American Airlines Once Again Allows Employees To Fly In First Class

Filed Under: American

Here’s a noteworthy update to how American Airlines is accommodating non-revenue travelers on flights…

American lifts first class non-rev restriction

In early April, American Airlines introduced a restriction whereby employees could no longer fly in first class on narrow body aircraft when traveling non-rev.

For the most part US airline employees have pretty generous space available travel benefits, and that typically includes flying first class if seats are available (though only after all other passengers who have requested an upgrade, either with miles or on account of status, have cleared).

American’s logic with banning these travelers from first class was that planes were really empty at the time, and on some flights there were nearly as many people in first class as in the rest of the cabin combined. In order to alleviate that imbalance, they at least didn’t want employees filling up even more first class seats.

Well, that’s changing as of today. As noted by @xJonNYC, American Airlines has lifted all restrictions on non-rev first class travel as of today. As the decision is described:

As more customers begin to fly and aircraft become busier, we are seeing more passengers in premium and main cabins. Effective May 28, American will lift the restrictions that prevented team members and their guests from being seated in premium cabins on all flights when on business or non-revenue travel.

While the logic might seem questionable, I kind of get it:

  • Flights are starting to really fill up, given that passenger numbers are up and capacity is way down
  • Previously there might have been 20 people on flights with half of those in first class, while flights are slowly starting to become mostly full in all cabins
  • Therefore the contractual benefits that employees get are being resorted

American is lifting restrictions on first class employee travel

American’s more concerning non-rev policy

I think the above policy change is fair enough. Personally I think another American non-rev policy is more questionable. American Airlines will load flights with non-revs up to 85% of capacity, which is a significantly higher threshold than you’ll find at Delta and United:

While Delta and United won’t ever load non-revs on flights if they’re more than 70% full, American goes all the way to 85%. In other words, for many flights American will fill middle seats with non-revs.

While I think people have unrealistic expectations when it comes to social distancing on planes, I do respect the way that Delta and United are at least somewhat trying to restrict capacity in general.

American will fill every last seat on the plane with non-revs

Bottom line

American is no longer banning non-rev travel in first class, which is fair enough, as planes start to fill up. Upgrades from other passengers will still be processed first, but if there are seats leftover then employees can take them.

I think the more controversial policy is that American is “only” restricting non-revs up to 85% capacity, while Delta and United have much lower thresholds than that. In other words, American will generally fill empty middle seats with non-revs, while Delta and United won’t.

What do you make of American’s updated non-rev policy, both allowing non-revs in first class, and also allowing non-revs on flights up to 85% of capacity?

  1. Whether or not the person occupying a middle seat is a nonrev makes no difference to the passenger. Social distancing is impossible on a plane- if the company is willing to fill a seat with a passenger, they should be willing to fill it with a nonrev if no passengers show up (disregarding weight restrictions, etc.).

  2. Perhaps this is why American Airlines has one of the weakest balance sheets of all U.S. carriers. Employees shouldn’t be flying anywhere for free! Offer employee discounts and nothing more, like just like most other industries.

  3. American is capping flights at 85%. Non revs cannot get on beyond the 85%. People are left behind all the time.

  4. This is disgraceful. American should not allow non-revs on flights >65% capacity, no questions asked.

    As far as first class, if distancing permits, go ahead and award employees an upgrade, makes no difference to me

  5. ANGER when airlines accept bailout money, ANGER when they try to fill up their planes to increase revenue.

    So much ANGER. Give it a break people.

  6. Had I seen this story sooner I would have picked up a bottle of champagne at the supermarket. I love flying non rev. Paying passengers always come first but if this turns into one of these threads degrading employees and non revs as worthless human beings then you are only projecting yourself outwards on others. In an anonymous forum no less.

  7. American is really botching this whole thing. I’ve had 3 friends who have needed to travel for family emergencies – all on American. Each flight was packed.

  8. They really want management level to take the package. Makes D2R much more attractive.

  9. This is shouldn’t be a discussion on degrading airline employees especially the ones that are on front line everyday!! non rev or not yes everyone should be respecting social distancing and airline employees earned to have those benefits to travel! which is part of their contract also to be upgraded to the premium cabins so who really cares??? let them be!!! wish everyone would just be civil and mind their own business you have an option not to fly if seeing a non rev sitting in a premium cabin complaining about it isn’t going to change anything and having travel bloggers butting into airline employees travel benefits and positing it on social media isn’t helping again you have a choice not to fly…

  10. Devalues the product to allow staff in first, especially when people I’ve known who work for US carriers are not discreet about it , much to the annoyance of revenue customers

    As for social distancing, it’s not possible for airlines to guarantee it. If you want to avoid contact then don’t travel

  11. We have a long way to go before planes are 85% full. Also, few i infection have been linked to air travel and a mask will stop the spread 75% of the time or more, especially with the enhanced cleaning.

