Airlines are good at giving us what we want, but they are not necessarily good at what we need. While most of us pay them for our comfort and convenience, many customers see the airline industry as the last bastion of customer service, an industry that holds up a mirror to our attitudes and prejudices. In a post-9/11 era, airlines have been the target of some rather harsh criticism, as evidenced by some rather colorful, and at times downright disrespectful, comments from some passengers. When those passengers are business leaders, those comments can hold a lot of weight, as evidenced by American Airlines CEO Doug Parker’s comments on the airline industry’s customer service problems.

As a frequent traveler, I’ve had my fair share of unpleasant encounters with bad driver behavior. I’ve also witnessed everyone’s favorite customer service nightmare, the rude passenger. And then, of course, there are all of us for whom things could always be worse. Travel requests are handled by humans, who are prone to error. Sometimes they’re taking care of customers who need help at the last minute; sometimes they’re not. And because travel agents are humans, they sometimes get it wrong.

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At Wits End Over Bad Passenger Behavior, American’s CEO Declares “The Customer Is Not Always Right!”


“The Customer Is Not Always Right!” declares American’s CEO, who is at wit’s end over bad passenger behavior.

on August 29, 2023 by Gary Leff

The federal mask requirement has resulted in a record number of passenger incidents aboard flights. Because American Airlines does not want to exacerbate an already volatile situation, its CEO has said repeatedly that in-flight alcohol sales would not return to coach until the mask requirement is removed. Customers, on the other hand, have started carrying their own booze onto flights, which irritates him.

To counteract this, American Airlines has devised a strategy. CEO Doug Parker voiced his frustration during a staff meeting this week, which was recorded and examined by View From The Wing.

I’m not sure why it’s still going on. That’s why it’s so aggravating. We’ve accomplished so much. I’m pleased of what the team has accomplished, but not of the outcome, which is still unfolding.

He claims that American Airlines is examining one out of every 300,000 customers for an airline ban – approximately two individuals per day – and that they must “decide if they can ever fly American Airlines or not.” This is a five-fold gain.

Parker cites a number of measures that have been done, including

  1. Bans on passengers. They don’t ban passengers permanently for violating the mask requirement; instead, they can’t fly the airline again if “someone lays a hand on a flight attendant” or gate agent, and they’re trying to prosecute the passenger.
  2. Participation of the FAA. The FAA has released educational films and is seeking penalties.
  3. A new, more forceful and “crystal clear” in-flight announcement informs passengers that they are not permitted to bring their own alcohol, and Parker instructs flight attendants to “take it away if you see individuals with their own booze.”
  4. Keeping booze off the bus. The only other big airline that does this is Southwest. Parker said that they had intended to resume alcohol sales once the mask requirement was lifted next month, but now that the obligation has been prolonged until January, the alcohol prohibition has been extended as well.

“The consumer is not always right,” Parker said to cheers. “That’s a difficult thing to say with our consumers listening,” he said (since he knows that these sessions always leak to View From The Wing).

The next step, according to Chief Operating Officer David Seymour, is for the government to clamp down on airport alcohol sales. He claims that they have already persuaded the Dallas-Fort Worth airport to prohibit the transport of alcohol from eateries. They’ve been pressuring Charlotte to stop the practice, and they’re “shutting down as much as they can,” but merchants there remain adamant. That’s why they’ve enlisted the help of their government affairs department, which is “working to clamp down.”

Early in the epidemic, airport eateries began selling beverages to go because you couldn’t go inside, but now that those limitations have been lifted, go sales don’t make sense. Of course, he’s incorrect, since many airports (including my own, in Austin) had alcohol on hand well before the epidemic. Because of the income, merchants do not want to give up selling alcohol, according to Parker. At several airports, American Airlines also gets a cut of the income. They aren’t willing to give up or refund any of that income in exchange for banning alcohol on the move.

More From the Wing’s Perspective

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • wit’s end
  • witt’s end
  • wits end trivia
  • the customer is not always right
  • the customer is always right
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