American Airlines’ Impressive September Operations

Filed Under: American

Credit where credit’s due — American’s operational performance is improving. Will that stick, though?

American Airlines’ September Performance

As noted by @xJonNYC, American Airlines reported that during the month of September their on-time arrivals rate was 82.9%:

  • This includes mainline and regional flights
  • This is using the “A-14” metric, referring to planes arriving within 14 minutes of scheduled arrival time

How does this compare to other months for American Airlines?

  • It was their best monthly on-time performance in nearly two years, as the last time they beat that was in November 2017
  • It was their seventh best monthly performance since the merger between American and US Airways in 2013
  • This was a 4.5 point improvement over September 2018 and a 7.8 point improvement over August 2019

American notes that each point of improvement accounts for an additional 1,924 flights arriving on time.

American Airlines also notes:

  • Their on-time departure rate was 75.2%, though this is using a “D-0 metric” (which means departing exactly on time, which is a really dumb thing to make high priority)
  • 98.1% of flights operated without cancelations

What Can This Improvement Be Attributed To?

By all accounts this is a significant improvement, both compared to the same period last year, and compared to the previous month. I would guess some of the factors involved may include the following:

  • In early September the busy summer travel season starts to wind down, so the airlines have a bit more slack in their schedule
  • American retired their last MD-80 in early September, and those planes were known for their maintenance issues
  • All things considered September was a reasonably good month for weather (we lucked out with Hurricane Dorian, for example)

Then there’s what’s quite clearly the biggest factor here — it seems that American mechanics weren’t misbehaving and intentionally delaying flights, as they had been doing for the late spring and early summer.

Did American Suing Their Mechanics Work?

American has been having huge issues with their mechanics union. Talks broke off between management and the union in April, as they weren’t able to agree on a contract. This caused American mechanics to intentionally delay flights, so American took them to court:

  • In mid-June a judge issued a temporary restraining order, demanding that mechanics not interfere with American’s operations
  • However, American still had a bad rest of June and July, so it doesn’t seem like that worked
  • Then in mid-August American won their court battle against mechanics, and stuff does seem to have improved since then

It was said that management and mechanics were supposed to resume negotiations September 16-19, though I never heard anything more about that.

So while I’m sure the court ruling played at least a part in the improved performance, I’m not necessarily sure that directly can be credited for all of the improvement:

  • Mechanics had been delaying flights and turning down overtime for months, so could they have just gotten tired of that and didn’t want to keep losing the overtime pay, realizing their strategy wasn’t going anywhere?
  • A mechanic intentionally sabotaged an American plane, which is about 10 steps too far, so could that have made mechanics realize they were playing with fire?

Regardless of what this can be attributed to, I certainly hope American’s operational performance continues to improve. The airline still needs a management change, but this at least solves one major issue I’ve had flying with them…

  1. Compared to what? Aeroflot? Delta’s mainline completion rate was 99.53% for September, and A14 on-time arrivals 88.6%

  2. Not impressed at all. Ryan Air always does better at consistently much much cheaper flights after factoring in fees.

  3. Now if their flight attendants and gate agents were more friendly, then things would be better.

  4. Lucked out with Hurricane Dorian??? Very insensitive to the 1000s of people left dead, injured, and homeless from this storm.

    Even though it never touched Miami, humanity did not luck out! smh!.

  5. Mr.Ross where did you get your facts?
    Have you ever flown Delta or any airline for that readon?

  6. A one month improvement “solves” a problem? Too generous, I think. I guess I’m just unlucky, but I only flew AA once in September. I was due in at 11:00 p.m., but after waiting out six delays at DFW (about a half hour at a time – mechanical, not weather), I got in at 3:10 a.m. That had me in really great shape for my 10 a.m. appointment.

  7. D-0 is not a dumb metric. Delta, and Northwest before then, has used it for years as a key metric because delays tend to snowball.

    If you depart late there’s a very good chance you will arrive late. Departing exactly on time if not early helps to minimize a delay later.

    I just got off two AA flights. Both departed early and even with the usual arrival gate delay in CLT both flights arrived early. I’ll take that any day.