    Again folks… read CDC facts and not Twitter and Facebook “expert opinions”.

  12. @Icarus

    No one is stopping you for working at an airline. Don’t let your jealousy make you biased.

    I do recommend you report any behavior of employee who are “not discreet about it , much to the annoyance of revenue customers”. I have encountered many of non-rev, some are more obvious some are less, but none of them are bragging about it openly. Let airline punish their own people, because they actually do take away free flights.

    Getting free upgrades might make your day, but for many others it takes a Gulfstream to make them jealous. So be more open minded.

    As for social distancing, it’s not possible for airlines to guarantee it. If you want to avoid contact then get yourself a Gulfstream. 🙂

  13. @ wade Maybe you should try to work for airlines and you know why we have free flights benefits,
    Costumer service and FA dealing whit bad costumer also FA the fly for13 to 16 hrs arriving wiht jetlag and 2 days later go back home this for 4 times a month same the pilots, also the ramp personal working outside al yearlong raining or shining cold or hot
    We love to fly for free

  14. ::eyeroll::

    Again, for the umpteenth time…YOU CANNOT PROPERLY SOCIAL DISTANCE IN A CONFINED METAL TUBE. Enough with the outrage. You bought one seat, you are not entitled to any more than that one seat.

    Good on American for trying to make money…they are a BUSINESS after all.

  15. “Therefore the contractual benefits that employees get are being resorted”

    Nonrev benefits are a privilege, not a contractual benefit. No employee, unionized or nonunionized, is *entitled* to nonrev benefits and no airline employee, at least in the US, has it in their contract. These benefits can be revoked and misuse of nonrev benefits can lead all the way up to termination.

  16. Well, for those who are bothered by this, just remember: there will be 30% less of those AA employees after the layoffs.

  17. Everyone needs to chill. You will never know if you are seated next to a non-rev or not – in first, business or coach. Guaranteed that no airline or employee will make that announcement for the whole world to know. So as far as you‘ll know they are a paying customer just like yourself and frankly it’s no one elses business anyway. Accept the fact that flights are going to start filling up to capacity again and OA’s will soon stop blocking seats. Always treat your seated neighbor with respect. If you don’t like it you can always try to negotiate with the airline (ahead of time) to buy the seat next to you (too bad everyone flipped out about Frontier’s plan that was nixed— I was hoping others would follow). Still not happy? You too can always choose another mode of transportation or simply stay at home.

  18. @JD – the issue in F is there is no middle seat – hence in F you could be sitting next to someone. At least DL is only allowing one person in a 2 F seat section and no middle seats in coach.

    Ok if non-rev is in F, but AA is going to fill up all the F seats.

  19. As an airline employee and gate agent when the number of passengers allow I will shift passengers to windows leaving the C and D seats open for social spacing on regional airlines and I explain it to the passengers before they are boarded. I also tell them to think of the others on this flight you can sit next to your other half when you get in the car. And they are all have to wear their face coverings throughout the flight!
    If you are on a 900 it holds 76 restricted to 65/ 700 holds 63 limited to 55 ….
    On the full flights the best we can do space out the empty C and D seats the best we can..
    For the safety of the FAs 1 row (1st Class)is blocked and last row is blocked (Main Coach cabin)
    As far as the person who feels we should not fly free/ we have been working throughout these weeks of the virus/ ramp agents also have to endure the weather and FAs endure the passengers attitudes and you are all still flying. We have friends that have contracted the virus shared by passengers and American has lost 7 FA to the virus and 250 have gotten sick. Not one word of concern from anyone so thank you for your attitude it says a lot

  20. @JD and SFO ramper

    It is absolutely my business and — now that they’ve accepted the bailout — I could care less about airline employee sob stories. I pay outrageous sums of money every year in federal taxes and American Airlines just stole $5.8 billion dollars of money that comes directly out of my pocket, and $4.1 billion of that won’t even get paid back. Return the $5.8 billion and you can have your non-rev seating in first class!! Otherwise, either start subsidizing my salary or pay for your own [email protected]#&ing airfare like every other honest person.

