American Airlines’ Employee Survey: Commendable Or Stupid?

Filed Under: American

American is in a bit of a rut right now, and their employees, shareholders, and customers, all don’t really seem to like the airline. The airline is mismanaged under the leadership of Doug Parker. While he did a good job integrating American and US Airways, and has had an incredible career, it’s time for the airline to find someone new to lead the way.

That’s for a different post, though. Today I wanted to write about results from an internal survey that American has just released. American Airlines sent out a survey to their employees to get a sense of how they feel on a variety of topics, and The Forward Cabin has the details of that.

In this survey they had a bunch of statements, and asked employees to share whether they were favorable, neutral, or unfavorable towards them.

While they haven’t yet revealed the full results, they have shared the statements on which they got the most extreme responses from the nearly 42,000 employees who participated in the survey.

The three worst scores are pretty awful. Let’s look at what American employees had to say.

“Leaders at American Airlines make the right decisions that take care of our frontline team members:”

  • Favorable: 26.4%
  • Neutral: 22.3%
  • Unfavorable: 51.3%

“Leaders at American make the right decisions that support me:”

  • Favorable: 27.8%
  • Neutral: 22.8%
  • Unfavorable: 49.4%

“Leaders at American listen and seek to understand the frontline team member experience:”

  • Favorable: 28%
  • Neutral: 22.1%
  • Unfavorable: 49.9%

Are the results here surprising? No. Rather what I find quite surprising is that American not only does these surveys, but then publishes the results for all employees to see.

I’m of two minds when it comes to this.

On one hand, I respect a company that is willing to be this transparent in sharing just how unhappy employees are. They could just as easily not have these surveys, or at a minimum, not publish the exact results. So I respect them for publishing them.

On the other hand, it seems incredibly stupid to me to reinforce the unhappiness of employees in such a way without actually changing anything. American management should know that employees are unhappy. Go to an airport or take an American flight, and you’ll sure as heck notice it.

I guess I draw a parallel between this and how out of touch I find many loyalty program executives to be. Whenever I attend a conference with loyalty program executives, they’re often so focused on loyalty 2.0 and about how the next wave of loyalty programs comes in the form of better understanding customers. They want to have all kinds of data on guests and figure out their preferences.

The problem is that these companies seem to love collecting data but don’t actually do anything with it. Personally I hate when companies ask me for preferences and then don’t deliver on them. That leaves a sour taste in my mouth, and they’re much better off just not asking for preferences in the first place. But when you ask me what I like and then do nothing with it, that’s annoying.

Similarly, what is American management hoping to accomplish here? They did a similar survey last year, and responses were terrible. This year the responses are even worse. And the worst responses all relate to management being out of touch.

So, ummm, if you’re going to publish these results, shouldn’t you act on them? And shouldn’t that involve Doug Parker showing himself out the door?

What do you think — should American be commended or ashamed for having these surveys and publishing the results?

  1. I do think American is mismanaged (and I abandoned them as a customer after 9 years as EXP) but I also don’t understand the employees. In my career, on the occasions where I was really unhappy, I switched jobs to somewhere else. If things are so bad, why isn’t there a mass exodus?

  2. Most Fortune 500 companies do surveys like this (mine does). But mine makes changes based of off the surveys. I agree American seems to want employees to feel like they are heard (that is why they publish it), but makes no real change. So American executives are probably doing the survey if for no other reason than “well everyone else does it”. Maybe that should be the new motto for the airline.

  3. @Corey: The airline industry is notoriously seniority based, so switching from one company to another isn’t the same as it would be if you worked for a tech firm.

  4. And if the employees are unhappy just imagine the how unhappy the customers might be And can you imagine if American could fix just 10% of what employees and customers hate about doing business class how that might boost the bottom line annually?

  5. As mentioned previously, many companies do this. Even the DoD does this in what’s called a “Command Climate Survey”. And like Charles S mentions, good organizations attempt to right their wrongs. Having seen AA’s decline of late as a status-holder, I’d surmise this is done strictly for show because perception is reality at AA. Given how frequently airlines tell pax that cutbacks and decreases in service/comfort are “based on customer feedback”, I find it hard to believe management is truly hoping to make positive changes for their employees. But, I’d like to be proven wrong.

