is something for me to celebrate. 🙁

  50. Is this the infamous “Karen” that lost her sh&%^ over OJ a couple of years ago lol?

    Maybe Parker can throw more $$$ and raises their way…..doesn’t seem to work AT ALL.

  51. AMEN. And, I do think it’s a problem that is more severe at AA than other America-based airlines.

    Gate agents on Delta, for instance, routinely smile when accepting the boarding pass and wish a pleasant flight after scanning; I am routinely thanked, individually, for being Gold. On AA, where I am ExecPlat, most gate agents avoid eye contact, scowl, and say nothing. Yesterday, in CLT, the guy before me (who had been rebooked, by AA, onto the flight I was boarding) had his boarding pass rejected. When he stepped aside, without making any scene, the agent sarcastically said, “if you want me to help you, come over here and stand in this line, like a normal person.”

    Some recent on-board examples:
    –Flagship business, JFK-SFO: had to use call bells to get any drink refills after the initial meal service.
    –Flagship business, JFK-SFO: guy next to me ordered water without ice; was served water with ice. When he asked for water without ice, the flight attendant laughed out loud at him and told him to wait. When she returned, she slammed down the glass so hard water splashed all over the tray table.
    –CLT-DCA, during a 2.5 hour deicing delay on an A319 with 8 first class seats: no beverages offered during the long wait (even as they WERE offered in coach). Finally, passenger went to galley to ask FA for water. FA simply said, “if I get you water, I’ll have to get everyone water, and I don’t want to do that.”
    –COS-ORD, first class: meal served, and for remainder of flight, FAs used a cart to block off the front galley and sat behind the cart the rest of the flight, chatting. Coach passengers were left to bring trash from the initial beverage service up to the front of the aircraft to throw it away; no refills, etc. offered in first.
    –ORD-DCA, first class: now routine for FAs to serve nuts, meal, and dessert all on one tray, instead of separately

    It’s melting down. This is in addition, of course, to the first class domestic entree options now being exactly the same on all routes for 1.5 years.

  52. Sorry to hear you had such a lousy experience. I hope I have a better flight crew JFK-LHR in F next week.

    AA is so unpredictable. I’ve had excellent flight crews and hellish ones on myriad different routes. I’ve had wonderful FA’s offer excellent service on LGA-ORD flights; including always immediately taking and hanging coats, offering a full breakfast service (consistently offering coffee and refills of bagels and biscuits), and even offering the rest bottle of sparkling wine for my mimosa. I’ve also had awful experiences. On a flight from CDG-JFK in biz, I had an unpleasant senior FA (clearly nearing retirement) continuously ignore my request for a cup of tea. When I finally got it, it came with the trademark attitude. This pales in comparison to Emirates, where even in economy, FA’s happily bring a cup of tea (served rather nicely on Emirates in a real teacup) and even add a smile.

    Hoping for a better experience on my upcoming AA flights.

  53. The worst FA experience for me was in economy on Delta on a flight from FCO to ATL. My experience in international J on AA has been good, not great. Nothing even remotely as bad as Lucky’s exchange. The gate agents are usually the ones with the bad attitudes in my experience. And they seem to enjoy it.

  54. @Lucky
    Spot on! I recently flew AA to HKG in J from LAX, and my return on was CX in J. When we landed at LAX after our CX flight, my partner and I both said we thought American had a better product on the route (and is probably the leader). The bedding, food, and entertainment were all far better than Cathay’s, which of course is a world-class airline. The Flagship Lounge at LAX is excellent too.

    That said, it’s the surly or disinterested AA FA’s/GA’s that make CX a better experience overall. I’ve flown CX a fair amount over the last couple of years, and I have NEVER had an employee act unhappy or rude. On the flip side, it’s not uncommon that I get a bad/indifferent attitude from an AA FA, even as an EP on premium routes like SYD and HKG.

    What is AA’s vision: to be a LCC or a world-class airline? Right now, they’re playing both sides and it’s hurting them.

    *AA has many wonderful employees, but it’s the bad ones that ruin it for everyone.

  55. Deferential means showing respect. Nothing else. It would mean they’re treating you BETTER. The exact opposite of what’s being complained about here.

    It’s not used properly in his post. You’re correct @anon. @Sam is not.

  56. AA is brutal. People hate on “greedy” Delta but their service and demeanor are usually very gracious and professional.
    AA has 3X more flights from my little airport than Delta(in fairness Delta ONLY goes to ATL) but I will spend more money and, likely time, to fly them.
    It’s not like Delta is SQ F but how lame AA is.

  57. I don’t blame the unions for the state of customer service at U.S. airlines. I lay the blame solely at the feet of management who are either unwilling or unable to affect change within their corporate cultures, or refuse to hold their employees to company standards. Contrary to the opinion of many, you can terminate a union employee for poor job performance. And if done properly, you can make that termination stick through the grievance or arbitration process. I know this because I’ve done it in my past life at a fully unionized carrier. But in an oligopoly like we have now in the U.S. there’s little incentive to do so. The major carriers are not going to change for the simple reason they don’t have to. I will also argue that the current state of business class at British Airways is due to the fact the company simply doesn’t have to rush to make any meaningful changes. As long as load factors, and revenues, remain high there is little incentive to change.

  58. I’d break it down this way from my AA travels: 50% of crew are just okay, 25% are great, and 25% are miserable. But it’s amazing how much that 25% miserable bunch impact the whole.

    Recent Flagship F flight MIA – LAX, purser approaches after I board and sighs “Hi.” “Hi, how are you?!” I say. His response…”Tired. Just tired. Hope I make it through this flight.” Oookay. So I just say “Sounds like this will be fun for both of us.” Needless to say, it was hardly attentive service.

  59. I actually think you say too often that the FA are sometimes good sometimes bad etc., I think that goes without saying, and overall American FA (domestic) are by far the worst globally (seriously), which is the main reason why I would pay 1000s of bucks more to fly NRT-BOS directly on JAL rather than stopping over in in Chicago and continue on AA (I did this last Fall and it was one of the worst culture shocks I had in all my flying life). I would agree that it’s not the unions because as has been said, there are service-oriented, unionized professions elsewhere, but in the last half year where I’ve had a lot of US domestic flights, not a single one had friendly FA. Not one. The best was if they were not actively unfriendly. They really mind giving you a diet coke. Of course that is a very sad life (for them), but what does it help me that they are frustrated (and I wonder about what).