  21. @Charlie

    By accepting a bailout from the U.S. taxpayer, American Airlines — and every one of its employees — signed away their right to receive any compassion or any consideration of any kind. If you don’t like it, return the money. It definitely came with strings attached.


    Remember there will be some “Wade”s out there… we seem them around pretty much daily… the upside is that, imho, they represent the vast minority of the flying public— so it’s just something you have to ignore or deal with. Thankfully, most passengers are just fine with NRSAs so long as their seating wasn’t done improperly (UG queue jumping), dress and conduct issues are appropriate.

  23. Personally, I’m thrilled with the change. This vastly increases the chance of pre-departure beverages being served in first class.

  24. I think that we’re forgetting that most of these non-revs are “commuting” crew members on their way to work to get you where you need to go! Keep in mind “commuter clauses” are in union contracts and if they can’t get on, flights get cancelled. VERY VERY few non-revs are traveling for leisure at this point, I would say probably less than 1% of the non-revs are leisure travel, and even so, probably assisting parents or family i. This time. I understand the capacity restrictions but at the end of the day these are frontline employees trying to get you where you need to go!

  25. @wade
    You sound salty.. if you really made billions you would probably pay $0 in taxes like benzos. Free flying is a perk, sorry if that hurts your feelings but it’s not going to change. All US airlines have the same policy.

  26. @ Wade
    No one who is still working is seeing a single penny of that bail out. No extra money is being made at all, we are getting paid our normal hourly wage. We lost all of our bonuses so we didn’t have to fire or furlough or cut hours.
    Compassion? Consideration? Are you freaking kidding me? You really think we don’t deserve it when we are the ones getting people to their families? To their jobs? To funerals? You have lost your freaking mind and YOU are very clearly the only person with no compassion. Lol what a joke.
    Research before you speak idiotic words

  27. Wade – no problem I am not salty I go to work and you can fly! But guess what we can too….

  28. Over the last month I have watched as gate agents ignored the upgrade list and put American employees in First.

    “Working” FAs sit and play on their phones during the flight and get angry when I ask for water. They talk constantly about how many times they get called in or don’t get called in, not caring about whether we or our families have lost our jobs or lost family members. They act like only they have difficulties but they demand their perks.

  29. Ha, ha, ha, all this feigned disgust at filling planes. What idiots. Not sustainable now, tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. It’s not a sustainable policy. NOT SUSTAINABLE! Why even gab about it? Why waste one more iota of data on a totally unsustainable policy? Go back to bitching about peoples’ feet on the bulkhead.

  30. Social Distancing on a plane is pointless. Across the aisle, or a row in front or behind? None of it makes any difference.

    Planes need to start being 100% full, not 65-70% full.

    Take precautions – mask, gloves, wipes. Covid-19 isn’t going away, regardless of where you sit on a plane.

  31. @Wade:

    “I could care less”

    How much less could you care?

    Personally, I couldn’t care less.

  32. The policy to ban non-rev from first class made no sense. If they need to try to space people on a flight why ban first class.

    Blocking the middle seat is not even 6feet space from a person sitting in a window and asile seat and more like one person per row is more like better spacing but airlines can’t afford that arrangement. So all these people fusing about middle not being block on american should think about that.

  33. Well what else could we expect from those who still believe in National Socialism… my guess is that he dosn’t really have any taxable income

  34. Has no one here ever waited at an American gate for news of an upgrade and then been told by the gate agent that the First Class/Business Class cabin has checked-in full and to please board and take your main cabin seat? Then to walk through the premium cabin and pass by empty seats which are later filled by late-boarding company employees who had been hovering around the check-in desk. Once your boarding pass is scanned, you are no longer on the upgrade wait list, and with no revenue passengers left on the list to be satisfied, the gate agent boards their station friends and colleagues into the premium cabins. If I hadn’t cleared an upgrade electronically before I checked in, I knew there was almost no chance of being upgraded at the gate. This circumstance didn’t always happen, but it happened to me so many times at LAX that it was just another one of the many reasons I stopped flying American, even though I have several million miles with them and a life-time of elite benefits.

    And I understand wanting to take care of your friends. I want to take care of my friends too, but I think paying loyalty customers who qualify for perks should be placed ahead of company non-rev passengers, unless of course there is some medical or extraneous circumstance. You know how hard it is for even a high-tiered paying passenger to get upgraded on any high-volume American route during normal business conditions. Its hard for me to believe this issue is being framed as one of not valuing the working staff. We all value and are grateful for those hard working teams on the planes and off. I just wonder if this argument really isn’t a trojan horse to allow some gate agents to once again rig the boarding process and put their colleagues up front.

