What American Management Says About Self-Upgrading To Main Cabin Extra

Filed Under: American

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 abroad 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.

Bottom line

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?

  1. It just lacks a clear vision. They should have just done what they normally do and copy Delta. But in all seriousness now the problem is there will probably be different standards. Some flight attendants will stop it some won’t. This will lead to arguments of well on my last flight I was able to.

  2. If it wasn’t for trying to increase MCE revenue most of these people wouldn’t even know what it was it seems. If I self upgrade to MCE that’s OK? What if I self upgrade to first? Is that OK? What’s the difference.

  3. This guy should not sit in that VPs chair for an airline or any public facing office. While grammar is great and wording is very clear he is a moron asking flight attendants to make a decision on their best judgment. This isn’t like giving alcohol to a restaurant patron while using best judgements if this person should not drink more.
    Moving up cabins is a very delicate decision with huge amount of emotions of passengers. Declining from a passenger who saw it happen on another flight without any problem is explosive. Bad human behavior is encouraged by a stupid system. Human will be humans. People will attack flight attendants with words and sometimes physically when they feel they were treated unfairly. Best judgements by flight attendants could be very easily the worst judgment in passengers eyes if the rule is not black and white.

  4. “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.”

    As I commented yesterday, once it’s clear there is free booze then the party’s over — no more free moving without FA’s saying something.

    Plus the new labeling of MCE overhead space will make it clear to the masses who bought basic economy tickets that they can just dump their mountains of carry-ons in the newly-labeled MCE overhead bins. (Kidding.) But this was the essential problem they still don’t really want to tackle: basic economy customer gets randomly assigned to 32B and weighs 260 pounds. Then what happens? Self-upgrade or FA moves the customer from 32B

  5. This is clearly part of the labor union negotiations where the duties of the flight attendants are specified and management doesn’t want to be seen violating the contract. This is a great example of how union can not only hurt companies but also customers and individual workers with their rigid demands.

  6. What a typical AA cluster and the policy has not even gone into effect. This a news reel just waiting to happen, like the Europeans causing chaos over a sale on Nutella.

  7. Get a life, Ben. When was the last time you were on a flight with an over abundance of MCE seats? You’re making a mountian out of a tiny mole hill. We all understand the credit card game is slow right now, so you can’t peddle those so much. But leave this situation alone- it’s dumb and not even a big deal.

  8. MCE is already completely full on almost every flight anyway. And with the enhanced benefits even more (presumably) will opt for it in advance. How many people would this really impact (i.e. possible to upgrade in flight)? Not that many….

    Seems like a lot of discussion for something that will be rarely seen.

  9. Agreed MCE is rarely empty when the door closes. If not filled by revenue pax then non-revs surely will get them.

    I just will never understand unions. If the FAs were non-union then corporate can come up with a new policy saying FAs need to enforce/police this onboard. Don’t like it, then go find a job somewhere else.

  10. @ K — Funny you should say that. I’m presently in a rear facing business class seat on a 777 looking at the Main Cabin Extra cabin. There are over 50 empty seats. Have you seen how empty economy is on most transatlantic flights in winter? Sure, most domestic flights have almost every seat taken period, not just in Main Cabin Extra. Internationally is a different story, though.

  11. The policy is just a symptom, the problem is the overmonetization of the economy cabin. So now there is E+, E, and E-, what’s next, charging for empty middle seats? God forbid I move to an empty row to stretch out my 34″ inseam. If you nickel and dime everything, you leave no room for the FA’s to use their judgement to accommodate families, tall folks, etc.

  12. My solution to this is to just fly Delta internationally if a (better) foreign carrier isn’t available.

    @Ben – it goes without saying, I think, but I just wanted to say with all recent increase in negative and troll comments that what you do is seriously appreciated by the vast majority of us (and Im sure your site analytics show that). Keep up doing your thing, I for one enjoy reading your articles and gain a lot of insight into little operational things such as this that I find interesting and otherwise would have no idea about. Thank you!

  13. What is the fuss. Statement is clear:

    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).

    You can move seat within ticketed Cabin. So if you are ticketed to MCE you can move seats, or stay in economy if on economy ticket.

    Seems like they will change ticketing process, if you want an MCE seat pay for it.

  14. @ Gavin Tiffin — It’s no clear at all. The question is in regards to moving from regular economy seats to MCE seats. That’s reinforced by the follow-up.

  15. I’ve been on several domestic flights over the past few months where all upgrades have cleared, and MCE is 100% empty (with most of the other Y seats occupied).

  16. I think you’re making much ado about nothing. This statement is very clear and I’m frankly surprised you don’t see it. AA cannot say anything outside what is in their union contract with the flight attendants, so this corporate speak is treading as close as possible to enforce the cabin separation, without violating what is in the contract with regards to FA work duties.

  17. Just wait for this scenario. A middle seat in MCE empty, guy wants to self-upgrade asking aisle guy to get in once the door is closed. Good luck policing these situations. If I’m aisle guy I honestly don’t think I’m getting up so quickly….

  18. Julian is spot on. American has a union contract and they don’t want to upset their members by asking the FA’s to do what every other airline does. What a jellyfish! No wonder FA’s do the bare minimum. That’s what the company tells them to do!

  19. The fact that you are looking at 50 empty seats proves my point. Did you see an influx of passengers self upgrade from your rear facing seat? There is no change in policy, so not an issue.

