At an employee question and answer session this past week an American Airlines flight attendant asked about customer surveys after a flight. The flight attendant had recently flown business class on both American and on Air France between Santiago and Shanghai and was surprised to get surveyed by Air France but not by American.
American’s CEO Doug Parker asked how the experience compared between the two carriers. She told him that the “comfort of the seat..the crew also” were outstanding on American. While she probably flew Air France Boeing 777s, where American and Air France offer comparable seats, if she took the late night departure from Paris to Shanghai that would’ve been operated by an Air France Airbus A380 — which still has angled seats.
Was this American flight attendant happy with the overall experience, though? No — because of “[t]he ground personnel at the airport, in the boarding, we had super bad experience with American.” It turns out she was traveling with two emotional support dogs, and felt the gate agent was rude to her about how quickly she boarded and the bags she was bringing on in addition to the dogs. Air France is one of the most dog-friendly airlines in the world.
Parker responded that,
Our survey results do show us, particularly on international flights other than 767s which are old, the product that we’re putting out there and the product that our flight attendants are delivering is as good as any international carrier out there.
And I actually think that Doug Parker is right. They have a very competitive business class seat on their Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s. The seats on their 767 (Thompson Vantage, a commonly used product) are poor, and Boeing 757s have flat seats but lack direct aisle access.
American’s business class bedding is much improved compared to two years ago. I used to feel it was important to bring your own pillow flying American Airlines business class, because the postage stamp-sized one they’d give you wouldn’t give your head much support. That’s changed. I even like American’s new business class amenity kits.
Where American’s business class product needs improvement is:
Service. American’s crews are too variable. They also shouldn’t pick up noise cancelling headphones an hour or more prior to landing, especially on overnight flights were passengers are trying to sleep.
Food. The move towards pre-plated has led to some meals that look worse than they taste.
Internet. Panasonic internet is awful.
If you eat before flying, and don’t draw a bad crew (or don’t need much from them — business class really is about the seat and sleeping), then American Airlines business class is competitive with the best in the world. I think Air France actually may be the best transatlantic business class, avoiding their Airbus A380s. However American’s is up there and certainly adequate.
Indeed, a pilot also asked Parker what the airline is going to do about its inferior transatlantic business class product, tied to JetBlue’s plan to put their Mint business class into the market, and Parker responded that American’s business class is as good or better than anything else in the market and better than British Airways business class. He’s right.
They don’t get enough credit for that though because of a reverse halo effect from the back of the cabin, a subpar coach experience – which is where most people fly – leads to a reputation that makes it hard to envision American Airlines as a premium carrier. The truth is they’re a lot better in international business class than they’re often given credit for, and even their employees don’t realize it.