    I guess if I thought the gate agents wouldn’t be gaming the upgrade lists for their fellow team members, or that the company would have a software fix to protect its customers from the company’s self-dealing players, I wouldn’t even have waded into this argument at all. But of course I do. So I did. As if anyone at American with the power or influence to do anything about it will give a damn. But we all know they don’t.

  35. @Brad employees are given seats that are empty or that paying passengers didn’t show up for so maybe when the gate agent told you that first checked in full it did but a few of those paying passengers didn’t show up so those seats were then given to employees. Try not boarding at your zone next time and waiting until last minute to get on to be absolutely sure that all first class passengers showed up then you would be eligible for the upgrade before the employee gets the seat because you are right once your boarding pass is scanned and your on the plane the chances of the gate agent coming on board and upgrading you isn’t guaranteed depending on how much time is left before the door shuts. No gate agent is going to delay a flight to upgrade someone. It’s much faster to just give those seats from passengers who didn’t show to employees waiting in the gate area than to board the plane search for the paying passengers who wanted the upgrade, inform them of their upgrade then go back to the gate and clear the seat that person is moving from for the employee. Sometimes Passengers who previously asked for upgrades and board the main cabin turn down the option to upgrade when the gate agent gets on after boarding and ask them if they still want first class. Just saying every decision is based off of time. Or maybe those gate agents truely did want to get their friends on who knows. I’m just saying the boarding process and upgrades and employee seating gets tricking sometimes

  36. Oops I think there is an outrageous misunderstanding about employee travel. Those of us that are working through these past 2 months are not getting any of the stimulus money or the extra employment money! We are risking our lives to work as I mentioned in an earlier post about the number of virus victims among the airline industry due to selfish passengers and keep this country flying! Our travel is restricted to standby if there are any empty seats we can get a seat we are not throwing anyone out of their paid for seats -we get leftovers. So if that hurts your feelings Really!

  37. Senior FAs do not have to work but are still paid a base number of hours as a result of bailout money.

  38. @ Wade It’s unfortunate that you feel the way you do towards Honest, Hardworking people whom also pay taxes. Receiving the bailout money was a choice the CEO made on behalf of everyone else whether we agreed or not. I am not a receiver of the stimulus money in large part due to the fact that I exceeded the maximum annual income to which I take no issue. However non rev travel is a perk I will continue to enjoy despite your issues with it, which seem really deep rooted. To reiterate, I am a hardworking, honest, tax paying citizen who happens to be an AA employee, unapologetically.

  39. @Dick Bupkiss

    Well DICK,
    FYI even “IF” 30% of us experience layoffs we are still contractually allowed to fly non rev for up to 5 years. See you in the sky…

  40. Think about this, Air Crafts are only so wide. Some being maybe, 8 feet. If you feel uncomfortable about someone sitting next to you, don’t fly. I have watched multitudes of people that want social distancing but yet when they get on the Aircraft they are practically up the person in front of them Ass. Excuse the language but I have seen this quite often. People are only want social distancing to give themselves more room. Be HONEST FOLKS YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE

  41. Everyone’s gotta be outraged about something. Employees earn those benefits, it’s considered part of their compensation. If the flight is too full, they don’t get on. Most employees are commuting, not going for pleasure. So when you complain about your flight not leaving on time, or worse, getting cancelled because the person who was supposed to be operating your flight didn’t make it to work, I don’t want to hear it.

  42. I don’t work in a customer-facing role, but I feel sorry for my frontline colleagues who have to deal with entitled pricks like @Wade.

    As for @Icarus, who probably flies mostly on LH and LX, how do we cheapen the exclusivity of the premium cabin? Many of us are required to dress up – I do even when I know I’ll be flying the CEG row by the toilet. i have seen fare paying customers look and act like slobs while dragging their three screaming munchkins into the First or Business Class cabin and letting them run around like it’s preschool. Yes. The argument goes that you paid top money, so you can do whatever the hell you want – even at the expense of others who may have paid more. But, do not say that airline employees cheapen the experience. We are probably more conspicuous because we go out of our way to behave ourselves for fear of losing our perks or our jobs.

    Oh, and by the way, you aren’t the ones who will be left behind and will have to fend for yourselves because the flight is full.

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