  60. I got screwed out of an upgrade last week by an AA gate agent giving the 2 empty seats to non-rev friends while there were 15 people on the upgrade list.

    AAttitudes are the worst on American than any other airline by a long shot.

    They should just fire all customer facing employees and start over again, it couldn’t get much worse.

  61. I Usually prefer Delta crews out of the US BIG 3 carriers and fly DL whenever I can despite having higher status on OneWorld than SkyTeam. You can spot those who are ex-Northwest easily as they have a fantastic customer-focussed service ethic. However their Miami based crew who, on flights I’ve been on, seem to do the bare minimum then party in the galley.

    @Sam_Carrigan

  62. “News Flash- It aint just the airline industry where poor attitudes exist.”

    MY GOD what a stupid comment!!!!! Thank you master of the obviouse!!!!!!!1!!

    Did you know that this is a blog whose primary mission is to discuss travel, and not construction or law firms or anything else?

    FYM!

  63. The only short term solution is whenever possible fly Alaska or Southwest where the employees are entirely different. That will help them grow and offer more routes so there is even less reason to fly carriers with these toxic cultures.

    The problem is that the legacy carriers as a group are a monopoly due to the inability of new entrants to get landing slots. If it weren’t for that we’d be seeing start up airlines and the competition would force airlines to either address these sorts of problem or go broke. So the problem is AA but an environment that shields AA and their peers from effective competition.

  64. Unfortunately, I spent yesterday (1/17/18) with Delta at ATL. Repeatedly delayed, then cancelled, with no available flights to Puerto Rico it the USVI until the 21st. Thousands had the same experience.
    The problems were blamed on “weather,” when actually, there were supposedly no crews available. And yet, airline FAs and pilots were all over the airport, apparently – according to several we talked to – waiting due to their own delays and cancellations.

  65. Lucky, i was surprised by your dig at Spirit’s employees. I flew several flights on Spirit last year and the number one thing I noticed about them was that the FAs were walking the aisle every few minutes, picking up trash and asking if you needed anything. On AA once the drinks are done you don’t see the FAs again until they start prepping for landing.

  66. @ Bill — Sorry if it came across that way, it wasn’t intended to be a dig at Spirit employees. I’ve had good experiences with them as well. My point is, they take a different approach to service. Spirit is sort of like a bus, so just like Greyhound has nice employees, so does Spirit. I was simply trying to point out that on Spirit employees don’t have to deal with things like call buttons for service (generally), express meals, etc.

  67. Last night on UA IAH-SAN, the co-pilot had a red lanyard with “Let’s not take this anymore, STRIKE !”. Not fitting while on duty.
    Don’t like your job, find another.

  68. This probably wouldn’t happen if they assigned the routes randomly rather than by seniority. Many of the senior mamas and papas (their terms) just don’t want to work and are phoning it in. Unfortunately, they get to bid the longest flights which knock out their monthly hours the fastest, and some some eager new hire works a bunch of turns daily DFW-HOU. In the case, the more experienced staff is giving poorer service.

  69. @ Lucky — “I’d love to see one of the major US carriers empower their employees in such a way that they’ll do anything to take care of customers unless they’re explicitly told something isn’t allowed, rather than only explicitly doing what they’re told they have to do.”

    I’d argue this is exactly how Alaska Airlines operates, with remarkable consistency. They start from the position of sincerely wanting to help you with a problem or just provide a very positive experience, and repeatedly overstep “policy” to do so, especially when it comes to problem-solving.

    That has earned my loyalty like nothing else.

  70. @ Benjamin Perley — I think you have it right. Some people have blamed “unions” for the service lapses at American, but I had an international Delta flight last week with the most indifferent and spoiled crew I’ve ever had on any carrier. Delta’s employees aren’t unionized, and I’ve had better Delta crews on domestic routes than on American, so I suspect the seniority-based scheduling is the greater commonality.

  71. American carriers cay they cannot compete with Gulf carriers b/c it’s “unfair”… ok. Then let’s consider Asian carriers like Asiana, ANA, JAL, or even China eastern/Hainan. Which of them does *not* have better onboard service than UA/DL/AA? American-based cabin crew simply don’t know how to serve, especially in premium cabins.

    As an Asian myself I tend to absolutely avoid trans-pacific routes on American carriers, after experiencing AA business class once.

  72. Now that I’m retired, we travel from Los Angeles to all continental U.S. cities by car. Yes, we would rather take the time to soak in our surroundings rather than travel ANY domestic airline. We’ll even forget the terrible airports and TSA brown-shirts.

  73. All these horrible stories are a reflection of the character of the people dishing the bad service.
    This is why you can sometimes get great service, because it is a reflection of the character of the good people providing it.

    Bad people will take advantage of every opportunity they get to abuse or make life miserable for others. Unfortunately for some reason way too many bad people end up working at airlines. These people relish the power given to them by the government and unions to trample and demean customers. Since they are poorly paid, some particularly enjoy dishing it out to the premium passengers who most likely are better off financially than they are.

  74. Interesting i just saw an article in the news saying Emirates FAs are growing more disillusioned with their jobs. What you are describing is not unique to AA or the airline industry, but to customer service jobs in general. I work in one and the abuse we deal with from people who seem to forget or lack manners or general human decency tends to make one jaded.

    i mean imagine being one of the flight attendants on that UA flight where the passenger smeared poop all over the lavs. Nobody could be paid enough $$ to deal with that.

  75. Deferential is def not used properly here. If she had been deferential then she would have gotten you the drink as she’s deferring to your better judgement. Much better would have been “dejected”.

    Totally agree with this. The fact that most AA flight attendants are proud to say ‘we are here primarily for your safety’ speaks volumes. It’s a convenient cover to do the bare minimum when it comes to service on domestic flights, like they are flying the plane or preventing a terrorist act like a sky marshal. Ironically, it’s usually the passengers opening the emergency exits not the flight attendants in the safety pamphlets.

