I worry about American Airlines.

Not so much that I lose sleep, you understand, but I'm concerned about the airline's level of happiness.

And, by extension, American Airlines customers' level of happiness.

Consistently, the airline has become a symbol of too many things that are wrong with air travel.

It's managed to put itself in a We Don't Really Care About Passengers corner. 

It seems to find it hard to emerge from that.

Why, American Airlines' pleasingly forthright CEO Doug Parker recently managed to offer another statement of the airline's priorities and how it sees passengers.

In a conversation with employees reported by View From The Wing's Gary Leff, an American pilot told Parker that there seems to be a reluctance to offer customer service to passengers, even when the flight won't be leaving on time.

He told the story of a connecting customer who said they'd left their phone and laptop on a flight and no American employee wanted to help. 

They're all told, you see, that the priority is the so-called D0, the determination to push back on time to the detriment, some might say, of customer service.

You know, those little things like the pre-flight drinks the more exalted customers adore.

Parker offered these extremely honest and revealing words: 

The most important thing to customers is that we deliver on our commitment to leave on time and get them to the destination as they have scheduled.

But isn't pushing back on time just one aspect of a greater good? That the customer should feel good on your airline and want to come back.

This, it strikes me, has been American's singular difficulty of late.

When I flew on the airline last year, in First Class, I encountered a harassed and disinterested Flight Attendant

I can't remember whether the flight pushed back on time. I do remember, however, her strained and abject attempts to provide the minimum customer service she could.

The consequence, for me at least, has been to avoid American and choose other airlines. 

Am I alone in reacting this way?

I used to fly American a lot. I used to actively choose it because it flew bigger planes from San Francisco to New York and seemed a good enough airline.

Now, I find there's nothing that attracts me to it. Not the planes, nor the customer service. And the airline has really struggled with the on-time aspect of its business.

Why, even flying United a couple of months ago, I found a level of service that was both surprising and enticing.

Parker is right that customers want to get to their destination on time. But isn't it a little like restaurant customers who say they want good food?

If they get cold, disinterested service, I suspect many will happily give up the food for a restaurant that makes them feel good.

A greater difficulty for Parker is that there are airlines that are admired for their customer service and their reliable approach to arriving on time.

Delta, for example, seems to manage this rather well. Despite flying some tatty old planes. 

Perhaps the real problem is that Parker transposes his own beliefs about what should be important into his customers.

He wants the focus to be on-time departure because he believes the airline will make more money that way.

If the planes are always on time, the system rolls along nicely and there are no unexpected costs.

Which reminds me of a T-shirt I used to wear, a long time ago. On it, a woman looks up at her lover and explains: "There's more to life than snogging, Barry."

Published on: Nov 25, 2018
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