  6. I did these surveys in a previous job both as a participant and as a manager looking at the results. It is the coments that are most revealing rather than the scores.

    As some of these are often contradictory it’s hard for management to act on them without displeasing someone.

    Also there is often a huge time lag between asking the questions the collating and analysing the results and before you know it your 6 months into the year and 6 months before thenext survey is due.

  7. If the question is whether it’s commendable or stupid, I lean towards stupid. Like you said in the article @Lucky, when someone asks you what you want and then chooses not to provide it, it leaves a sour taste. Not only is AA providing negative groupthink to its employees by publishing the results, but then it’s slapping the employees in the face by not addressing that feedback. Time will tell

  8. Having flight benefits on multiple airlines in the past (including American), AA is by far the best one to Non-Rev. Yes, your 40hrs/week working for AA may not be the best compared to other airlines. But at the end of the day, a lot of airline employees work for an airline for the flight benefits. I can say, at least for myself and a lot of my friends in the industry, the AA flight benefits outweigh the negativity of working for AA.

  9. You are absolutely right that many if not most loyalty program managers are totally obsessed with collecting data, but forget to do something with it. Worse, many do not even speak with customers or even better, listen to customers, but instead rely on survey data collected through third parties.
    I have had probably 6 or 7 loyalty program officers working for me over the years managing programs for millions of customers. Unfortunately I never managed to find the one who had the obsession to drive customer satisfaction and stickiness.

  10. Didn’t they have a similar survey last year? I thought you wrote about it and IIRC they had similar results . What seems ridiculous to me is that they have the same results YOY and haven’t done anything. Glad I’ve moved my OW loyalty to QF and my domestic flying to DL. I used to live AA; it’s now a horrible airline that doesn’t warrant loyalt.

  11. Data collectors. A bunch of out of touch nerds with no real idea of what to do with the data. Doug Parker has truly got to go. He is one of them. He is looking at this I am sure and thinking…”well, 48% think we are doing ok so…let’s go with that.” It’s Trumpian in so many ways.

    This is why Richard Branson or ANYONE needs to start another airline. When a 48% customer satisfaction is acceptable to do nothing there is a wide open market waiting for the taking.

  12. Your article is way off base. I commend AA for being transparent. Lucky, they have over 100k employees. You can’t make change quickly in an enterprise that size. It’s not a blog.

  13. Someone in HR told them that leading companies get employee input so they decided to do the survey – box checked, job done. Sadly they have no interest in doing anything with the feedback, and as customers we’ve known for a long time that AA leadership is out of touch.

  14. Curious to know if there is a baseline to which it can be compared? Ideally, one in the airline industry; failing this, one in the transportation industry.

    It becomes important to assess if 50% is trerrible, or average, or even decent.

  15. The employees themselves are diving AA to not make a change. About 50% say leadership sucks and doesn’t care about them. Then 80% say they plan to stay with AA for the long term. Where’s the incentive for management to change anything? They can go to the added expense and effort of improving employee happiness and maybe retain a few more percentage points, or they can keep the status quo and know that at least 80% are going to stick it out.

  16. AA is tops in my book. Professionalism is across the board. From check in to in flight , all employees are customer oriented and accommodating.
    Airports are in need of upgrades and TSA hassles are a problem

  17. This is the right thing to do. It’s critical at this point to be as transparent as possible. The irony is when you give people questions like those they say “management sucks” but then also say they plan to stay for a very long time. There’s definitely a dichotomy there and perhaps management isn’t as bad as they responded. Particularly for FAa/Pilots – they did get a large midpoint contract adjustment so it’s hard to say leadership isn’t committed to them

  18. Its great that the employees sre given a chance to express their voices about their work environment. However it’s absolutely useless and a slap in the face of the workforce unless the company makes positive changes to convert the number of neutral and unfavorable to favorable.

  19. Mike Eagan,

    I am going on 31 yrs at AA, I can tell you firsthand, Doug Parker cares only about maximizing profits at the employees expense! 15 yrs ago the three unions, Pilots, flight att, and fleet service/maintenance, gave up 2.3 BILLION in concessions to help keep AA from bankruptcy…since then AA has made the MOST PROFIT EVER for any airline in 2016, yet he shared non with the employees!!!