    I will say though that I had a very good time in business class on a AA flight with a very attentive flight attendant two years ago from Venice to Philly. She was a joy to be around. However, she was originally from the Caribbean so I wouldn’t say she was typical of AA’s work force. In fact, she was one of the attendants on the last US airway’s flights so she clearly excelled in her role and had good visibility in the organization. (She was like an echo from the old Pan Am days where it was exciting and fun to fly.)

  76. Just flew with AA this week and had a ticket in Main Cabin Extra with Group 5 boarding (sitting in row 15). Gate agent tells me right after I walk up to the podium that I cannot board because they don’t use group boarding but rather row boarding and preferred boarding is rows 16 plus only. After he tells me to wait until the end of boarding, they finally make an announcement over the PA that boarding is rows 16+ only. Everyone in Group 8 was able to board before me because of the lack of announcements, including through the unmarked priority lane.

    Plus the fact that check-in took 45 minutes because they were understaffed at one of their main stations.

    When I finally email AA about it, I just get a form letter saying it won’t happen again. I’m no huge fan of UA, but when I’ve had smaller issues with UA (including issues that were more out of their control than this one), I’ve received sincere apologies addressing the issue and have even been justly compensated when expecting no compensation.

    I’ve already had issues with AAdvantage since the merger and planned never to give them another chance, but I did, and they couldn’t have let me down more.

  77. @Sam Carrigan not all ex northwest crew. I once had a phone rep back in the days cussed at me over the phone using the f and s word.

  78. I agree with @Henry. @Sam is wrong with his choice of word, “deferential.” I guess he meant lethargic or as Lucky used in his post, defeatist.

  79. I don’t agree that just because the crew is older means they hate their job now. If you fly in Europe, its the same. Short haul is mostly young crews and older more senior for the longhaul.
    I’ve had great “older” crews on European flights. It really is down to the way they are treated. You can’t expect to have a horrible work culture and have these people deliver great service.

  80. Your assessment of inconsistency is very accurate. As a Business/First class passenger only, I can tell you that the route also has a great deal to do with the service. I fly to Hawaii for business regularly and the LAX-HNL route is pathetic. They assume everyone is on an award fare or is a leisure traveler, so they could give a crap less about service. That as opposed to the HND/NRT/HKG/CVG asian routes where service is always very good.

  81. @ Cedric — Crew seniority doesn’t necessarily equate to age, just how long they’ve been on the roster (and potentially being demoralized by bad management practices).

  82. Any chance American will one day buy a used A380 from emirates ? Then they can designate the shower for the cabin crew.

  83. And yet you continue to give AA business over Delta, which I thought you were going to shift more business to. Actually do that, and then you’ll be in a position to give an honest, reasoned review based on your experience.

  84. @valentino in the US there is a fear of unions. my union membership for the past 35 yrs has resulted in better travel concessions , Pay rises, better vacation time , pension security , sick pay plus other benefits And no one i know has ever been on strike

    Americans generally get terrible holidays, maternity/paternity leave, severance , minimum pay , discrimination. Unions are a great asset in 99.9 % of cases

    @keeping it real why is there no blog for supermarkets , banks , rail companies etc.

    Is there a supermarket blogger equivalent of lucky ?

    Airlines seem to get the brunt of complaints and yet more people go to supermarkets. I’ve recently been tweeting my local ( one of the world’s largest groups ) and they don’t give a damn Staff with badges showing they have been working there for 20 years + and they are totally disinterested
    Look at Southern rail in the UK. Industrial action for 2 years affecting tens of thousands of customers but it’s hard to find a forum as you would involving an airline

  85. As a former flight attendant, I’d like to chime in:

    First and foremost, there should ALWAYS be good to great customer service in a position that requires service. As a flight attendant, my training was 95% related to safety, BUT–in my time on the job–what was I doing 99% of the time? Providing service. I always subjugated my personal feelings to the rule that my job required treating the customer with respect, even if: 1) They were of the mean, insulting type of drunk; 2) I was exhausted; 3) They issued commands and apparently felt that my lowly position did not merit everyday social graces 4) They pushed their unwanted sexual comments and advances on me.

    In my opinion, it is ultimately the parent airline’s responsibility for the poor service and lousy attitudes we are seeing these days. Flight attendants are not of a lower quality of person compared to the rest of us (I’m a regular passenger nowadays and enjoy flying premium as much as possible). So, what could be possibly causing this?

    Well, some of you have probably noticed that flight prices have not kept up with inflation since the 1970s or so. We all (me too!) love to jump on coach prices to Europe that are sometimes sub-$200 and premium fares to Europe that are sometimes sub-$2K. Yet, since the 1980s, fuel prices have risen tremendously. Well, something’s got to give.

    The average flight attendant does not begin his/her career with a bad attitude. But, when I was flying, our union negotiated a maximum of 80 hours “block-to-block” flight time. I’ve spoken to some flight attendants on US carriers and, now, 100 or 110 hours are allowed.

    When I am a premium passenger, I look forward to the service, the food, the comfort of my lie-flat bed. The air show. The amenity kit. The flight attendant needs to tend to me but needs to ALWAYS be ready for the terrorist, a sudden decompression (I had one of those), severe turbulence and mentally ill passengers that smear feces on the wall. The flight attendant needs to be ready to evacuate the plane in 90 seconds.

    Even as a passenger, it is sometimes difficult to be stuck in a metal tube with our sometimes unsanitary, smelly, loud obnoxious fellow passengers. But flight attendants deal with it everyday. And it takes a toll. If you work in a bar on the ground, there are bouncers that kick out the unruly folk. But try being stuck on a flight with a drunk, who is screaming in your face and you are a 110-lb woman. Am I saying that you other innocent passenger, who are guilty of nothing and have received terrible, rude service, should not expect otherwise? No, I am not. I am arguing that the real fault does not fall on the flight attendants.

    Again, I put this on the parent corporations. If they cannot provide proper training, rest and staffing for their flights, they need to evaluate their situation. If their profit margins are super slim, perhaps prices need to be raised. Perhaps flight attendants should have a lower limit to the amount of miles flown per month. Perhaps there should be more training and emphasis on service. And, more controversially, perhaps flight attendants should advance to popular routes based on merit, not just on length of employment.

    I have more thoughts, but this is enough for now.

    Happy flying!

