Colin Nagy, head of strategy at Fred & Farid, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. “On Experience” dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond.
Advertising for U.S. airlines for the past few years has promised what will be the passenger experience of the future, not what the reality is now.
American Airlines, for one, has touted a beautiful vision: a huge improvement in its fleet, a lounge refresh, and other overhauls. As the merger with US Airways was coming to a close, it was hard to believe some of the promises especially when sitting in a not-quite-flat bed on a dusty old 777 from Narita, Japan.
But, after a fairly tumultuous period for the carrier, recent trips on the airline have seen considerable improvements. The brand is feeling fresh, many routes have sparkling new planes, and the awkwardness of the merger is in the past.
They aren’t brand new, but the three-cabin transcontinental service is on a very comfortable A321. American’s new 777 business seat is the best in the air at the moment. It feels private and comfortable for a 14-hour flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG).
A larger premium economy seat is coming soon for longer flights. It’s a similar offering to what British Airways runs on most of its long-haul flights, but has a better seat. This will give business and leisure travelers a bit more space to curl up without having to pay top dollar for a flat bed.
A recent swing through the JFK Flagship lounge en route to Hong Kong left me impressed. I haven’t given American a lot of credit for lounge aesthetics in the past, but the new space at Kennedy is well-designed, uses the angles of light well, and seems inspired. A new lounge is set to open at LAX, which is needed given the state of overcrowding in the current setup.
New Flagship Dining
American is launching a seated dining option where international first class and A321 transcontinental first class passengers can dine in the lounge with an a la carte, sit-down experience. That’s a nice option for those who like using their plane time for sleep. And American get bonus points from me for an added layer of civility.
Overall, service this year has generally been solid, crisp and efficient. The basics are done well. There will be the anomalies here and there but employee morale seems better at every touchpoint, which means the world to the passenger.
American’s social team promptly answers most requests or questions sent to them via direct message on Twitter. I would like more specificity on how they are addressing feedback, instead of vague responses. Something like “We are flagging this with Sean N, the Kennedy station manager, for his review” would be welcome instead of a pre-programmed response.
Room for improvement
Lines at JFK
American re-arranged their check-in desks at Kennedy and the new situation is broken. On the rare occasion the app won’t let me check in, I need to go line up. They’ve merged all priority lanes into one, and a recent experience found the desks incredibly understaffed at a peak time.
Several questions of “who is in charge here?” went unanswered. It was a mess and raised the blood pressure of a lot of passengers spending good money to fly with American. It’s not a good way to start the trip.
A casualty of the US Airways merger is that you can find yourself on flights that have no power plugs in first and business classes. And some of the legacy U.S. Airways planes are tired, at best.
Lack of Award Space
As blogger Ben Schlappig notes, American’s award redemptions are as tight as they’ve ever been.
Nickel and Diming
Friends and colleagues hate the $200 penalties for changing flights on American, as well as fees for re-depositing award miles etc. It’s the type of brutal nickel and diming that every domestic carrier does with the exception of Southwest.
That Safety Video
How much did American pay for this overly art directed, annoying in-flight video? Custom Herman Miller chairs, weird mime arms, and employees cheering loudly enough to blast the drivers in your headphones. Just the basics, delivered quickly and without conceptual fanfare, would be appreciated.
A Positive outlook
I’ve been very rough with U.S. carriers — particularly with their reindeer games with the Middle Eastern airlines — but credit is due here for American tightening the ship.
Overall, it is feeling fresh and reinvigorated. With these things clicked into place, it makes me feel better spending money with the airline.
Colin Nagy covers travel and innovation for Skift. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.