    To the Crown goes the guillotine!

  20. Clearly, these results indicate a Strong No Confidence vote. But since AW is still alive and well in the Boardroom, they will NOT listen or see the writing on the wall “Mene. Mene. Upharsin.” You have been judged. And found wanting. Only their egos keep them in place.

  21. As a long time employee with AA, I commend the company for being transparent. However small, I do see changes in certain levels of leadership since the first survey. It’s a big ship to turn and I believe the right captain is at the helm.

  22. Gotta agree with K and Steven here. To me it’s honestly ridiculous to criticize an airline for not listening and then see something like this and go “oh well this is stupid”. The company has over 100k employees spread over an incredibly wide geographic area. How else do you expect them to get feedback? It’s just like you say about the airline experience surveys @Lucky, the company needs this so they can get info on their product. We all sit here and bash American and say “they should know all the faults” but the company operates at such scale that data is the only real way to know what’s going on across the board (and not just in a few places on the Internet). I truly believe that American does use this to change, and will do so, but it’s the 67th biggest company in the country (by revenue), and services over 500k customers a day. You can’t just make drastic sweeping changes overnight, and it’s pretty unfair for everyone to just assume it can happen without having any idea how working at a company this size or in the industry works (I’ve worked at both United and AA and trust me when I say that change at an airline is next to impossible).

    Doug has faults but this is commendable.

  23. I’m a flight attendant at American. To those asking, “if the employees are so unhappy, why don’t they just leave?” I can think of a couple reasons. Most of us do love our jobs; what the survey shows we’re dissatisfied with is management. We’re sad to see our company go downhill with so many of management’s decisions. But, as someone else pointed out, the airline industry is notoriously seniority-based. We go through very intense training just to get hired, and then work through difficult schedules that incrementally get better each year, always giving us a carrot to look forward to. Many of us have worked too hard to start back from scratch.
    I think our dissatisfaction also reflects that of the passengers. Truly, no one looks out for the need of passenger’s inflight comfort more than flight attendants do. We fight for the same things they do (we’d love more leg room, to keep inflight entertainment on all planes, to have a solution to overhead bin space, to have fewer delays…) But just like passengers, just because we’re dissatisfied with certain aspects does not mean we’re going to stop flying alltogether! We’d just like our voices heard. I’m glad they’re making an attempt by doing this survey, but there’s yet to see if they take any action on it…

  24. I am also a long time employee and since Parker “bought” his way into this airline, it has deteriorated profoundly!! There is so much mismanagement it’s not even funny!! There are so many employees that give a No Confidence vote on Parker and his 2 other so called “leaders”. They couldn’t lead a fly out of the house!! I can remember several years ago we, the employees, gave up lots of money to save this once proud airline. It was called “Shared Sacrifice”. We sacrificed they shared it amongst themselves!!! And still are!! We are all sick of Parker’s promises!! He has yet to deliver on anything!! The only thing Parker cares about his Dollar!! It’s past time for new leadership!!!

  25. It’s a slow moving ship but AA is weeding out the old school mentality and putting the right managers in place. One of the toughest components is that the industry has a lot if union members that are more concerned with their next contract and making more than the next person or the competition versus taking care of the customer. There is a sense of protection. Especially if you have seniority. On the flip side the non union areas are moving toward a pay for performance system which is a much easier and better way to motivate employees too do their best and get paid for it and if not may find employment elsewhere. Less likely to strike too.

  26. If you wish to know the issue then read “The Voice” Management driven response:. ‘The workers are the problem and management is the solution. If you don’t like your job quit.’.

    The next best contract he/she referred to does not exist. The fleet Service, and aircraft mechanic contracts are still under a concession contract agreement since 9/11 (ammended to “avoid” bankruptcy). Yes, it is that same 9/11 from 17+ years ago.

    Dissatisfaction is certainly driven by the fact that profits over people is the mantra. We love our passengers and are grateful for the opportunity to serve them. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to be customer driven. We need less of “The Voice” and his/her profit driven responses and more from those that have dedicated a lifetime for a job they love for a customer they love and respect.


    Not only can he abuse his employees, he lets the world know that he can get away with it.
    50% thinks he is trash yet 80% will follow this trash.