  86. Inconsistent AA: mostly un-noteworthy, sometimes pleasant, and sometimes downright awful.

    Flying AA , sometimes you just hope to get off the flight unscathed. It is nice to able to thank the crew for a pleasant flight, unfortunately, it is not too often merited.

  87. @Beverly – the lack of crews was weather-related, as winter weather was causing delays/cancellations/disruptions so crews couldn’t be where they needed to be… the ones that were there couldn’t necessarily be instantly reassigned to other flights because it would throw of their schedules and their hours/time limits.

  88. I switched from AA to DL 2 years ago and couldn’t be happier. I once sat in the first row economy and saw a domestic first class FA wearing a pin button on the vest that said “sit down and be quiet!.” It seems that he’s wearing it as a joke, and I’m not an easily triggered person… but I’m saying I’d never see that with non-US airline FAs.

    Another time, again in economy, we have started to descend, and FA was out collecting waste. She was going up and down the aisle half yelling “TAKE YOUR STUFF WITH YOU IF YOU LEAVE IT HERE I’M KEEPING IT.” Nothing wrong with that, but her attitude treating passengers like a 5yo is very unpleasant.

  89. Just had a lousy round trip experience in AA flagship first LAX-JFK-LAX. Rude FA’s and after my call button was ignored for a refill on water, I walked up to the galley to find the flight attendant SLEEPING in the jump seat. Unprofessional and unsafe.

  90. This is all due to corporate greed. It sucks the life out of everyone. We need a recession to expose the crooks.

  91. What has your experience been with service on US airlines lately

    Everything from fairly unobtrusive and nondescript (if not at all downright rude) to completely outstanding: I had a great purser flying AA F HKG-LAX; funny, service oriented, attentive, welcoming and the flight was good enough that I made sure the AA Twitter team knew. The service would have been too jocular and friendly for someone who likes the SQ servile/polite style of FA service, but I like sassy Southwest FAs myself, so it was right up my alley. And heck, there was even an appetizer with caviar! They made my bed for me!

    The next flight (LAX-SEA) I was mostly left alone because of an AA miscater (according to the FA, plane swap meant we were without our F food, it was just Y wraps and the usual assortment of drinks). Of course, I had had a medium rare steak dinner in the LAX Flagship Lounge Dining room with a nice Napa cab and a smokey Mescal Old Fashioned, so I would have probably told the FA I didn’t want my food and wasn’t in the mood for more than water anyway, even if we had the usual F food. 😉

    I had perfectly nondescript if polite service on my CX BKK-HKG flight before my trip on AA, along with an inedible pork cutlet that has to be some of the worst food I have EVER had on a plane. Seriously. The chicken rice I paid $3 for on Thai Air Asia going from NST to DMK on the flight before that was WAY better. But hey, blast chilling airplane food, sometimes you roll snake eyes on that.

    I’d have to say it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had outright rude/uncaring service on a plane, to the point of nothing sticks out to me. My occasional AA premium class flights are more than I can count on one hand, if not at your level of being more than you can count 🙂 and don’t stick out as terrible FAs, with some absolute gems I can recall.

    I’ve had plenty of good service from older FAs too- in fact, the ones that stick out are mostly NOT 20-something female FAs in tight-fitting clothes. (I’m not on planes to ogle attendants and indulge fantasies of “coffee, tea or me”, I’m on them to get somewhere. I couldn’t possibly care less if the FA has white hair and wrinkles. Just do the job and I’ll be fine.)

  92. Re: the Great Deferential Debate, I believe the word the commenter was looking for is “indifferent.”

  93. I vividly remember the Stewardesses (that is how they were called them) back in the 70’s. Lovely experience, L-1011, wide body, for domestic flights. Full meal in coach. But, we as a society decided that we value cheap tickets over all. See what we get.

  94. AA at the worst again but regarding the diet coke pre-take off thing, sometimes those are loaded in the bar which has to be unlocked in order to retrieve. From memory, these bars cannot be unlocked (by law- its a customs thing) until air-borne…

  95. The USA is the S**T H**E country. American exceptionalism indeed.

    It show through, time and time again, not just on the airlines, but in the values, education, politeness, politics, etc. etc etc.

  96. The crappy attitude starts at the top, I.e. Dougie Parker and works it’s way down. It does no good to complain to management because it will be ignored. When the Aadvantage program was gutted it showed what management thought about customer loyalty and employees know this. They know you can’t complain onboard or you may wind up thrown off or worst case, arrested. They know management doesn’t care so these lazy cretins continue treating their real bosses (us) like something smelly they stepped in.

  97. @keepingitreal2 Please pardon me, but I believe I’m in love with you.

    (That said, between Lucky’s and your points, there’s great points made here)

  98. I once asked for an express meal in an AA Miami to South America flight, so I could fall asleep faster. Nothing happened. When I asked a flight attendant about my meal, she said: “We serve the regular meals first, and then the single-course meals”. Which makes no sense.

  99. Please fly Qatar airways from Miami in buisness class to any destination and then fly American Airlines in buisness class to any international destination, what a difference in the service,the attention,the curtesy,the friendliness,the generosity,I could go on and on,Qatar air any day.

  100. I am disgusted that there are so many pompous, self centered, and unempathetic consumers out there. From my perspective, the guy who wrote this, even with the obvious bias to his story telling, I could pick up on so much misguided notions he had for service (Any first hand experience as an employee in service industry?) There are so many factors that have been blatantly disregarded that could effect the outcome of responses you received and how you interpreted them. I understand It is hard to evaluate such situations from a third person perspective, but it could be a healthy meditative practice to try in the future. I have never been a flight attendant myself, but working in the service industry I can say there are few other jobs out there that have the opportunity to meet as many different types of people out there. That being said I do agree with the idealistic nature you should expect of someone who wants to work in such a position. There are perfectly acceptable excuses that can disrupt the outcome of service you expect, even though it is something any employee should keep quiet from the paying consumer unless specifically asked. I take pride in my simple living of being able to provide the best experience possible while under my care. Sometimes stuff happens though and there are a few sect of people similar to yourself that have very entitled attitudes that blind your ability to see all the variables in a picture. I had a group of guests, one of which left a very nasty note pointing out their perspective of service which was all due to my inept lack of attentiveness. Pay no mind to me having 5 other tables I have to help and a number of other chaotic factors going on. I have traveled by flight myself a lot while just a few times in first class, I have been more than happy with my service even when not all my needs and expectations were met. Just remember they are human not robot and individually unique. I assume just as there are a few servers in the profession purely for quick cash, there are just as likely some flight attendants in it purely for the perks of flight. There are for sure examples of bad service providers out there and there for sure could be something wrong going on specifically with AA. The evidence provided in this article however is far from evidence of these two things being directly tied together. If a specific airline upsets you so much, first attempt to reevaluate the situation from another perspective. Then if still certain that the service promised with purchase does not align with what was received, either boycott them or bring up your dissatisfaction in a polite manner (you may be less polite than you think). If your complaint is reasonable they should at least attempt to make it right. Sorry to anyone who has a less that satisfactory experience, but try not to act out as an ignorant spoiled child who thinks the world owes you more.

