Last week I wrote that replacing American Airlines CEO Doug Parker would not be enough to change the course of the airline. Many American flight attendants reached out and they are furious.
Replacing Doug Parker Wouldn’t Solve American Airlines Woes: Revisited
In the piece I published last week, I outlined that other things need to change besides simply swapping out Doug Parker for another CEO. One thing that I sensed was missed by many readers is that I don’t support Doug Parker. I don’t think he is good for American Airlines. Many look to the CEO believing that if they replace the head of the organization needed changes will follow. I don’t believe that’s the case.
However, if readers don’t see the point I am making, that’s my fault. I must not have stated my position clearly enough. So to be clear, I am not a fan of Doug Parker, but the issues with American (catering, employee morale, senior leadership, loyalty, fleet, hub choices, etc.) will not be solved by solely getting rid of Doug Parker.
American Airlines Employees Reached Out… in Force
I welcome emails from any reader (firstname.lastname@example.org) and while I can’t respond to all of them, I aim to write back if I am able. They also reached out to me on Facebook (link above) and the underlying theme of most of the messages was that American Airlines employees take pride in their job but feel hampered and demoralized by management which in many cases extends beyond Doug Parker and even to their own Union representatives.
Interview with an Employee
One particular employee was gracious enough to be interviewed on what they see as the principal problems at the carrier. I will not name the employee at their request.
- What is the single greatest challenge you have faced since the merger with?
“Inconsistent procedures between US/AA. Different metal and no cross qualification. Different uniforms. Different contracts. Hate between US/AA employees. Changes to food and beverage. Eliminating entertainment screens from aircraft. Small and narrow lavatories on the 737 and small pitch between passenger seats”
- Many American employee groups are represented by Unions, do you feel your union doesn’t support you?
“My union doesn’t really focus on the real problems. We had union officials join the AA management ranks. Ie: Leslie Mayo and Laura Glading.”
- What stops you from being able to deliver great customer service?
“To be happy to come to work. Be proud of what AA use to be. Now we are worst than a low-cost carrier. We need to fix everything at all levels and all departments. Better working facilities. More humane hours and breaks etc. “
- What policies have come into effect that handcuff or hamper your abilities?
“Our premium economy and more leg room seats create problems with our customer (base). We have (to) police them all the time. AA makes us monitor this. Just to mention a few.”
- What is the one change you would make to your job that would make you happiest?
“A new and better contract will benefit all parties.”
- How many of your fellow compatriots are unhappy?
- If Doug Parker were to resign tomorrow, how would your outlook change? Is wholesale change needed?
“Membership will start to believe in management again and perhaps all unions can start to be (treated) with respect and humanity. Mechanics and Rampers (have been) negotiating (their) contracts for the past 2 years. AA needs a people person to run the company. Not another micromanagement/union buster!”
American Airlines Knows Employee Morale Is Low
Last year, American Airlines conducted a company-wide survey presented with mixed results. As Gary Leff commented at the time,
“American, to their credit, didn’t spin the results. They said this would be a baseline against which they’d measure improvement.”
However, 41,858 of 59,000 participated in the survey at all (just over 2/3rds) and those that completed the survey didn’t have very nice things to say about upper management. Here are some of the results as reported by Inc.
Leaders at American make the right decisions that take care of our frontline team members.
- Favorable: 26.4 percent
- Neutral: 22.3 percent
- Unfavorable: 51.3 percent
Leaders at American make the right decisions that support me.
- Favorable: 27.8 percent
- Neutral: 22.8 percent
- Unfavorable: 49.4 percent
Leaders at American listen and seek to understand the frontline team member experience.
- Favorable: 28.0 percent
- Neutral: 22.1 percent
- Unfavorable: 49.9 percent
Though, when speaking of their managers they did have positive things to say:
My manager acts in an honest and ethical manner.
- Favorable: 73.4 percent
- Neutral: 18.2 percent
- Unfavorable: 8.5 percent
The key takeaway from that positive result is the difference in wording (in my opinion) from the others. The employee’s manager is not the same as “Leaders at American.” That’s a distinction that those who generated the survey created but clearly matched a different outcome from other questions.
The Survey Is Dated, Employee Morale May Have Sunk Lower
The survey results are from November of 2018 and were likely collected weeks or months prior. Now, some 6-8 months later, employees feel like they don’t have the tools to make customers happy. They feel overwhelmingly (according to the communication with me) that arbitrary processes have been put in place to disadvantage both their abilities to look after the customer and the customer experience itself. None of that has improved and now that American has increased the EQD requirement by 25% for Executive Platinums and employed more dynamism to their award chart increasing costs for their best customers.
There is also this website sent to me by an American Airlines flight attendant that alleges criminal misdeeds by those currently running the carrier. I don’t doubt what’s stated on the website but can’t verify it either. Regardless, a lot of employees at American feel the same way that I do: The airline is not headed down the right path and there seems to be no way back to where they once were.
The flight attendant union has sought legal remedies in response to a new attendance policy that they state violates employment laws.
Even the dismal performance by the stock price and failing to generate a profit from flying airplanes in the best economy in 50 years has failed to command real change at the airline.
Most employees at the airline do not believe that management is making positive decisions for frontline employees and in particular, flight attendants have been very vocal about this. They are infuriated by company protocol that forces them to make negative impacts on the customer experience and hampers their ability to make bad situations better. Like us, they too are disappointed with fleet decisions and the quality of the products they are meant to deliver. In a sense, as my post last week intended to deliver, it’s not just American Airlines CEO, Doug Parker, that needs to go but rather wholesale change at the airline. When will shareholders make their voices heard and affect real change? Customers and employees are clearly sending the same message. Where in the world is Gordon Bethune when you need him most?
What do you think? Are American Airlines employees constrained by the actions of upper management? If the company is profitable, from flying or the loyalty program, does it matter? What would you do to improve American Airlines?
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