ATW Editor's Blog

AA Cabin Experience & Who’s that tall guy lugging a backpack?

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Given my recent experience on a flight to Austin, I thought it would be interesting to share and compare with the flights I’ve just done from Washington National to Miami and back (attending the IATA AGM).

This time I was flying American and it must be said that the service was excellent both outbound and return.

Going down, we boarded a brand new 737 fitted with the Boeing Sky Interior. It was the first time I’ve seen it for real and wow – suddenly, I believe in the marketing hype! It transforms the 737, almost lending it a widebody feel with those large bins, higher ceiling and cool lavender-blue lighting.  

Meanwhile, the crew was cheerful, greeting everyone with a smile and warm hello. And throughout the flight I don’t think I saw any of them sit down – they worked that cabin, checking on passengers, chatting with them. Very impressive.

For the return, late evening flight there were storms in the area and the DC-based crew was late arriving, so in the end we were delayed over an hour and wouldn’t get into National until 1am. I’m sure the crew was as tired and eager to get home as the passengers, but if so, they never let it show. This was an older 737 but everything was very clean and there were more warm welcomes.

I was lucky with an upgrade and the flight attendant – let’s call this one Happy – went round taking drink orders for after takeoff. She pretty soon had us all laughing out loud. It went like this:

Happy (to female passenger with seat next to her empty): “I’m so sorry we seated you alone this evening. What would you like to drink after take-off?”

Passenger: “I’ll take a red wine please!”

Happy: “Absolutely. But where do you want to take it? There’s not a lot of room in here.”

Happy to me: “And what would you like to drink?”

Me: “A gin and tonic please”

Happy: “oh god, I wish I could join you, Karen! I like mine with lime, how about you?”

She related cheerfully and individually to every passenger in the cabin.

American is conducting a massive fleet renewal, bringing in almost 100 new aircraft a year and retiring older aircraft. Its new widebodies for long-haul international routes are being equipped with first- and business-class cabins that, as Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said after a tour in Miami, are best-in-class (four abreast, lie-flat seats in business – it’s the same seat that Cathay Pacific designed). Those new aircraft combined with the sort of service attitude I’ve seen on AA on these recent flights and others this year mean there really is a “New American” being delivered.

Qatar Airways, a oneworld airline like American, offers excellent service, but CEO Akbar Al Baker was wrong to say US carriers deliver “crap service”. At least with American (and, I think, at Delta too), it’s changing. Among the smaller US carriers, JetBlue, Alaska and Virgin America are all classy and innovative operations.

But back to American and, I believe, another reason behind the motivated crews that I’ve seen onboard their planes. Earlier on the day of my return flight, I was in a Miami hotel after the closing of the IATA AGM. I took this photo in the lobby area of a guy who was heading out for his own flight home.

He stopped to say hello and thanks to some of his employees who had helped with a press conference at the hotel. Yes, that’s Doug Parker, lugging a suit-holder and with backpack over shoulder. Just a regular guy who just happens to run the world’s largest airline.

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