Why Can’t American Be More Like JetBlue?!

Filed Under: American

Earlier today I published my review of JetBlue’s Mint product between New York and Los Angeles, which I tried a couple of weeks ago.

The onboard experience was impressive, though what impressed me equally was the service on the ground, even for a flight I wasn’t on.

Specifically, I heard a PA from a gate agent who was communicating with customers in such a transparent way that I don’t remember otherwise hearing on a US airline.

There was a delay on the flight to Albuquerque, which was announced substantially in advance. Even though I wasn’t on the flight, I was so impressed by how the gate agent communicated the delay:

  • The announcement was made a couple of hours before the flight was scheduled to depart
  • The gate agent explained that the inbound plane had to divert to Palm Beach due to weather, and that it would leave as soon as it could, but they didn’t know how long it would be
  • The gate agent explained that they’d provide more updates as soon as they could, as they were hoping to find a replacement plane
  • The gate agent explained the options available to passengers, including rebooking on the next available flight, or otherwise waiting it out
  • The gate agent proactively offered meal vouchers to passengers while they waited
  • The gate agent invited anyone to come up to her and ask any questions, and also gave out JetBlue’s phone number, for those who preferred calling

While they didn’t have an updated departure time, the transparency with which they communicated blew me away. Based on observing the gate area, passengers weren’t angry either, because they felt like they were in the know, and part of the overall process.

Well, I just flew from Nadi to Los Angeles, and am now on an American flight from Los Angeles to New York. I was scheduled to land in New York shortly after midnight, and then from have to rent a car and drive for three hours.

The flight boarded on time, though 15 minutes after our scheduled departure time (45 minutes after boarding) we were informed of the minor detail that we didn’t actually have any pilots.


Several minutes later it was announced that a first officer was “on the way,” but “we’re not sure about a captain.”

Meanwhile the APU broke, so for about 10 minutes we sat in the cabin with no lights or no air, as they needed to get a mechanic to fix things.

Look, maybe I’m just grouchy because I haven’t slept in a bed in several days and flew from Los Angeles to Nadi to Los Angeles same day, and it’s a rough day in general. I’m usually very forgiving of airlines, because the fact that they come together as well as they do is sort of a miracle.

But at the same it’s sort of jarring how different American and JetBlue treat their passengers:

  • Why did they board our flight if they didn’t have any pilots?
  • Could they communicate better than just saying “the first officer is on his way?” Is he on his way from another flight and is landing in three hours, or is he walking to the gate and three minutes away?
  • We still don’t have a captain. Could they explain whether they’re trying to call in a reserve, if there’s a chance the flight might be canceled, or what?
  • Can’t they at least announce every few minutes that there are no further updates, or provide any sort of information? Instead one of the premium service agents walked through the plane and told select passengers she is protecting them on other flights, which is leading to even more concern and paranoia among customers

I don’t blame frontline airline employees for this in general, as I think it’s sadly just how most US airlines train their employees to treat customers.

Like I said, it’s an especially tough day, but it’s just frustrating as hell when airlines run their operations as mindlessly as American is running this flight (and many of their flights, especially to/from LAX).

  1. “We ask anyone to please come forward to fly the plane. We will offer you a drink card and 200$ of American Airline vouchers for your service. Anyone who would be willing and able to the fly the plane, please step forward! Thank you”

  2. AA as a frequent flier plan completely sucks – not a single saver fare from anywhere in the US to Hawaii or back next summer – looking 330 days out

    I know it is a popular destination – but not a single one – they must have aeroplan people now working there teaching them how to run a once great plan into the ground!

  3. Currently on an AA flight back from CUN to CLT. In F with seat belt sign on, a kid keeps running and singing into my bulk head sear while mom gets plastered. FA doesn’t do anything, at meal service he asks ” do you want to eat” when I replied ” what do you have his response ” I don’t know read this, and gives me the crew printout, after asking again what is this, he points and keeps stating just read it.” Awful. And I paid for this.

