Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

As you walk down the aisle to your seat at the back of the plane, the fancier seats are often already occupied.

They get on first. They might even already be clutching a drink, while you're clutching your oversized carry-on, hoping there'll still be space in the overhead bin.

It seems, though, that if you've flown American Airlines lately those fancier seats might not be filled with fancier paying customers.

In a meeting with employees last week captured by View From The Wing's Gary Leff, American Airlines president Robert Isom bemoaned the state of the airline's higher-end business.

"We're not driving in terms of premium revenue at the same pace as we had in the prior year," he said.

He actually described Delta as one of the "industry leaders," which suggests he knows that American is lagging.

Naturally, there are several potential reasons why this might have happened.

American's actual product is inconsistent. You can fly First Class on an important route and it approaches something you might expect as First Class

Or you can fly a lesser route and discover, as I did, something of a mess. Especially when compared to JetBlue's excellent Mint Class.

Leff suggests that American's frequent flyer program is not as competitive and that the airline has a poor service out of New York.

To my mind, however, there's something greater. It's American's brand image.

The airline has been a little too open about how little it feels toward its passengers and customer service in general.

It has become the absolute symbol of stuffing more seats into planes, reducing legroom and removing seatback screens. 

Isom himself has confessed that American isn't interested in any passenger improvements unless it can make an immediate profit out of them.

What American seems not to grasp is that even First Class passengers react on an emotional level. Perhaps more so than those in the back who are more moved by price.

What's remarkable about the airline's new 737 MAX planes isn't merely that they have too many seats and bathrooms fit only for leprechauns

It's that First Class legroom has been reduced as well. 

The American brand has become one of naked nickel-and-diming at the expense of the airline's own brand value.

The simple truth is that Delta and Southwest have integrated their brand personality -- one that has at least some focus on customer service -- into their product offerings.

American and United haven't.

The difference is that United claims awareness of the problem, while American seems to see it less.

American doesn't seem to care -- or perhaps even understand -- what it means to make an airline feel desirable.

My sense is that the airline believes its powerful network, with strong hubs, will always prevail in the end.

Many of the touchy-feely stuff like atmosphere, customer service and tiny elements that surprise, are simply missing on American. 

Which makes the airline Generican.

Published on: Aug 19, 2018