    This is like Woody Allen getting away with #MeToo unscratched. Daughter becomes wife, and he calls it marriage. LOL

  28. Ha! To the flight attendant jenny. You’d never know it in then in the premium cabins. Constantly poor level of service. I have never walked off an AA flight and said tip that was a nice flight. Flight attendants are often dishevelled, have attitude, etc. Would never believe any like their jobs. Just a low standard airline and if its like that in the premium cabins. I’d hate to be at the back of the bus.

  29. I hate to rag on AA but when you go from the very best of the US Big 3 to the worst, that’s not something to take pride in ☹️

  30. As others have stated, this is very normal behaviour for large organizations. Each of my employers has always published the full results of their engagement surveys. It’s the first step in acknowledging the feedback, rather than sweeping it under a rug. It keeps management accountable, so the ball’s on their court to do something with that now.

  31. Lucky, whether you use American English or British English, you do not, EVER, put a colon or semicolon within quotation marks. This is very much acceptable (though never in British English) for periods/full stops, question marks and exclamation marks, but NEVER for colons or semicolons.

    “Leaders at American Airlines make the right decisions that take care of our frontline team members:”

    NO. “…members”: (American/British) or ‘…members’: (British, à la James).

  32. Doing these type of surveys is normal. So is publishing the he results. Massive organizations like AA take time to evolve. Looking over the results what strikes me is the fact that they hate top management but love to stay and work for AA. Perhaps this is about dissatisfaction about profit sharing where Delta employees got so much better deal. As to flying AA as a business customer it is obvious that frontline staff (with a few exceptions) is dissatisfied, lazy and indifferent to customer needs.

  33. Lots of people point to Doug Parker, but he’s just the tip of the (leadership) iceberg that is sinking the gargantuan ship that is American Airlines. Let’s take a look at some trouble spots:
    1. People (HR) Department, namely Elise Eberwein and Patrick O’Keeffe. Strange that Elise retitled HR to People Service, because she doesn’t care about people and certainly doesn’t have a servant’s heart. Both Elise and Patrick are former flight attendants, which tells you the whole story. Elise is a holdover from US Airways days, and has been attached to Doug Parker’s coattails for 15+ years. She’s know for being intransigent, myopic, and self-centered.
    Patrick somehow managed to get promoted (more likely got rid of) out of the IT department, which was a disastrous department under his watch, and into HR/People. He is a political lightning rod within the company, and is the single person responsible for the wording and execution of the employee survey. The survey was poorly designed and run in 2017, was changed for 2018 in hopes a different format would provide better results, and Patrick really didn’t want to have a 2018 survey because it came the sime time that AA was laying off massive amounts of management when DP had told AA teammembers at the 2018 ALC (American Leadership Conference; management’s annual offsite rager) that if you want a job at AA for life, then you’ll have one. And of course, Patrick’s department was the one that ran the numbers for DP and the AA Board to reduce headcount of employees aged 40+ in order to prop up the share price and preserve executive bonuses, leading to the headcount reductions. Patrick was the author of the BS letter that announced layoffs in June 2018 (
    2. Flight Service (head of flight attendants) department, namely Jill Surdek and Bradey Byrnes. Both are AA lifers and haven’t held any jobs anywhere else, so good luck getting a fresh perspective from either of them on how to help the 27,000 front line employees/flight attendants do their jobs better and improve customer service for you, the paying customer. Jill and Brady are different personalities.
    Jill had no flight service background and had to go through training when she got her VP promotion. She is actually a really nice person to know and work with, but she is considered a “go getter” who “gets things done” which, again, doesn’t move the dial if you keep your head in the sand and just rearrange the same grains of sand hoping to avoid the incoming tide.
    Bradey is highly politically leveraged like Patrick, only looking out for his own interests (salary and bonus) since getting promoted to managing director. Bradey is a former flight attendant who has no love for the employees in his care. Case in point: he is still dealing with the employee uniform fiasco (which he oddly created) and is rightfully the lightning rod for his part in approving the allegedly toxic uniforms to the employee workforce.
    So you can see why, with these outstanding lifelong airline employees in key positions, AA is in the position it’s in. Go get your miles elsewhere, this airline is broken and won’t be fixed for a long, long time.

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