Skift Take

Deep down, American Airlines President Robert Isom is an operations guy. We've rarely seen someone get so excited while talking about what it takes to make sure an airplane departs on time.

At American Airlines, some airport employees call Robert Isom Capt. D0, an homage to his obsession with on-time departures.

It’s a nickname Isom likes, he told me last month at Skift Global Forum, because he believes D0 — that’s airline speak for flights that leave on time — is the most important metric for operations. He became animated speaking about the “choreography” required for punctual departures, from what happens at ticketing counters to fueling, catering, and cleaning.

“If you depart on time, guess what?” said Isom, American’s president. “You have a really good chance of arriving on time. It’s a surprising correlation between the two, right?”

American is not perfect. For the first seven months of this year, it ranked seventh among 10 U.S. carriers in arrival performance, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. Its on-time arrival performance, including codeshare partners, was more than five points worse than Delta Air Lines.

The rigidity can also cause drama at the airport, where it can produce uneven customer service, as agents may close out flights before connecting passengers arrive. Isom said he understands the criticism, but said in many cases keeping operational integrity helps more customers. American has 6,700 daily flights, and sometimes it’s easier to put passengers on the next one, rather than hold doors open.

An early morning delay, Isom said, “cascades through the rest of the day. You’re not going to just disrupt 150 passengers, or 200 passengers. You’re going to ultimately disrupt potentially over 1,000, and lost bags, and staffing, and overtime, and you name it. It’s an issue of disruption.”

What do you think about Isom’s obsession with D0? Is that the right metric?

— Brian Sumers, Senior Aviation Business Editor [[email protected], @briansumers]

SkifT Forum Videos Are Online!

If you missed the best travel conference of the year last month in New York, do not despair. We have posted videos of all the sessions, including my discussions with Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s president; Ed Bastian, Delta’s CEO; and Isom.

Geraghty and I discussed bag fees, possible European expansion, on-time performance, and JetBlue’s investment in a company called Gladly, which helps it offer personalized customer service.  

Bastian and I spoke about in-flight Wi-Fi — he still calls Gogo “slow-go” — tech outages, biometrics, and airline profit. 

Isom and I discussed basic economy, fuel prices, on-time performance, and employee relations. 

Be sure to let me know what you think.

Best of Skift

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Delta Air Lines Sees Premium Profit: On their third quarter earnings call, Delta executives confirmed what I had been hearing anecdotally for a while: Customers are buying premium seats at an increased rate. With a hot economy, more business and high-end leisure travelers are deciding they can afford business class, domestic first class, premium economy, and extra-legroom economy class seats. The business is so strong Delta executives said they would consider installing more premium seats.

Aer Lingus Taps New CEO From Within Parent IAG: Aer Lingus is no longer a stand-alone airline, so it makes sense that its CEO, Stephen Kavanagh, who joined the company in 1988, is stepping down. Newish owner International Airlines Group, owner of Iberia and British Airways, is putting its own man in charge. Skift Europe Editor Patrick Whyte has the story.

The Resilience of the American Vacation in Mexico: This excellent enterprise piece from Skift’s Sarah Enelow-Synder is not about airlines, though the Mexican carrier Volaris figures prominently. Holger Blankenstein, who runs the airline’s commercial team, explains why marketing to Mexican-Americans is different from targeting vacationers. “In a Mexican-origin family, the son or daughter are the ones who buy the flight ticket for the parents,” he said. “How the family gets to know Volaris and the brand is passed down from generation to generation.”

Ctrip Will Show Frequent Flyer Earnings With Searches: Traditionally, online travel agencies only show the fare price. That’s beginning to change, with some sharing with customers information about seat pitch, on-time performance, and Wi-Fi. Still, you usually still must check with the airline if you want to know how many miles you will earn. But Ctrip is working with a California-based company called 30K to show miles earnings to customers, according to Skift contributor Grant Martin.

Best of The Rest

TSA Plans to Use More Biometrics at Airport Security Checkpoints: This may creep out some passengers, but it’s probably the right move. Facial scans don’t have a 100 percent success rate, but neither do humans. And facial scans are probably faster than today’s process, in which humans must check a face against an ID card or passport. Alan Levin of Bloomberg explains what TSA plans.

What the World’s Longest Flight Feels Like: Did anyone else have FOMO over the weekend? That stands for Fear of Missing Out, for those not familiar with millennial acronyms. Many reporters — but not me! — flew on the new longest flight in the world, Singapore Airlines’ nonstop service between Newark and Singapore. Bloomberg’s Sarah Wells was on board and filed a full report. By hour 14, she said, the Airbus A350 “was starting to feel like a luxurious prison.”

United Airlines Grows at Hubs: United Airlines tweaked its network over the weekend, and I found its moves at Los Angeles, where I live, to be the most interesting. A decade ago, United was one of Hollywood’s preferred airlines, and it flew to many of the largest markets for entertainment, as well as bigger Western cities. Now, it’s focused on smaller markets from L.A., including some unusual additions: Eugene, Oregon; Madison, Wisconsin; and Pasco/Tri-Cities, Washington. Ben Mutzabaugh of USA Today has details.

Contact Me

Skift Senior Aviation Business Editor Brian Sumers [[email protected]] curates the Skift Airline Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday. Have a story idea? Or a juicy news tip? Want to share a memo? Send him an email or tweet him.


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Tags: airline innovation report, american airlines, robert isom

Photo credit: An American Airlines employee uses a tug to push back a Boeing 737. American President Robert Isom is obsessed with on-time departures. American Airlines

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