I tend to think gate agents are probably the most overworked and underappreciated airline employees. Well, their jobs at American Airlines are about to get more difficult.
American Airlines cuts gate agent staffing
American Airlines CFO Derek Kerr spoke at an industry conference today, where he provided some updates about the situation the airline is in. For the most part things are looking up, but that’s not going to stop the airline from continuing to cut costs.
It has been revealed that American Airlines will be cutting gate agent staffing — specifically, the airline will start introducing single gate agent boarding, down from the previous minimum of two gate agents. I would assume that this won’t apply to wide body and/or international flights.
American will now board some flights with a single gate agent
This is going to be a mess
If you ask me, gate agents have the highest stress and lowest reward jobs in the airline industry. They’re not particularly well compensated and they don’t get the “glamor” of traveling for work (as flight attendants do), but:
- They are constantly in customer facing positions, and have nowhere to “retreat” to
- They’re in high pressure roles, because if a flight is delayed the blame falls at least partly on them
- They take so much anger from customers, from enforcing mask policies, to announcing delays, to telling passengers they can’t sit next to one another, to gate checking bags
While gate agents aren’t always friendly or professional, I do find they’re consistently hard working, because they don’t really have an option not to be.
The fundamental problem with switching to single agent boarding is that one person can only do so much. In the 30-50 minutes leading up to a flight’s departure (typically when flights board, depending on the aircraft type and destination), you’ve historically had:
- At least one gate agent dedicated to boarding the plane
- At least one gate agent otherwise staffing the gate, answering any questions, clearing the upgrade and standby list, gate checking bags, etc.
With this policy change, you’ll want to make sure you get all of your questions answered prior to boarding starting, because gate agents simply can’t be expected to multi-task in the way that American seems to expect.
American recently revealed it would start charging passengers who bring oversize carry-ons — good luck having that happen with just a single gate agent per flight!
A couple of things to note:
- Many low cost carriers do board flights with just one gate agent, but that’s a different game — they don’t have as many carry-ons (since they charge for them), they don’t have upgrade lists, etc.
- It’s one thing if American Airlines had good technology and could better automate clearing upgrades, standby passengers, etc., but that’s simply not currently the reality
There’s no way boarding with one gate agent will end well
American Airlines’ statement on this
After the post was published, an American Airlines spokesperson issued the following statement regarding this:
“Flights with fewer passengers traveling have been boarded by individual agents for the last several months. In tandem, we’ve been developing new tools to help our agents perform tasks at the gate, which give them more time to focus on customers during the boarding process. We’ll introduce these tools to our team members over the next several months to further support our customers throughout their travel journey.”
That doesn’t change my opinion much:
- It’s fine if mostly empty flights are boarded by one gate agent, since that’s a manageable workload
- I’d like to see the “tools” that are being introduced over the next several months to “further support customers throughout their travel journey”
American Airlines will start boarding many flights with a single gate agent, which isn’t going to be fun for customers or employees. I don’t know exactly how gate agents are expected to juggle clearing standby and upgrade lists, answering questions, boarding planes, and checking carry-on bags, all while providing decent customer service.
Do you think American reducing gate agent staffing is going to be problematic?