  4. First, sorry for whatever has caused you to undo your trip to Fiji. Been a year of that for me as well unfortunately, and thank god I’ve been playing the “frequent flyer game” because that knowledge saved my butt at every turn. :-/

    Second, I had the same thought after I flew Jet Blue Mint back in January. It is MINDBOGGLING how poorly AA (and certainly UA / DL as well) treat their customers. Customer service costs absolutely nothing and it makes all the difference. Communication of delays, even partial communication to give their customers a heads up, costs nothing. Not to mention, at least in the premium cabin, there’s no excuse for not even catering a “quick supper” type meal on a transcon because it left at 9:02pm. Those flights are almost as long as east coast to LHR / DUB and it is AWFUL if you hop aboard unaware thinking you’re getting a meal and you have nothing but bags of pretzels to eat.

  5. I have been on two jet blue flights and both have had over 1 hour delays due to mechanical issues.Yes they made announcements regularly and sent out email notices but I would rather they operate more reliable equiptment

  6. American has gotten horrible. Three weeks ago my son got maaried in Manchester England and my 96 yo and 87 yo in-laws went to jfk to leave for Manchester. After being at jfk for 3 hours 15 minutes prior to boarding they announced a delay of 1 hour due to mechanical difficulty. This occurs 3 times more until they ancel led the flight and told them to come ack the next day they offered no compenswtion. My son from England called and was told nothing could be done. He got on twitter blasting American and the next thing you know they put them up ocernight. Guess what, the next day they agsin told them the flight was cancelled. After I yelled and screamed from England and again tweeted they put them on a flight to Heathrow then to manchesrer.cthey missed a great deal of the functions as well as being exhausted.

  7. Hope you get on your way shortly. Sounds like similar AA experiences I have had this summer sadly. They seem to be completely inept at handing irrops including having crews, knowing if the plane they are switching you too is broken too, rebooking you when flights go wrong, giving up your upgrade because your flight is late but you still make your connection because that plane is also late despite there not being a delay posted. Not sure why I am gunning for EXP again despite already having 1k locked away. The flexibility to have two airlines has been nice but it doesn’t beat having a solid operation.

  8. Wow, you just cannot catch a break this trip, huh?

    Jet Blue’s handling of the delay is how I imagine a flight delay would be managed in heaven (assuming such a place exists. However if it’s heaven, there wouldn’t be any ground delays, right? I digress…). I would probably get the individual’s name and send the company a note over that, honestly.

    With American, I just roll my eyes. I’m a loyalist to them, but this kind of thing is pretty typical. Last year we were flying DCA-JFK to catch a flight to Asia, and the gate kept changing, and nobody knew where to go. A woman approached two ground agents who were chatting at the most “recent” gate, one of whom was eating orange slices. The woman politely interrupted (“Excuse me, but do you know which gate the JFK flight is departing from?”) and Ms. Orange slices held up her 6″ manicured forefinger, didn’t even look at the woman, and said “We are finishing a con-ver-SAY-sion.” Un-effing believable. They finally told us which gate to use, and before I walked away I approached her and said “You are VERY rude,” and walked away to her cries of “I’M not RUDE!.”* I’m usually never confrontational, but this was just beyond anything acceptable.

    Last month, I was to fly DCA-XXX, and after a 90-minute delay in boarding (lightning at the airport, I get it), we boarded, then pushed back and sat in the holding pen due to more thunderstorms, and then had to go back to the gate so we wouldn’t hit the three-hour rule. By this time it was 8 p.m. They said to stay in the gate area for re-boarding, however I’m not very obedient, so I went over to the flight board, which said the flight was cancelled. The gate still said it was going to BUF. So I went up to the Admiral’s Club and they told me it was indeed cancelled, and offered to put me on the 10 p.m. flight. I said no thanks, as I suspected that flight would be cancelled as well, so I would put in for a refund.

    In the taxi on the way home, I checked FlightBoard on my phone, and lo and behold, the 10 p.m. cancelled as well.

    tl;dr – American needs to up their game on the ground in terms of professionalism and communication.

    And Ben, I’m sorry this is happening to you, it’s just another needless stressor on an already extremely stressful trip…fingers are crossed that once you’re finally up in the air the rest of the trip goes as smoothly as possible.

    *Yes, that really happened.

