American Airlines formed in 1930 following the merging of several smaller carriers. It was an early aviation innovator, helping the design of the famous DC3, and launching the first Airport Lounge for frequent travellers; the Admirals Club. Following WWII, American Airlines began services to Europe and Mexico, even building its own airports there. AA was the first carrier to use Boeing jets on domestic routes in 1959 and during the 50’s had grown to become the US’ largest airline. During the heyday of aviation in America, AA launched Sabre, the world’s first computerised booking system and in 1973 employed the first female pilot. 1981 saw the then innovative hub and spoke system introduced. Deregulation of travel forced fares down, but as competition increased, profits vanished. AA retained its share of the market through acquisition and helped form OneWorld in 1999. In 2001 the year started with a disastrous merger with the bankrupt TWA and two AA planes were involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The airline continued unending cost cutting to avoid bankruptcy, while seeking closer ties to British Airways and Japan Airlines. It remains financially weak.
AA’s staff can be pretty old and they are underpaid. The glamorous days of air travel have long vanished and most of American Airlines flight crews have seen wages, conditions and services axed consistently through their career. So if your flight crew looks tired, indifferent or rude they have a good reason to be. Flight crew are nice people, however most have been around too long and can be rude, gossipy, unhelpful but mostly invisible. It’s amazing how many places there must be on a plane to hide, because if you push the call button it can go unanswered for 30 minutes if at all. Don’t expect any on-board service and you won’t be disappointed. Crew are nicely attired.
American Airlines do fly to a lot of places in the US, Latin America and many major international cities. Although their domestic network is massive they insist on maintaining the hub and spoke system which is incredibly inconvenient, unreliable and as the profitable airlines of America know; it is also unprofitable. Typically flights go via Dallas or a smaller hub so flying from Portland to Miami for example is via Dallas where you can miss your connection, lose your bags and have extra time added to your journey. Where alternative airlines offer direct flights its worth paying extra to book on them, but usually direct flights are cheaper too.
American Airlines is good value for money. Air travel in the US is cheap, especially if you book ahead. While super discounters offer ridiculously cheap fares, AA’s are very competitive and the service is OK. If something goes wrong there is always the assurance they’ll help you out which others may not.
On-board catering varies from OK to bad. In all classes of travel AA’s meal service looks and tastes like airline food. It ranges from poor quality TV dinners in aluminium foil and plastic cutlery for Coach (economy) passengers to average quality restaurant food on ill-designed china with plastic cutlery for First. Meal sizes have shrunk as a cost cutting endeavour and servings really do show signs of penny pinching. Salads often look like they’re entirely lettuce with a slice of cucumber and dressing. At least you’ll get a meal which is more than most cheap airlines offer. However on domestic legs, you’ll need to open your wallet to enjoy your coffee and so-called Premium Sandwich and Chip Combo. Pay on board catering is slowing spreading to more and more routes.
The entertainment offering on AA depends on the route and the aircraft. Long haul flights, like New York to Buenos Aires can expect individual seat back entertainment units in all classes while coast to coast travellers on an aging 767 will have a single front screen showing one movie as entertainment. On board the smaller feeder routes passengers can flick through the magazine and look at advertisements and articles about advertisers dressed up as news.
Tired ground handlers work for AA, but some of them have an interesting personality if the computer system brakes down and you can chat to them. Queues can be shockingly long and not just on the rare occasions. Counters seem to be short staffed and mistakes can be made. If you can travel without a bag, check in on line to avoid the possible dramas. Baggage handling can be poor and most missing baggage is because it didn’t make it through the hub and is on the next flight. Regular travellers should take out an annual Travel Insurance policy.
The Admirals Club started as an exclusive invitation-only VIP ego trip for the wealthy. It’s been transformed into a crowded Starbucks. First and Business Classes are naturally very spacious and comfortable but not exactly luxurious. Competitors like Virgin Atlantic and Korean Air win hands down and AA comes a poor second or even third. On most international routes superior quality airlines offer seats at similar prices, while within the US, American provides a pretty standard service comparable to competitors like Delta, US Airways and United. They’re all much of a muchness.
Following 9/11 when travellers deserted AA, they enlarged the Coach cabins and made them extremely comfortable, however the search for profits has forced the airline to return to normal sizes and distances between seats. However Coach is not bad; you get a comfortable seat, the plane is generally clean, you’re fed, entertained and the baggage allowance is generous. Basically an American Airlines flight is a quite forgettable experience in Coach class.
American Airlines fully understands the psychology behind frequent flyer programmes as they started them. Miles are practically worthless, and you need to take dozens of trips to really benefit. But it’s like a lottery; you don’t expect to win but it gives you a warm glow to think you might. While a single Mile is worth less than 0.8 of a cent and you’ll need lots to do anything, AA does have one of better schemes in the sky and if you’re a member there’s no need to belong to any of the other One World airlines schemes. Don’t be tricked into buying a pricier ticket just because you’ll earn $3 in Miles! That’s all the miles on a New York – Honolulu flight is worth.
American Airlines is involved in a tough business; trying to make money out of aviation. Deregulation, overstaffing, an aging fleet and unrealistic expectations of passengers who want champagne service for beer priced tickets, makes it a hard task. As a result management are endlessly looking at ways to cut costs and corners. Confronting staff who don’t want to work at McDonald’s pay rates is not easy and the company management has made many enemies. While eager to cut wage costs for employees these managers are not prepared to consider cuts to their own bonuses. In past decades the airline made profits by being a technological leader and travel innovator. Where is that innovation now? At least AA’s management is more honest about their industry’s plight than others who have their heads in the sand.
Terrorists target American Airlines flights because the airline carries the name America. Hopefully security measures that have cost the travelling public billions might have fixed that. But the other safety issue is the age of AA’s fleet together with its cost cutting affecting maintenance. In 2008 AA was the subject of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigation involving shoddy maintenance. The airline has been accused of concealing matters from investigators. The investigation is continuing. The airline’s history is filled with flight dramas.
Not a bad airline; just passed its prime. Average service with aircraft and crew to match.
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