  101. I am executive platinum until 1/31/18 and have flown AA almost exclusively for the last twenty years. On a number of occasions I paid more to fly AA. However, I had too many lousy experiences with AA during the last six months and am out. I just took a flight with Alaska this week and wow, night and day. What a great experience. Time for me to give other carriers a chance.

  102. on the word “deferential”:
    I got from Ben’s usage a meaning of what I would call obsequious or falsely deferential. I sometimes find in the US, service is provided with quotations marks around it, so to speak. The implications, not in words but in manner, style or facial expression is: ‘I’m just as good as you are even if I have to serve you, sonofabitch.”
    America did, after all, provide the world with the term “attitude” to describe a major subtext to any words or action.
    What I find on all 3 major American carriers is that the service is seldom uncontaminated by subtext — completely free of veiled meaning or a communication of his/her personal concerns: I’m so tired, you’re so demanding, that’s not the way we do things, sit down and shut up, you’re a number, this trip may be special to you, but not to me.

  103. I agree that you cannot lump all flight attendants into one group of providing poor service. But it amazing that Southwest airlines is by far the superior service provider in economy class service in the US. I realize they don’t serve meals but if you flew 10 flights on them and 10 flights on one of the big 3 US airlines Southwest would win the average all the time. I think it boils down to a attitude in this country and a few others countries as well that a good work ethic is just not in many peoples mindset. In many ways we as a culture are very spoiled and self centered. A little humbleness and empathy can make a worker in the service industry shine.

    Oh by the way some people complain about the open seating policy at southwest compared to other airlines. Remember parents with babies board first so when you board you can choose a seat further away but with assigned seating you may have paid extra $$ to have an economy aisle seat in say row 6 just behind first class only to find mommy and crying baby right next you.

  104. Finally got tired of the US carriers for international….even though gold status or above on Delta, United and AA. Switched to Qatar for nearly all international flights three years ago and have generally been delighted. What a change to be treated as a guest and a customer instead of an interruption.

  105. I’m not enjoying all the FA-bashing here. It smacks of pack-dog behavior.

    On my AA flights MIA-LHR-MIA out in mid-Dec, back in mid-Jan, I had a really great experience in Business. The FAs were friendly, joke-cracking and all gave great service. Except maybe for the tall skinny blond, but what she lacked in smiles, she made up for with highly professional service.

    So what if nobody comes when you push the bell button. Get out of your seat and off your high horse and go to the galley and get whatever you wanted (with a genuine nice smile, and “sorry to bother you…”) and they are delighted to help. It’s not a big deal. It’s on your way to the bathroom anyway.

    It’s my conclusion that most FAs mirror our own attitudes. Walk in with a smile and a happy greeting and you’ll get many in return. And just relax and enjoy. Show appreciation for the little things they do, like making a special trip from the galley with a bottle of the good red just to refill your glass.

    Just saying… 🙂

  106. Lucky,
    Man you hit the nail on the head! I fly AA to GRU from JFK frequently, over 100 times. It is one of AA’s most senior flights and the FA’s are uniformly grouchy and dismissive. I find it best to fly on weekends as the younger less belligerent FA’s take these slots. Numerous times I have complained to Customer Service and despite my 35 yrs in the AA program and zillions of miles, a form reply letter is all I get.
    I agree with other blog followers than foreign carriers are light years ahead of these “can’t do/don’t bother me” grumps one gets on AA.

  107. I’ve rarely had terrible service

    But on a flight to BCN my traveling partner asked for tomato juice.
    The FA said, “oh NO! I refuse to be held liable if the salt content causes you to have severe swelling!” (FA was serious)

    She was forced to order something else

    I was astonished

  108. Anyone remember the days back when UA provided their frequent travelers with “Appreciation” coupons that you could hand to FA’s who you felt provided you with excellent service? In the early days of that program, I remember bringing a smile to many FA’s at the end of a trip as I deplaned. And I also noticed the look I got from a nearby FA who did NOT get the coupon from me.

    Bad service starts at the top. If an exceptional service culture is the goal, then management needs to make it a priority. If current union contracts contribute to the problem, then they need to be renegotiated when up for renewal. In the end, AA, DL ,and UA can have any culture they are willing to work towards.

  109. I come from a long line of AA Employee’s here on the west coast and East Coast (JFK) and things I have been told by them I just shack my head. For the most part, the Unions have the airlines by the balls. It is nearly impossible to fire and one or reprimand only. Lucky, you have posted many times that AA FA’s don’t give PDB as well as many people on FT, it is part of the standard of service that PDB be given, NOW, the only reason for it not to be done is if it going to interfere with an on-time departure. Many FA’s will use this excuse on why PDB was done and the Union will back them, even if 4 people write in to AA and tell them that the FA was in the galley for 20 minutes talking. AA will throw them some miles to make them happy. There was an incident at DFW, when a plane was being pushed back and a wing walker wasn’t paying attention and accident happened, even though it was the Wing Walkers fault, the Union stop the company for discipline him, citing emotional distress for working too much. It’s really insane the power the Unions have. Over the years I have become anti-union, because of things like this. The unions do not care about AA at all, I think that the unions need to rethink this, if there is no AA then those employee’s won’t have jobs.