  20. To both this point and your post from 1/1/18, I’ve been shocked by how variable the service is on AA.

    Earlier this month I flew in J from DFW to NRT, and the service (as well as the food, and the seat) was *extraordinary* – up there with any global 5* airline. Then last week I was on the flight from HKG to DFW, also in J, and the service was abysmal – the F/A’s were rude, rushed through meal service, talked loudly about passengers during takeoff and on breaks, and two of them even wore fake nametags!

    Then my connecting flight the same day, DFW to LGA, was incredible – the F/A’s were warm, attentive, professional, and made it a great experience.

    It’s certainly weird that you never know what you’re gonna get…

  21. This is perfect for me. If I pay for MCE when I buy my ticket and if I then see someone move into MCE after boarding then I should be entitled to a refund of my MCE payment. Other than delays and onboard fights over these empty seats I have absolutely no problem with it. This essentially gives me a way to reserve a potentially free MCE seat!

    AA’s policies might seem dumb to me but this one is incredibly customer friendly!

    All sarcasm aside, isn’t there an FAA requirement that an airline know who is in which seat? In the past changing seats has been frowned on, but now it’s OK? Maybe I’m misthinking that there is an actual policy there

  22. What do I make of the statement from American’s VP of Flight Service? Surprised you didn’t phrase the question: “What do you make of the absurd statement from American’s VP of Flight Service?”

  23. @Lucky – re:K’s comment. Just dealt with this last week on LGA-DFW route. I booked MCE and had the row to myself as the boarding doors closed. Immediately someone from the back of the plane ran up to put his carryon in the overhead space above me and declared that he was taking the empty window seat in my row. I asked which FA gave him the go ahead and he mumbled an incoherent response. Another FA approached and told him to go back to his seat. He responded with “oh they told me I could move.” She gave me an awkward apologetic look and walked away. This is before free booze happened.

  24. I find that a lot of the seats in the these so-called filled MCE seats that others are writing about are actually passengers who get seat assignments at the last minute at the gate. I don’t believe that they are actually filling these seats with elites and paying customers. So now on top of being rewarded with free booze and more legroom for waiting until the last minute to get your seat, if there happens to be an open MCE seat.. you now get rewarded for being an arrogant bully who is at risk of causing a scene. I agree with what has been said… without clear policies… the whole thing breaks down. If that violates the union contract.. then it might be time to rethink the contract.

  25. It clearly says they can move “within their ticketed cabin”. For those of you who don’t understand that means if your ticket isn’t for MCE then you can’t move to MCE and passenger seating assignments are on all FA tablets so you can’t just move without someone knowing and asking you to go back to your seat

  26. You know, the way I see it. it’s smart of American to push the responsibility to the FA, let them decide and handle the situation then claiming that it’s for the good of the FA so as not to add more responsibility to them. Therefore they let the FA to go solve it yourself and if the FA don’t want to work more, decline the upgrade but don’t cause the problem for the airline please. If the FA somehow choose to allow the upgrade then it’s his/her choice to agree to work more.
    However I do not agree of the approach of American. Just make an official statement saying no free self upgrades to MCE please, thank you.

  27. On a red eye flight to LHR out of JFK, I asked to move to an open row in economy and the FA told me there were plenty of empty seats up front, so I took a whole row of MCE. Was able to lay down a get a decent sleep while my wife, daughter, and mother in law were in business. At least I got their left over ice cream. I would guess international flights have lots of empty MCE seats.

  28. On a recent flight a passenger threw his duffle on the empty middle seat next to mine in main cabin extra. I asked him if that was his seat and he said he could sit anywhere because he was flying standby. I will no longer feel the need ro make platinum and I’ll fly other airlines.airlines when possible. AA flight attendants seem uninterested where passengers sit.

  29. I was just on an international AA flight yesterday as a paying MCE passenger. I was annoyed that all the overhead bins were taken. I ended up finding/fighting a space in the main cabin. Sure some passengers may have used the MCE bins and they were not supposed to.

  30. If I can “self-upgrade”, then why would I bother paying for MCE when I can just seat poach once the flight is underway? Terribly dumb move AA. Then again, it’s the sort of asshattery I’d expect from AA.

  31. Correct me if I’m wrong but:

    AA: “Our number one priority from the start was to ensure the enhanced MCE did not add responsibilities for flight attendants to police the cabin” and

    Ben: “No wonder many flight attendants only do exactly the minimum they have to, because that’s the culture that management is creating.”

    This is NOT NOT NOT management-driven, it’s purely union-driven. That said, AA should have worked with the union to provide a clear directive to employees on how to handle the situation.

  32. just flew AA for the first time in a long while after reading this article. I paid extra for business, but on the last leg I paid extra for MCE because I needed the extra space on the 319, which is horrible legroom. All MCE was full. One guy was upgraded last minute to J, the middle seat stayed empty, nobody moved. However one thing I noticed, as I have been flying a lot of intl airlines and amd a typical AC/UA flyer, was that the flight attendants did not care/police at all the bathroom situation. It was so bad that the passengers in first couldn’t even use the restroom cuz so many people were coming up from economy. I know if you got to go you got to go, but it was a mess. And it was on all 3 of my legs in business. On the first leg a biz class pax who was presumably a flight attendant off duty told a pax in the row behind me that “since its an intl flight, they had to use the restroom in their cabin.” The FA then came out to talk to the guy and he claimed he “knew the law” and that he was able to use the first class restroom. The FA just kind of shrugged her shoulders and went back to first, however the guy didn’t use the first class restroom.

    As far as I know on United they make it a point to announce that you must use the restroom in your assigned cabin, though the FA’s are fairly flexible with it, but do take care of the first class passengers. AA on the other hand, didn’t seem to give two cents at all. though otherwise my flights were pleasant with them.

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