This article is a part of a multiple piece opinion on how American Airlines can regain investor confidence, passenger loyalty and general good public perception. For the index of the articles, see here.
American doesn’t just need to improve in the premium aspect of their product, but also in their economy cabin. If they want to lure passengers away from airlines like Spirit and Southwest, they need to offer a competitive product. There are many things wrong with economy flying in the US, compared to other airlines around the world, but let’s just focus on what American should do.
American has already moved to improving basic economy, by allowing passengers to bring a carry on again. The airline is now at par with Delta, and United is the only airline that still restricts carry ons in Basic Economy. Another place where American could improve would be allowing passengers to pay for seat assignments, even in B/E. In any case, B/E passengers will get seats on the plane, but this can offer an extra revenue opportunity, by allowing them to pay extra for a regular seat, or a higher premium for “reserved for elites” seats in the economy cabin. This may sound pro-airline and anti-consumer, but it will place them on par with other low cost carriers that obtain revenue this way.
Gone are the days of earning miles based on distance flown, revenue miles are the law of the land (except at Alaska Airlines). American offers 5X miles for non-AAdvantage elites, similarly to Delta and United. A minor improvement could be upping the number of miles received by fliers by 1 miles/dollar higher. Instead of 5, make it 6, and so on for the rest of the statuses. This would make flying American more lucrative for both regular fliers, and for elite fliers, as they would earn more miles flying American than flying Delta or UA.
End Project OASIS
American thinks that they can continue to worsen the cabin experience, and get away with it. One such example, and probably the most egregious, is Project OASIS. American intends to add seats and reduce legroom for everyone on the plane. No other airline in the US has copied them, and it seems no one will. American’s 737MAXs are trash, I flew on one and the business class pitch is noticeably less, and I can’t imagine how it feels in the back end of the plane, where legroom is the least among legacy carriers. Don’t get me started on the tiny bathrooms. If American is committed to the overall passenger experience, and most importantly on their more price sensitive passengers, this needs to stop. I am not the only one who believes project OASIS is trash, I have yet to meet a single person who says this is a good idea, besides the C Suite, which is so disconnected from reality they live in La La Land.
Improve Overall Customer Experience
This is a joint effort between management and front line employees. The airline needs to instill a culture of helping the passenger and not actively being indifferent. This could (and would) take years, but the overall result would be stellar. Imagine having a Southwest-style culture in an airline as large as AA! It would make the flying experience so much better, and make passengers happy to fly American. I love Southwest’s employees, they are cheerful, happy, and willing to help. This is a top to bottom endeavor, but I am honestly certain this will never happen, as long as the current administration stays the same.