American Airlines President:
We Won't Make Things Better For Passengers Unless We Can Make a Profit Out of It
- You're not a customer. You're a profit center. And American thinks you need more Basic Economy seats.
25 June, 2018
Airlines like to market taglines. They promise everything from United's Fly the Friendly Skies to American's mellifluous Going For Great. At heart, though, it's hard not think that many of them are just Going For Profit. Some want to mask it. American Airlines rarely does.
Its CEO Doug Parker promises the airline will always make money. He also sees no need to fly in the Economy Class section of the airline's new, staggeringly uncomfortable Boeing 737 MAX planes. The airline's president, Robert Isom, says he has. It's unclear if he used the astoundingly inhuman bathrooms.
What's clearer, though, is that Isom believes his airline should give passengers nothing from which it can't profit. In a stimulating interview with Cranky Flier Brett Snyder, Isom laid forth the airline's attitude in charmingly blunt terms. He said that American is "trying to identify what customers want, and what you can do to serve them in a profitable way."
One of these fine services, it seems, is precisely those very uncomfortable 737 MAX planes that have more seats stuffed inside, less legroom even in First Class, no seatback screens -- hey mom, you'll have to get all your kids their own iPads -- and bathrooms that are literally two feet wide. This configuration is being extended to the airline's Boeing 737-800 planes too, in a drive that the airline, entirely without irony, calls Project Oasis. Beware the water there.
Another part of the (profitable) service Isom wants extended is Sub-Cattle Class. Or what airlines call Basic Economy. He described these tickets -- supposedly cheaper, while taking away most of your carry-on privileges, not letting you upgrade and sticking you in the worst possible seat -- as "not a price cut. It's really something that anchors all of our pricing structure."
May I attempt a translation? "It's a ticket that tries to get you to pay more for the same thing you paid less for before, because you'll hate Basic Economy so much."
Isom's logic, though, is tantalizing. Once, there was at least an element of customer service involved in flying, which led to a certain brand loyalty. Now he seems to be saying that the airline will improve nothing for passengers unless it can make a profit from it.
Perhaps it's a sign of our perilously venal times, where everyone is trying to take advantage of everyone else, fully prepared to discard them if the relationship is, well, unprofitable. Yet it's the other side of Isom's argument that might bother true flying Wittgensteinians. Yes, American will only make improvements for passengers if those improvements can be profitable.
The airline will, though, happily make things worse for passengers if it can make an even bigger profit from that. That's certainly how it seems, as Parker freely admitted that he would make legroom even smaller and only the protestations of his own Flight Attendants told him to think again.
No, dear passenger, you can't win. You'll never make an emotional profit out of flying. You can only reach a breaking point where you try another airline. If, that is, you can find another airline that also flies to your destination.
Many businesses operate with the same mentality as American. They believe that nothing should be offered without definite profit attached. Yet, as even a supermarket will tell you, sometimes a loss leader isn't a bad thing. What it does is make you feel good about the supermarket brand, so that you'll want to spend more. Basic Economy isn't a loss leader. It's a torture test.
Many might conclude that American -- and it isn't alone -- doesn't care one whit about how its customers feel at all. Until they shout and scream, that is. All too often, customers now simply accept that things won't be too pleasant.