    When it comes to PDB it should be the captain who makes the decision if they do it or not, not the lead FA. When someone complains about service on board, the airlines should have a right to investigate it and see why it happened and maybe have the FA go through a refresher course. I think passenagers should record ALL interaction with flight crew so there is evidence of what happened, for Lucky and Ford both to be told by the FA that Express dining takes too much time, is an excuse and THAT FA needs to be brought into the In-Flight Managers officer and they need to explain themselves on why they said that… Not too sure how it is harder to do express dining vs a regular service.

  110. Oh, and MikeA is right. Many conflicts with “service” can be resolved by uprooting one’s ass and going to the galley to get what you want. Almost all of our travel is in F or B. I have zero issue with going to get something important to me. And when done with sincerity and no attitude, I find that service typically improves with that FA for the duration of the flight. Sometimes those in the service industry need a nudge. Big deal.

  111. Flew AA from ORD to SFO. During the beverage service, I politely asked if I could please have some coffee. The flight attendant, in a rude condescending tone replied, “if you don’t say anything else, it’s coming to you black”. So I asked for cream and splenda, but he gave me regular sugar instead. At that point, I didn’t even bother to inform him that he got my order wrong. How hard is it to proactively offer cream and sugar or to just plainly ask what I would have wanted to go with my coffee? It seems I wasn’t the only passenger who didn’t have a good opinion about that particular flight attendant. Another passenger even got up his seat, made the effort to walk down the aisle to have a word with the FA and tell him he shouldn’t be treating passengers the way he was doing. It’s so frustrating to see when an employee is evidently not enjoying their job, but he shouldn’t take it out on customers.

  112. The only time I ever used the call button was when I was a child and I thought it was fun to play with it. If you are elderly or disabled and it is hard to get up, then I can see using it. Otherwise, it is for emergencies. If you want a diet coke, please go up to the galley and ask.

  113. First visited the states on a Pan Am in late 70s in coach.
    Smashing flight, well looked after, pleasant time.
    In early 80s flew TWA-upgraded on second leg to business(ambassador class I think they called it)-smashing flights, great crew.
    As a poster said-we want cheap now.
    The cost of a transatlantic ticket hasn’t changed much, but wages have soared-both crew and passengers (not that folk are well paid-just not as badly paid!)-so its really lower margins now and they are all in survival mode.
    ME or Asian is best but even they are cost cutting now.
    Travelling fairly soon on my retirement trips(happy days-43 years of various clinical careers) and taking Asian carriers(I live in Asia now).
    Pay a bit more, give a career path either short or long or both to crews and introduce more performance pay bonus as mandatory. Give a recognized route out in transferable skills to other industries that are benchmarked and validated(the uk military started this a few decades ago)
    I have done various career changes over the decades-same corps but different roles-public, military and private industrial roles, ,international and national(NHS v International Red X as a health delegate )and then move again into industry and private practice and then consulting , I am sure the millennial generation would relish a crew career -especially if it leads to a skill recognition entry into other hospitality/logistic roles.
    Some of the best healthcare managers I know started as chefs, hotel management and so on.
    A lot of army officers and senior NCOs have made great media producers.
    Just a thought as to why crew might find themselves down heartened and even trapped in a job that is seen as great, might not appear so to the ones doing it and is leading nowhere as they slowly become less thrilled than they did on day one. I can see the frustration in many industries that are called public facing these days- many more seem to have ideals of service provision in terms of standard that resources are simply not able to cater to(too few staff and too short a time to be realistic in targets)say have rather Modern life it seems. Never thought I would say weren’t the seventies a great time to be young(from an equality of opportunity point of view for many of us normal working class Joes)

  114. I spent most of my life in North America (not Mexico) so I think I have a reasonably decent insight into the general mentality. Americans wear their feelings on their sleeves and by the standards of the rest of the world, over-share personal details and current mood, even when unsolicited; e.g. telling pax they are stressed. There is a lack of partition between mood and professionalism. The consistently awesome QR crew from less advantaged countries probably have or have had more challenging lives than what most Americans (and people of the developed West) would realise, but they appear to be truly grateful for their job and even on the worst day, manage to consistently deliver their corporate benchmark level of service. So to fix the service level, you need to change the culture. All that said, other aspects of the American service industry (e.g. waiters in restaurants) are legendary for their annoying level of attentiveness (by the standards of most of the rest of the world), but that maybe driven by incentives to earn tips. I really don’t want to be in a situation where I have to tip the flight attendant in order to get consistently awesome service.

  115. In our experience, most Asian airlines flight attendants are much nicer compared with US and European counterparts. We avoid flying internationally with US based airlines because of their horrible service. Haven’t tried any of the Gulf airlines yet.

  116. I generally fly delta but have taken 3 American flights in the last 2 months. Both were with actively unfriendly crews who were bordering on hostile. The gate dragons were even worse. And this is flying out of Lexington and Charleston, not massive, stressful airports. Even when I got inexplicably got bumped from paid first class to economy (in the back of the plane, in the last boarding group, and had to gate check my bags all the way through to my final destination because -surprise- all of the overhead bins were full when group 8 boarded) the Charleston gate agents were actively hostile to trying to help me in any way and annoyed I’d have the audacity to ask them to give me any sort of concession to make things easier, instead quoting company policy and telling me a middle seat in row 18 (second up from the rear lav ) was a “preferred seat” and I should be happy I got it. Wtf.

    I just flew American to Denver last weekend and I don’t think the flight attendants smiled even once during the flight.

    American is making me rethink flying United.

  117. The solution: A mandatory service charge of 20% should be added on the ticket price, plus passengers should be encouraged to freely tip at various points during the flight

  118. I can’t honestly defend any of the actions described. They are obvious examples of poor customer service and should be addressed with the employee. There are many reasons customer service is sometimes lacking. The poor performers embarrass me.

    But please ask yourself why people use certain language to describe flight attendants. Their age, seniority or attractiveness is not relevant. Vestiges of sexism.

    Why should flight attendants only get to work in their chosen career for a couple years before moving on? We don’t ask rude bank tellers, token booth operators, or store clerks to do that.

    And where is the blog critiquing the job performance of all of all the commenters?