  9. PS – Sorry for the word vomit, this is about you, not me, etc., so apologies if I hijacked.

  10. It really is simple – JetBlue is customer focused. AA is not. If things go smoothly on an AA flight (leaves on time, FA’s and captain present, equipment you chose is actually what you are flying, you arrive on time, etc.) – it has unfortunately become the exception rather than the rule. Honestly don’t know how they can botch a one way nonstop – a NONSTOP!… but somehow they manage to do so more often than not.

    If your delay on JetBlue is over 90 minutes, you’ll likely get a $$ credit added to your TravelBank (i.e., your Frequent Flyer account bank that you can use toward a future flight) – this has happened to me once and to my partner once as well – automatically happens with an email to you apologizing for the delay.

    If AA apologized for anything that inconvenienced a customer, I’d be shocked.

    Ashley, if you called JetBlue and told them about what happened, I would not be in the least bit surprised if they didn’t offer you compensation. Try that with AA and they’ll probably hang up on you.

    After years of loyalty to AA, I feel like I’m 100% entitled to tell them what I now think of them.

  11. If you folks think it’s easy to train crew – especially when dealing with union contracts that specify in too much detail what everyone is supposed to do – think again!

  12. Had a JetBlue flight that I was on get delayed (and eventually cancelled) and found the same great communication you described here. And it made a bad situation relatively pleasant given the transparent nature of their communication. Plus, JetBlue proactively offers travel certificates for delays over a certain amount of time.

  13. @TravelinWilly

    Interesting story…good for you for saying something. Sometimes when I witness over the top rudeness, I am too gobsmacked to say anything. What was the other passengers reaction?

    I also don’t think you hijacked this thread. This particular blog is a comparison between airlines and not so much about whatever circumstance that caused Lucky to end his trip abruptly. I was happy to see people wish him well in the other thread. I know sometimes people like to throw a dig…but I think there are times when if compassion can’t be shown..then at least restraint should prevail.

  14. How can they board the plane without pilots? If there was a fire in the APU or someone’s laptop battery caught fire in the hold who would be in the cockpit to see the alarm and order the evacuation?

  15. ‘If you folks think it’s easy to train crew – especially when dealing with union contracts that specify in too much detail what everyone is supposed to do – think again!’

    This is so true it’s scary. I deal with it daily.

    Hope you get on your way soon, Ben.

  16. I think the fear everyone had when Parker took over American is it would not just go to the lowest common denominator of USAir but would sink to the level of America West. I would have to agree it has happened. I would say all the improvement in customer service was under the departing legacy CEO Horton and it has vanished. They will never understand the luxury traveler and Parker is determined to squeeze every last cent out of the airline. JetBlue has a tremendous opportunity but my guess is the JetSmarters of the world will win out the premium traveler. Commercial luxury travel will be primarily long haul markets overseas and it looks like Jetsmarter etal are working that segment as well.Just my thoughts

  17. @ Roberto: it has nothing to do with the union CBA, but more the culture of both AA/US, ineffective management, and system that deploys personnel based on seniority/tenure rather than merit/performance. AA can deliver exceptional service and often times a positive attitude from one person or crew member can set a positive tone for the entire crew working the flight.

    While customer service is not generally a strong suit of union shops, with proper training, management and execution it can be done. Look to Southwest Airlines and leading Mandarin Oriental, Ritz-Carlton, and Four Seasons properties in major union strong hotel markets (Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles to name a few)

    I am no fan of organized labor, but there is nothing in the CBA that specifies what people can/can’t do when it comes to service. F/As at U.S. carriers do not perform certain tasks like heavy lavatory cleaning or lifting luggage for passengers which is commonplace on high touch, high service Asian carriers. The ATA/A4A has lobbied for the flight attendant craft & class to not be covered by OSHA and other workplace safety measures that even ground workers covered under the Railway Labor Act are protected by. If an F/A becomes injured performing such a task the company potentially deny their on the job injury and disability claim.

  18. AA is going to need to up their game or ME3 will handle c2c domestic .. open skies only work when US3 are “violated”.

    Like it was posted somewhere else – scheduling vs ops in AA. They are pushing way too hard and everyone is at the breaking point – pilots, crew, ground staff, equipment. They need to back off. Next to go is the AA diesel generator handling backup power to the midrange systems.

