The classic detective trick in every good crime show is always to split the two bad guys into separate rooms. Compare the stories, see what adds up and then poke holes where possible. Occasionally though, you put people into two separate rooms and they sing virtually the exact same tale, and they didn’t even have a chance or occasion to rehearse their tune.
After reading the “must read” One Mile At A Time review of American Airlines First Class, that’s exactly how I felt. Two different bloggers, two different flights, nearly half a year apart – yet two people sharing almost identical experiences, or rather lack thereof…
Earlier this year I flew American Airlines Flagship First Class from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. It was… well, lacking. Incomplete sentences, complete lack of interest in service and all that kinda stuff. You can read my review here to catch up. Then this week, Ben, at One Mile at A Time, mused on his “first class” experience, which may have been even worse, but shared so many common threads. It’s lead me to say..
Hey, Is This Thing On?
I have a personal belief that internal feedback loops are the mother of all f’ups in many corporate structures. People reporting back to the same people, who have worked in the same departments forever. They always take their own internal opinion over anything from the outside, they never draw from outside inspiration and they rise to the highest level of their own incompetence, as my dad likes to say.
Basically, crews report that they are working hard and delivering great service, the product team then tells top brass that the crews are delivering a brilliant first class service, the “big wigs” in the glass offices then echo chamber that feedback to shareholders and customers about how great everything is, and after a few rinse cycles, everyone believes the kool-aid. “We are world class at first class”.
It comes as no surprise to me that I can be seen as a mercurial figure with my reviews and opinions, but I always truly try to see things through an open lens and have a general propensity to “like” things. I forgive small grievances in favour of the “I’m on a plane, in the pointy end, this is all fortunate and amazing” and if anything, I can be too polite with reviews.
Yet when I flew American Airlines First Class, I couldn’t help but almost feel angry, thinking how I’d feel if I hadn’t blown an upgrade certificate, and instead had paid for this first class experience. As Ben at OMAAT alluded to, I’ve been treated with far more dignity and kindness in economy on a basic no carry on ticket. I’ve had more passion about the cocktail list in basic no frills economy too.
I also had a similar experience in Flagship business from London to New York this year, where I was not greeted by name once, was called “camera guy” and basically felt like one massive inconvenience the entire way, whilst listening to glorious, salacious scuttle which echoed out of the galley the entire flight.
When two bloggers who don’t always agree on everything, and draw from very different experiences come to the same conclusion, and that conclusion is then echoed in the comments sections at a 10x amplifying level, maybe it’s time to listen?
Throughout my years, a few airlines have been smart enough to extend invitations to frequent flyers, people like myself who cover these sort of things and people from different industries like hotels to help them understand hospitality. Etihad partnered with The Savoy Hotel in London to learn how to curate a proper “butler” experience in the sky. Virgin Atlantic has hired from outside industries like hotels to learn from industries more associated with hospitality than transport.
American… doesn’t seem to learn from anyone, including their customers.
I can’t think of a single customer who ever said “yes, please wake me up an hour before landing and take the headphones off my head. No other airline does this, but it would be great if you did”. I simply haven’t ever been on another airline where crew can seem so predisposed to hate everyone on board, either. As Ben noted, he asked “what wines are you offering” and was told “you have a list”… in First Class!
Even in economy, that’s a great opportunity for a crew member to champion what they’ve built, offering a “I know they’ve worked hard to get better wines, I believe we have a Malbec, let me know what you think”. I was on a British Airways flight once in business class and the crew member was part of the BA cabin crew wine club. They spend their own free time tasting the wines on board and feeding back to the airline (gratis) so that they can give a better personal opinion.
As a customer, I genuinely understand that sometimes, things go wrong. I don’t mind that they do, it happens everywhere, but I do care about how they’re addressed. I’m just constantly amazed that American Airlines can leave such a shockingly woeful first class package in place, and that quite often they can be the same in business. How can so many people have these borderline rude, combative experiences in the highest level of service offered by the airline.
And for anyone who says “ugh, they’re just bloggers on freebies” that’s not the case. Both Ben and I hold Oneworld Emerald, which means we pay for an awful lot of travel on American and its Oneworld partners, and I’ve never accepted anything from American Airlines other than the toiletries in the amenity kits.
At the same time as all this shambles, someone at American is doing an excellent job with their lounges in both Flagship Business and Flagship First, so it makes me think there’s at least one really intelligent lone wolf in the bunch. Perhaps they’re just isolated to airports, and not allowed near the planes or crew and service elements.
My feeling after reading Ben’s review was the same after writing my own: why bother? If you put this little effort into every element, from the wines to the seats to the service – why even bother offering a first class? American Airlines continues to be one of my greatest enigmas, and every time I really try to go into a flight hoping to love it and be spiked by the kool-aid, I find myself drifting even further into the “is this the twilight zone” feeling…