  119. Paradoxically: I had an absolutely phenomenal experience in AA biz in December from LAX to NRT – attentive, kind, friendly, and professional; maybe the best crew I’ve ever had. Then I took JAL economy back and the crew made me feel like every minor request was an enormous burden and hassle. But I also had a bunch of indifferent AA crew in economy late last year.

  120. How about promoting employees on merit rather than seniority like in airlines elsewhere around the world? That would give everyone an incentive to provide good service.

  121. And you know those same poor attitude FAs just got a raise and benefits bump. After the bogus revenue requirement meant that I couldn’t requal with even 70k miles so I’ve switched over to Qatar Privilege Club. Believe me, AA’s lousy service still disappoints but when I see my approaching Emerald status on QR, it disappoints a lot Less! And no more paying for the Admirals Club either. Saves $500 a year!

  122. Sooo I stopped flying those airlines. I only fly Southwest. Are they perfect? NO
    But 9 Times out is 10 I get a joke or a song
    Hahahahah
    I fly every week for work…USA only

  123. @Joseph Glowitz

    If America is the sh** ho** country of the world than why do people worldwide want to come here? Why do people wait years and years to come legally? Why is there a waitlist to immigrate to America that is years and years and years long? And why do many people break the law and come to America illegally? Obviously we are doing something right, and it doesn’t sound too much like America is the sh** ho** to me.

    With regard to this FA issue, the bottom line is flight attendants on US carriers cannot be fired, unless they kill a passenger. But that seems to be it. Whereas flight attendants on international carriers actually have to be professional and courteous if they want to keep their job. So flight attendants on US carriers know they can push the limits, and not receive any type of punishment that’s too harsh unless they commit some kind of safety violation. Unfortunately there also seems to be this “us vs. them” mentality among many US fight attendants, and that’s very sad.

    I personally know a few AA flight attendants who are my friends. If they’re having bad days, they will many times take it out on the passengers. Everyone of us has bad days, it’s human nature. But when we have bad days we can be reclusive, or stay away from people, or go home early, or go to bed early. But what are FA’s suppose to do? Their jobs depends on them interacting with passengers and people they don’t know daily, who else can they take it out on? Several of my AA FA friends told me that if someone hits the call button the passenger better be “dying” when they show up. They also talk disparagingly about FC passengers. They feel many FC passengers come on board with an attitude that feels entitled and those passengers, in their opinion, talk down to FA’s as servants. One of my FA friends even went so far as to say she wish she could have poured a drink over a FC passenger’s head for how the passenger was barking orders at her.

    I would say the only remedy to this problem is to have better oversight, and for the companies to take complaints about FAs more seriously that come with consequences. Otherwise who cares? FA’s know they can do just about anything they want without any repercussions.

    Despite Tiffany’s comments about unions not being the issue, I think on the whole you will find that unionized FA are nastier than non-unionized FA’s. Unionized FA’s know they can do and act as they please without getting fired because the union will bully the airline into making sure they aren’t fired no matter what.

    When I board an American carrrier’s flight be it short of longhaul, in a premium cabin, I always go in with the worst expectations. I also try and minimize FA’s jobs as much as possible. Do I need a water? Get up and go to the galley. Do I need a coffee? Get up and go to the galley. Do I need these glasses cleared away? Get up and bring them to the FA’s in the galley. Do I need something after I just woke up? Get up and get it myself. This usually works as FA’s see I’m trying to make their jobs easier, and in turn treat me more as “one of them.”

    You have to understand you’re not flying Emirates or Cathay Pacific so you need to set your bar in the right place.

  124. Couldn’t agree more. I just took a flight DFW to HKG in biz and HKG to LAX in biz on AA and the flights were LITERALLY night and day. To HKG it was one of the best cabin crews I’ve had in years; the flight back to LAX was one of the laziest and saddest bunch of staff I’ve seen for a 12 hour flight. Not to mention these was a full fare J class booked two days before at crazy prices by my client. Really made me wonder if it’s time to switch to Delta. Or someone else. But who???!

  125. It’s been said by others so far, but the general feeling you get on US carriers is that any request is way too much work for them. There have been too many moments, even in Business Class, that I have felt like I was hugely inconveniencing the FAs to request anything as small as for some more water during the flight, whereas in the ME or Asia they proactively offer you refills for example.

  126. Ben,

    Isn’t Trump trying to make America great again. That includes industries. Hopefully his enthusiasm will rub off on the American worker.

    It has failed before, such as the 1980’s auto mechanical failures, a big switch to foreign made cars.

    USA airlines need to compete, need good energy CEO’s to lead the way.

    No one wants to pay good money for crappy service and attitudes.

    Kent

  127. I usually pay out of pocket for my long haul flights in business or first. When I pay between $4000-$8000 I expect a pleasant experience including comfortable lie flat, proper cabin crew attitude and I do not intend to clean up my tray and trash at the end of the service. Come on people, we spend $500-$700 or equivalent an hour so I think we deserve a value and courtesy inflight. If I can’t get it from US based carriers I go th Mid East based carriers or even Chinese carriers. If your employer or your customer pays your fare perhaps some of you do not care about the quality of your experience. You may feel differently when real $$ are coming out of your pocket.

  128. I was platinum but stopped flying AA 2 years back. I just got tired of their ‘I don’t care’ attitude – from extremely lazy crew service, to their inflight food I would not even feed to a dog, to having to beg for award points after every paid (not upgraded) first class ticket (and them always undercalculating points). For all it’s own issues, at least United seems to be moving forward and making positive changes. AA, on the other hand, is not.

  129. “You have to understand you’re not flying Emirates or Cathay Pacific so you need to set your bar in the right place.”

    Wow. Just wow. This whole topic. AA FA’s pay attention: Sorry, but call button is not just for emergencies. FA’s are there to provide some service as well. Particularly in this era of densification plus 85% load factors, nobody can move. If my ten yr old is coughing and needs water, I’d like some help, because I’m packed into my seat like an egg in a carton (but less comfortable). If my 80 yr old father needs something, and actually decides its important enough to hit the call button, you godddamn well better suck it up and answer the call. All real life examples.

    Of course its the unions, just not exclusively. Of course it can be age/burnout, just not exclusively. I had a relatively young crew on a recent AUS-LAX flight and their attitudes and service were the absolute worst – and I called them on it to their face. The flight was delayed, at the end of the flight the pilots departed quickly, or they would have gotten an earful as well.

