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

What are the positive reasons for choosing American Airlines?

Other than, of course, the positive fact that it might be the only airline flying non-stop on your chosen route.

It's not a question I can easily answer.

Thankfully, I have the help of the airline's CEO Doug Parker.

In another part of the Q&A in which airline employees asked him questions last week -- obtained by Gary Leff at View From the Wing -- -- Parker was asked to compare his own airline with Southwest Airlines.

You may remember him admitting during one part of this session that the least important passengers get the worst planes.

Now here he is offering his opinions on what some say is one of America's most people-friendly airlines.

He was told by an employee that all their friends prefer to fly Southwest because the airline offers flexibility.

No change fees -- other than the price difference between the flight you're on and the flight you want to switch to -- for example. No baggage fees for the first two bags, either.

Parker offered a waggish reply: "Well, you've got to find some new friends, first of all."

Ho. Ho. Oh.

The CEO then explained it really was terribly complicated to explain why American was the better airline.

"It's probably easier to say 'go fly the cattle car,'" he said.

So Southwest is a cattle car?

This sounds a touch odd -- and well as insulting -- coming from the man who is himself peddling Sub-Cattle Class, occasionally known as Basic Economy.

I asked Southwest whether it thought this was a touch odd too.

"Doug is always so complimentary of Southwest and we're honored to count him among our fans," an airline spokesman told me.

There may have been a little tongue in his cheek when he said that.

We're Better Because, Because I Said So.

Parker did stoop to offer something of an intellectual answer to the complicated issue of why American is, um, better.

The shorter version: American flies everywhere. Southwest has very few business passengers.

Ergo, according to Parker: "We serve such a diverse group of customers, leisure plus business, and because we serve so many points around the world that matter to both -- international destinations, first class service, but it's not just first class people that are willing to pay more."

Again, Southwest's spokesman had some thoughts on this: "He [Parker] said it best. Their model is complex, Southwest's is simple. Predictable, friendly, comfortable value for everyone," he said.

It may be all those things, but one thing of which some may not be aware is that Southwest is actually bigger than American.

Could it be that, indeed, some business passengers prefer it?

"The majority of business travelers in the air over the U.S. any given day are flying domestic," said the Southwest spokesman, adding "our network, product, and flexibility resonate with them and all travelers."

Oh, but enough of that straight-laced rationality. Here's some more exciting thoughts from Parker.

The Sheer Fun of the Non-Refundable Seat.

American's CEO crowed about the seductive power of the non-refundable seat.

He believes one of the airline's great differentiators is that it makes money out of being inflexible.

This, according to Parker, is what happens when a customer's plans change from, say, flying on Saturday to Sunday: "We say 'OK you don't want to do what you said you were going to do. Instead, we'll sell you another cheap ticket on Sunday but you've got to pay this change fee.'"

A positive fountain of generosity is American.

And Parker wants you to know that this really, really isn't a change fee at all.

"So that sounds really like that's a change fee, but what really happened is we gave you something better than telling you 'forget it, you bought a non-refundable ticket,'" he said.

If you happen to believe that this sounds like a car dealer's logic -- or even that of a mere grifter -- I won't even try to argue.

Parker then grifted -- I'm sorry, I mean drifted -- to explaining that the business passengers, who have to be flexible, subsidize the cheaper fares in Economy.

Parker worships the change fee so much, he said, that if some government came along and outlawed it or reduced it to a pittance, the airline would simply make every single fare non-refundable.

Perhaps the most risible part of this -- and there were quite a few chuckleworthy moments -- is that Parker truly claims that American offers world-class service and Southwest is a cattle car.

How odd, then, that the toilet in American's newest planes is described -- by one of its own pilots -- as "the most miserable experience in the world"?

Indeed, Parker himself is proud that his airline is actually taking things away from passengers.

This is world class?

Should you be an American Airlines devotee, please tell me if I'm missing anything.

Otherwise, you see, it's easy to think that there's nothing special about American at all -- other than its glee at making money.

Published on: Mar 31, 2018
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