    Recently I was at LAX, delayed, knowing the flight would be cancelled, so I re-ticketed in the admirals club – then in line boarding my flight next to my original one that people were still holding hope on, holding their bic lighters up – hoping the flight would leave that night – i boarded. Then sat for 30 minutes and realized – there was nobody in the cockpit ! Door wide open, everyone standing around. No announcement. I ended up leaving and getting a refund – i had, had it.

    I prefer Egypt Air where at least they leave and don’t care if you are still putting your luggage in the overhead – when its time to go – its time to go !

    I actually feel bad for the FAs and GAs, they are just having to try to work with brutal scheduling.

  19. @John – You don’t need pilots to board an airplane. You need Flight Attendants. Pilots aren’t trained in evacuations, flight attendants are.


  20. @Scott – just a note. It’s WAY too early to think of finding any sale seats for Hawaii next summer. The airlines simply haven’t put those out for sale yet. Airlines in general (and I know, because I have worked in the groups that do this in revenue management and planning (though not at AA, but it’s similar across the industry)) will put out a schedule that’s open for sale about 330 days out. That said, they wont start to actively manage the flights – open and close inventory buckets/ try to invent sales with lower fares out there – until MUCH closer in. So just have patience. Check every now and then, but really 6 months out is when the revenue management analyst will even really start to pay attention to anything going on next summer, with more active management (i.e., more targeted sales/ promotions) happening 3-4 months out. Same general pattern across all airlines.

    Sadly, I had a similar situation on JetBlue last summer. WE were delayed nearly six hours out of DCA flying to Nantucket. it was chaos at the gates, no information, and nothing proactive. I was simply surprised. I let a friend of mine know who is rather high up in ops at B6, and within 5 minutes of doing that the agents at the gate started rolling out snacks etc (this was 3 hours into our delay). I do agree that jetBlue can be really proactive when there is a delay – I’ve received $25 and $75 vouchers after delayed flights, etc. So Overall I too am happy with them. But lapses do occur every now and again.

  21. AA Frontend employees and even managers dont always have all the information which is why there is a lack of “transparency.” AA has a much larger and massive operation than Jetblue and thus has a lot more information to keep track of.

  22. 1. The agent will board the flight even without pilots because you will be out of their way. The agent will then leave pax with the flight attendants to deal with.FAs don’t know the pilots where abouts.
    With the company emphasis on D0 boarding must start at boarding time even without cockpit crews
    2. Pilots don’t have a call out time like flight attendants do. Once called on reserve they can take as long as they want to get to airport. Flight attendants have 2 hours minimum to report
    3. Pilots don’t sit reserve at airport so scheduling probably did call a reserve pilot
    4. With the company treating frontline employees so bad, no one is taking responsibility for anything and delays are placed on each other
    5. Watch this airline drown in its own self inflicted issues.
    6. All written from an AA FA perspective

  23. The new American. Sounds about right, can’t wait to leave this crappy airline.

    -posted from JL F 773 with wofi at 36000 get over the Pacific Ocean.

  24. “maybe I’m just grouchy because I haven’t slept”
    I dont blame your lack of sleep. Boarding without a working APU is bad enough even for the most rested traveller but boarding without a pilot (let alone both pilots) shows lack of synchronized processes between ground and air crew.

    I call this incompetence.

  25. …and this is why B6 & DL get our office travel $. Of course, we try to get on foreign metal as quickly as possible, but when we’re stuck doing domestic, those two are our go-tos.

    Best one I had was B6 *calling* us to let us know our evening flight was being cancelled and asking if we could make an earlier flight or needed to rebook. They even slightly delayed the afternoon flight to make sure the evening pax could make it.

    I also say the unions have a lot to do with it. When someone doesn’t fear losing their job, they have NO incentive to perform and will do the bare minimum. We see it in government, industry, etc. I’m all for treating workers fairly, but I don’t agree with the worker-can-do-no-wrong attitude of unions. I say this and I’ve worked many union jobs. I also disliked the strict division of labor in the unions. A coworker was running behind on a task, I was already done. BUT I wasn’t allowed to help him. That’s no way to run anything, and certainly wasn’t helping my “union brother.”

