American’s CEO Focuses on Operation Over Customers Because He Believes That’s What Customers Want

American Airlines has focused on ‘D0’ — departing exactly on time — and has been willing to sacrifice anything else towards that goal. Employees are expected to ensure each flight pushes back not a minute late, and can get called in and reprimanded if other operational needs are allowed to get in the way.

The airline’s belief is departing on time is the more controllable than arriving on time. Once a plane pushes back it’s largely under the control of the government (air traffic control) and things like weather which are outside the airline’s control. But up until departure issues are more controllable.

Last month airline President Robert Isom acknowledged that without the right resources, D0 fails. Despite a relentless focus on D0, they haven’t actually been good at running an on time operation.

At last week’s Crew News employee question and answer session an American Airlines captain asked Doug Parker about ‘D0’. They complained that when a flight isn’t pushing back on time anyway customer service agents haven’t been willing to offer customer service. One of their connecting passengers had left a phone and computer on their prior flight, 7 gates away at Chicago O’Hare, and no one would go get them for her. They complained that no one in customer service is given the authority to offer customer service.

American Airlines at Chicago O’Hare

Parker responded that’s wrong, because they’re doing what customers want, saying that “the most important thing to customers is that we deliver on our commitment to leave on time and get them to the destination as they have scheduled.”

  • D0 is the result of getting processes and staffing and vendor relationships right. It’s not something you just click your heels three times and yell at employees over.
  • When you do it’s the customer that takes it on the chin. Upgrades don’t get processed, flights don’t get catered, and customers are forced to gate check bags unnecessarily.
    • Employees get called in for taking a catering delay when international first class is missing servingware. They called called in when a flight that’s double catered out of Dallas has no food for first class, and they take a catering delay — because the alternative is no food for two flights. Several managers stand on the jetbridge flailing about.
    • Gate agents force passengers to get check their bags, even when there’s plenty of overhead bin space, just in case because if passengers wind up boarding and having to gate check closer to departure that could mean a 5 to 7 minute delay. That’s bad for the customer. It heightens their anxiety and wastes their time on arrival. But it protects the employee from the wrath of their supervisor.
    • First class seats go out empty when agents are unwilling to take the couple of minutes to come on board and move up an economy passenger after the passenger who was supposed to be seated there either no shows or misconnects.

Depart With Seats Looking Like This? No Problem!

Apparently that’s how Parker thinks customers like to be treated. He says, “Airlines that have done a really great job with operational reliability like Delta, they’ve done it by focusing on D0 first.”

Let’s leave aside that Delta has a superior TechOps capability that keeps their older fleet running better than American’s newer aircraft, and that American has disgruntled mechanics.

Airlines that achieve operational reliability do it by getting the right resources in place to accomplish everything that’s necessary to get planes out on time, not by requiring employees to skip steps and inconvenience customers in order to achieve operational goals.