This situation keeps getting more and more ridiculous. A few days ago I wrote about how American will be adding additional perks to Main Cabin Extra, which is their extra legroom economy seating. Specifically, Main Cabin Extra will come with free alcoholic beverages, reserved overhead bins, and priority boarding.
In their internal communication to flight attendants regarding these changes, American said the following:
Can customers move into open MCE seats once boarding is complete?
Yes. Once the door is closed, customers are allowed to move to any available seat within their ticketed cabin (no change to current procedure).
This came as a surprise to many of us, as I had no clue you could self-upgrade to Main Cabin Extra for free. That’s a completely asinine policy, in my opinion, especially since American is hoping to make extra money selling these seats. Why wouldn’t someone self upgrade aboard to a seat that comes with more legroom and free alcohol? As a point of comparison, virtually every other US airline has a policy of not allowing people to move up to extra legroom economy seating for free.
American’s follow-up regarding self upgrading to Main Cabin Extra
It goes without saying that this policy got a lot of attention, so American’s VP of Flight Service sent the following memo to flight attendants yesterday (bolding mine):
Earlier this week, we announced an enhanced Main Cabin Extra (MCE) offering which is scheduled to begin this Spring. The enhanced MCE includes complimentary beer, wine and spirits and provides easier access to overhead bin space for customers seated in MCE seats. While most of the feedback was positive, many of you also shared with me concerns about customers who did not pay for the seat moving into MCE.
I honestly appreciate your feedback; this is part of the reason why we choose to share with you, first, before rolling it out to the rest of the company and our customers. Our number one priority from the start was to ensure the enhanced MCE did not add responsibilities for flight attendants to police the cabin. But we agree with many of you, if a customer did not pay for the seat, they should not be able to move into it. If a customer asks to move into a MCE seat after boarding, you should use your best judgment in politely declining their request to prevent a negative or escalated situation.
Several of you also asked if we would consider selling upgrades to these seats onboard, similar to the service of other carriers. This is something we are considering, but again, we’re trying to balance this with not adding more responsibilities for flight attendants.
I appreciate your feedback and will share more about this program in the coming months.
My take on this
This statement is absurd. American has gone from a ridiculous police of non-enforcement to an even more ridiculous policy. As we all know, in the airline industry situations can escalate very quickly. To suggest that flight attendants should “use [their] best judgment in politely declining [a] request to prevent a negative or escalated situation” is contradictory.
If you want to prevent a situation from escalating you either have a policy against letting passengers move to the section of the cabin, or you allow it. You don’t leave it up to the flight attendant to “use their best judgment to prevent the situation from being escalated,” since an unclear policy is the easiest way to make sure a situation escalates.
How is this communication supposed to happen?
Flight attendant: “Sir/Ma’am, you can’t move to that seat for free. Other people paid extra for it.”
Passenger: “Is it against American’s policy to move?”
Flight attendant: “Well… no… but…”
What this says about American management
American has reasonably good labor relations at the moment. They’ve given flight attendants proactive pay raises, they’ve given employees $1,000 bonuses from the tax reform, etc. I understand they’re trying to appeal to employees and desperately want to be liked by them. But I also think this statement is pretty telling:
“Our number one priority from the start was to ensure the enhanced MCE did not add responsibilities for flight attendants to police the cabin”
To me this says a lot about American’s approach. They want employees to like them, but rather than achieving that by giving them a purpose and having a clear vision for the airline, they’d rather be liked by promising to minimize their work as much as possible. Presumably (many) employees wouldn’t mind working harder if they felt like they were working towards a common goal. But when the airline has Flagship First Dining on one end of the spectrum and the 737 MAX on the other end of the spectrum, management isn’t setting a clear goal.
No wonder many flight attendants only do exactly the minimum they have to, because that’s the culture that management is creating.
To me, American suggesting flight attendants should “politely decline a request” to move to Main Cabin Extra is even more ridiculous than just letting passengers move to those seats for free. This memo also says a lot about American management’s lack of vision. Their priority is to be liked, and they’d rather do that by creating a culture of laziness rather than working towards a common goal.
Just to be clear, I don’t blame flight attendants for this at all. There are some lazy flight attendants, but also many who work very hard. It’s clear that those who work hard do so because that’s just the type of person they are, and not because of anything that management is doing.
What do you make of the statement from American’s VP of Flight Service?