  8. Does D-0 count when the aircraft departs the gate? Or when it actually takes off? Huge difference at somewhere like PHL, where you can count on sitting on the taxiway for at least an hour most times of the day and thus still arrive late.

  9. As commented on the previous OMMAT post about this, AA is “solving” (sic) the late on arrival problem by padding the flight times. A flight that was previously supposed to be a 2 hour flight is now listed as a 2:25 minute flight. That makes it much easier to get there “on time”, no?

    We flew back Sept 1st from LHR to DWF. The original announcement from the Captain was that the flight would be 25 minutes early. Well, that was when we landed all right. But the next announcement was that we would have to wait while “a piece of equipment is moved”.

    That took 25 minutes, and I wondered why would it take 25 minutes to “move a piece of equipment”? Now I understand. The “piece of equipment” was not a baggage cart, etc. It was the plane that hadn’t left the gate, because we weren’t supposed to be there yet, because our arrival time had been padded by 25 minutes !

    Due to the padded flight time, they weren’t expecting us for 25 more minutes. Which is exactly how long we were parked on the tarmac waiting for our gate.

    This is so annoying! In order to make sure all flights “arrive on time”, they add 15 to 30 minutes to flight times. Then when the flight does indeed arrive on time, the passengers have to wait on board for that amount of time until the gate is available. Just what you want to do after a 10 hour and 30m minute International flight, when your body clock tells you it’s 4AM. And if that was hard on us in FC, imagine the folks in Basic Economy !

    As a previous OMAAT commentator mentioned, AA has a hard wired “connection time” between flights. So now a previously allowed 90 minute connection time is now a 2 hour connection time, which is not allowed. Which turns your 12 hour flight into a 16 hour flight, due to the 4 hour connection AA now requires. ;(

  10. I’ve also had bad luck on two trips to O’hare; once delayed by 3 hrs both going and coming. The other once cancelled on the outbound. The latter was in September (albeit due to weather). More important to me then that though, is AA’s response was non-existent in terms of customer service during either of those cases.

  11. The sabotage incident was not a mechanics job action, sabotaging a plane and turning down overtime are no where near a similar action, that mechanic was a terrorist, he has ISIS ties, if your a reporter you should wake up and report facts!!!

  12. @305 – D-0 means an on time departure from the gate. Taxi delays and the like are built into the overall journey time. Besides helping to minimize down line delays, D-0 is also used to measure the efficiency of the boarding process, baggage and cargo loading, catering, and other predeparture ground procedures that could potentially delay a flight.

  13. Recently had to wait 40 minutes at DCA for our gate to become available. That’s a reason why D-0 matters.

  14. @Eric That’s going to happen more and more, as AA pads the flight times, so your flight arrives “early”, and no gates are available. Of course, if you are in FC, the FAs will be handing out glasses of Dom, to make it all seem more reasonable.

    Oh, wait… /sarc

  15. Meanwhile you call them on a perfect day at the EXP desk and the hold times are 37 mins lol. What a joke…

  16. I’m not one to pile on AA, even with multiple lengthy delays in the last month, on both international and domestic flights. In each case, the EXP desk and inflight crews were really great, and piled on miles in my account as customer service gestures.

    Yeah, I don’t like the delays…but glad they are getting better.

  17. @Serge

    Yes, I know weather issues might cause long holds on the EXP desk, but I’ve never had that kind of hold.

    In fact, the EXP does not hold for that long, as they will automatically offer to call you back if the hold is more than 3 minutes…not sure what you’re talking about?

  18. @Robert, great observations, and the one thing that constrains them from padding indefinitely is, of course, aircraft utilization. If you are padding throughout the system, you are going to get less use out of the aircraft, since they can’t operate as efficiently due to sitting around, unnecessarily much of the time, to make the on time statistics better. That has financial costs. It would be fascinating to see a study of time allocated to nonstop routes by airline. Does AA really schedule more time for the same point to point flight than its competitors? How do overall schedules compare to 15 years ago?

  19. Clean ypur dam planes. Fix the toilets. Getbetter hostesses as ours put curtains up and napped. The food sucked. You think you can sleep on a plane 8 hrs?. Get with it aa

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