American Airlines CEO Doug Parker just said something we knew he thought all along: the customer isn’t always right. Does that explain the customer service model at AA?
American Airlines CEO Confirms “The Customer Isn’t Always Right”
In an entertaining and enlightening podcast with Kara Swisher of the New York Times, Parker offered interesting insight on passenger misbehavior onboard, a familiar topic of late on Live and Let’s Fly.
You deal with it aggressively. It’s not acceptable. And it’s incredibly frustrating. I’ll just give you some numbers, just what we call customers misconduct reports. We would get about 30 a day at American Airlines in 2019. Now we’re getting about 100 a day. And we’re flying fewer customers, of course. The severity is what really matters. I mean, in those 30 a day, most of those are people who had too much to drink, or didn’t have their meds right, or chose to smoke in the bathroom. And again, those aren’t acceptable, but that’s what it was.
Now, the events you’re talking about, the serious events, ones that actually require us to go take action against the customer, have increased as well. And I need to stress, by the way, this is such a small percentage of our customers. These things like assault are generally what require action against a customer where we say, you’re never flying us again. Those events today, it’s like 1 in 300,000 or 400,000 customers. So it’s a very, very small subset.
But we fly 600,000 people a day, so that’s two people a day that we’re having to take action against, because they did something as egregious as assaulting one of our employees. That can’t continue. We can’t let it continue. It’s incredibly frustrating to me, because we’ve worked so hard to make sure it doesn’t continue, and we have been for months. But it still is happening, which I don’t fully understand.
Let’s pause here. I maintain it continues to happen because of the mask mandate plus lack of food and beverage options onboard. Unfortunately, it looks like alcohol will not be served until the mask mandate is removed, which could be quite some time. Parker continues:
We haven’t restored alcohol to the American Airlines flights for this reason. We have it tied to September 13, when the federal mask mandate is scheduled to expire. And that’s why we say we’ll return alcohol, because we don’t think we need that added to the environment. The FAA has been very supportive and aggressive. Steve Dickson has been out there very publicly letting it be known that they’re going to make sure that people are fined to the extent they can.
And we’ve certainly let our team know we have their backs. The customer isn’t always right. If anyone does something like this on an American Airlines airplane, they’re not going to fly American Airlines again. But despite all those deterrents to this type of behavior, they still continue. And we’ve got to get it fixed.
We’ve taken a couple more steps of late. We’ve changed our announcement to be more forceful and more certain. And to note, by the way, it’s also a federal offense to have your own alcohol on board, which we’re seeing more and more of.
Is it really a surprise that people are bringing more alcohol onboard when it is not sold onboard? That’s precisely the concern: at least when alcohol is sold onboard, servings can be regulated. Not so when the buffoon in 26C brings on an oversized bottle of Jack Daniels…
But did you catch that line? “The customer isn’t always right.” Well indeed, in the context of poor behavior onboard, the customer is most certainly not always right.
But I think Parker dances around the solution in an odd way–doesn’t it make sense that one solution to diminish mask-related violence onboard airplanes is to stop requiring masks? Or maybe to start treating passengers like humans and not cattle by offering them a choice of food and drink for purchase onboard?
Indeed, the customer is not always right…I certainly learned that the hard way in several of my business ventures. But I do think Parker’s statement reveals not so much a controversial statement about customer service, but a certain malignant cluelessness when it comes to why passengers are acting so poorly. That itself is a reflection of poor customer.
image: American Airlines