    Lets face it – across all races, and most socioeconomic strata, more people in this country are dumber, more anti-intellectual, and products of trash households than ever before. Idiocracy?
    Yeah, I’d say so. Who the hell would vote for a porn-star banging serial-lying money-launderer for President? Next up from these dimwits: President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho.

    Of course its obvious in low wage public facing jobs like FA’s – this is a leading indicator of what i happening to the US in general. And AA has sunk to the bottom. I am a lifetime Gold who still tries to fly AA but almost always regrets it.

    My new rule when flying is: never get boxed into a situation where I can’t take a different flight. That way, I don’t worry about standing up for myself as a passenger.

  130. It’s a damn shame that US carriers have fallen so far behind international ones, since they led the pack up until the 80’s or so (it was the deregulation of the airlines which caused the decline in service/quality of product). Based on my own experience, and also what I’ve heard, Alaska Airlines is the best domestic service product for the airlines. I rode first class last August, and they were very attentive. I received my meal last, and they thought the ran out of salad dressing. My flight attendant looked around a bit more, and found me some. She also refilled my drink five times, even going to the back of the plane to get milk when cookies were served. As far as economy, Southwest is probably the best carrier.

  131. I am United 1K, mostly domestic, plus picked up another 25K on Alaska and AA each. I also flew Lufthansa, BA and TAP this past year.

    I agree that for the most part, service is good. But, there are a couple of consistent exceptions as well as the occasional horrible cabin crew.

    Exception 1: SFO-EWR. The crew is typically older and if I understand the process, the more senior you are, the higher in the pecking order for picking work lines. I also presume this route is one of the best for both layover location and hours. Even with the p.s. product, most of the crews I experienced are borderline rude and inattentive. I no longer fly this route since I typically get much better crews routing through IAD, adding a stop and sacrificing a lie-flat.
    Exception 2: Almost any ORD route using SkyWest (United Express). The cabin crew pair is typically very young and more interested in their phone than their passengers.
    I did have three exceptional flight attendants on United this year. When that happens, I make it a point to get their name and write United hoping, perhaps naively, that the airline does something nice for them.

    Alaska is weird – great cabin crews, rude check-in agents, especially PDX. Fortunately I rarely check bags so I bypass that experience.

    AA is a mixed bag, although I had the best FA ever this year on a DFW-SFO leg. She was engaged, timely, attentive and funny, not just with me, but the entire first class cabin. I overhead three other passengers say that to her as we disembarked.

    Lufthansa, BA and TAP crews were solid but not better than the top domestic. BUT, I never have flown a non-domestic and had a bad experience in over 40 years of flying.

  132. American is so horrible now thanks to usair! It’s like motel 6 took over the Westin and is trying to run it into the ground as cheap as they can! I wouldn’t fly American anymore not worth it they were great Intl now…. pathetic. Don’t know what happened see a lot of younger people working one person said they combined Intl and domestic flight crews… why??? So awful now sorry uscrap I mean American never again!

  133. AA was one of the best carriers until Parker and US Air merged and they now bottom line EVERYTHING in a race to the bottom. AA FAs are given twice the work with less help and now are forced with the atrocious US Air crews who never gave a damn. No wonder AA FAs are over it. Don’t expect any change until AA’s market share starts really suffering from poor service. But in the meantime they will give everyone in Premium Economy free booze to shut them up.

  134. This is a rant that would be better served towards the company with a specific complaint rather than trashing the entire company over your experience. There are at least 20,000 flight attendants employed by AA and you can’t say that every one of them is bad. Also- on my last two flights flown on AA the passengers were miserable. On a delay that we were given the opportunity to deplane (there was something wrong with the plane and they were fixing it), the Flight attendants were scrambling to give us all water and I saw that there were passengers literally screaming at them. Really. Screaming at them. And it was Christmas Day. The other flight I just flew had a traveling couple where the wife was vomitting as she walked down the jet bridge. When she got on the plane she went into the front lavatory and continued to throw up. I was concerned that she would be flying with us as I do not want to get the flu. Her husband was adamant that it was “just food poisoning.” The couple ended up switching seats from the middle of the plane and wound up in the last row of the aircraft by the lavatory. During the flight, she continued to go to the lav to vomit. And by the way, their “emotional support dog” or whatever, decided to pee in the aisle. I just couldn’t even believe it This is what these flight attendants have to deal with. You couldn’t pay me ENOUGH to do that job. Did I get to my destinations safely and on time? Yep. I also thanked them for the flight. Kindness goes a long way…yes they are there for service but also for safety. Be kind people. Also be constructive with your criticism.

  135. @Emmie. Big kudos for your frank, detailed and balanced view of AA FAs and the challenges they deal with daily. As I said above, I never had a bad flight with AA. Every time I board, I’m just happy to be there. In fact, I feel totally privileged to be there in biz.

    Passenger attitude has 100% to do with FA attitude.

    For the rest of you whiny folk. Pls just knock it off trashing AA.

    And Ben – you started this s**t stirring.
    Yes I know that having many comments helps your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) but negativity NEVER helps overall. It only hurts and brings down the entire tone and legitimacy of your site. #rantover #ventover

    And those other whiny libs bringing in politics. What are you? Like 10 years old and still in diapers? I’m fed up with you too, get a freaking life! #growup

    AA and the rest of the world does NOT owe you a living. Stay off AA forever, in fact. You have a choice as many, many have pointed out. Go!! Please go.

    I would be waaay happier to sit with relaxed and sane seatmates, not whiny a**holes. #badpax

    Mike

  136. Lucky & team, hypothetically speaking, do you think AA FA customer service improve if they are assigned to domestic short-haul flights only?

    First, it is clear that most AA if not all FA are unionized. No matter how they mistreat customers, it seems there are no consequences for their actions as they are protected by their union.

    Second, AA FA get assigned to long-haul routes based on seniority, so they enjoy higher pay and get to have a rest day in Paris, France instead of Paris, Oklahoma.

    Back to my question, do you think changing the rules of the game will then change their attitude?

    From my recent AA travel experience, I get better service on short-haul flights by these young friendly FA.

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