  26. Please let us know if/when AA responds to any formal complaint should you intend to lodge one.

  27. AA sucks. They are racing UA to the bottom.

    I just flew AA a few times in the last couple of weeks. Our flight from DCA to PHX had to divert to MCI because there was some sort of issue with the fuel system. They knew all of this before we boarded. About 2 minutes before boarding started they posted the diversion on the board but didn’t really explain what was going on which led to lots of confusion. Eventually we all boarded and the captain explained what was happening. Turned out they needed to drain one of the fuel tanks before we could leave. That ended up taking an hour. We could have all spent that time in the relative comfort of the terminal. If I had been stuck in a middle seat in the back I would have been fuming. The ancient exUS A321 was 100% full. We then spent about 90 minutes on the ground at MCI refueling and getting the paperwork in order before we were back in the air. Of course we all missed our connections.

    Initially they rebooked me to PDX in economy. A message to the AA twitter account while we were in the air got that issue fixed and they put me back in F.

    Now AA is claiming the problem was ATC delays and not their fault. So either the captain was lying (not likely) or they falsified their report to avoid paying any sort of compensation. All I asked for was a few thousand AA miles which essentially cost them nothing.

    I already stopped flying UA. I can add AA to that list too. One leg of my trip was on AS which was certainly more pleasant. Too bad their network isn’t so extensive out of DC.

  28. Ben,
    Very frustrating indeed.
    Similar situation happened to me last week in DFW. Flightaware had my inbound delayed into DFW, and hence my outbound to EWR delayed by 45 minutes. AA app and Admirals Club all said it was on-time. I knew it was going to be delayed and wanted to transfer to the flight to LGA, but because it wasn’t officially delayed they couldn’t confirm me without paying fees. Sure enough, it was delayed more than an hour and by the time it was announced, I didn’t have enough time to race across terminals to get to the LGA gate. If only AA was more proactive like JetBlue and even Delta (I fly about 10 times on each per year, in addition to the 100+ segments w/ AA), I could have rearranged my travel to get home closer to on-time. AA has been very frustrating this year.

  29. @Martina

    The woman who originally asked the question walked away as soon as we got the updated gate number, so didn’t hear me. My partner *did* hear me and actually said “Good for you for speaking up to that rude woman.” I felt validated. 🙂 Like I said, I’m very rarely confrontational, but this was just unacceptably and unnecessarily rude. I mean, for one human being to speak to another that way is not okay, period, least of all a service “professional.”

  30. John – on most aircraft the APU will automatically shutdown in the event of fire. It can also be shut down from the engineer panel by the nose wheel outside. No need for pilots.

    In fairness I’ve have experienced woeful communication about delays from most European airlines as well, it isn’t only American or United. In the previous 12 months I’ve had BA, easyJet, Flybe, and TAP all claim a flight would depart in around 30 minutes, despite the inbound aircraft still being more than 30 minutes from landing, never mind taxi and turnaround times.

  31. Its amazing how bad airline communication can be. I have much better delay information directly from google than from the airlines.

    I can’t tell you how many times my google now and google inbox pops up with a delay notice before the airline even emails me. Sometimes the airline emails the delay notice to me after the damn flight. I’m sure they initiated the email much earlier and probably their email server didn’t release it (and more likely because their email infrastructure sucks).

    These airlines mind as well pay google to handle communication for them.

  32. I am an AA MM with 30+ years of ‘partnership’…your JetBlue review prompted me to try an alternative…
    I has Friends in Lima Peru and JetBlue flys direct from FLL…
    Long trip but guess what ??? NO MINT seating, on an A320 ????
    At least the A321 has the 2-2 seating ahead of the exits…
    One would think that ‘mint’ would be available on one of their ‘longest’
    Flights…guess not. I really wanted to test out their line and service…

  33. The case of an over-sized corporation. AA has more than 4X the fleet size and nearly 10X the employees that JetBlue has. Management of fleet and logistics leaves very little time and resources to focus on customer care. As I read above, AA is in the biz of human transportation whereas JetBlue is still in the biz of travel.

  34. we hd the same problem with Delta airlines, not only not be transparent about what was happening they were threatening to throw passengers off the plane for any and every little infraction. Frontier airlines treated us better!

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