American Continues To Lead The Major Airlines’ Race To The Bottom With Even Less Room Throughout Coach

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Once upon a time, low cost airlines like Southwest offered no-frills service for less money.

My how times have changed.

Not only did the major network carriers (like American, Delta, and United that offer worldwide service via their hubs) get rid of hot meals, pillows, and other amenities, but they continue to find ways to make flying them as bad of an experience as ultra-low-cost carriers Frontier and Spirit provide.

After United launched Economy Plus seating in front of their exit rows, American countered and heavily advertised “More Room Throughout Coach.” Eventually they removed the extra legroom throughout coach.

Brian Znotins, former VP of United’s network strategy, shared with me that when Continental merged with United they shocked the industry by announcing they would launch Economy Plus throughout the combined fleet. Until that point United’s competitors didn’t realize that the extra legroom offering was actually profitable. American and Delta announced copycats of Economy Plus shortly after that.

However American will be the first US network carrier to shrink coach seats to a seat pitch (the space from the rear of one row to the rear of the next row) less than 30 inches. Do you think they’ll advertise “Even Less Room Throughout Coach?” American will even shrink the size of their bathrooms, as if they weren’t small enough to begin with.

Only Frontier and Spirit are stingier than American, at a pretzel twisting 28 inches of seat pitch.

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American and United are in middle of implementing a more customer unfreiendly version of basic economy fares that Delta originally launched. They attempt to mimic what airlines like Frontier and Spirit offer. Granted there are still advantages to the network carriers, such as earning miles, getting free drinks, onboard entertainment, more frequent flights in case of irregular operations, and the ability to get free carry-on and checked bags with a credit card. But there are other options available.

As American implements slimline seats with less legroom than ever, and starts charging to reserve most window and aisle seats, once again I have to wonder what their advantage is?

JetBlue offers generous legroom, free fast WiFi, free TV, and delicious free snacks. Plus you can credit your JetBlue flight to Singapore if you want traditional airline miles that don’t have a set value per mile. JetBlue is also the most generous airline when it comes to waiving their change and cancellation fees and they’ll offer a credit if your fare drops within 2 weeks of purchase.

Southwest offers 2 free checked bags and has no flight change fees. That means you can always cancel and rebook your flight if the price drops.

Somewhere along the line these low-cost carriers became the best value carriers.

-Delta runs an opaque mileage program that keeps customers in the dark (though their saver award space is better than American’s now). Delta runs the best airline operation (except when they melt down and get bailed out by the Chicago Aviation Police Force) and that’s a good enough reason to fly them.

United has MileagePlus in its corner, which despite devaluations, is by far and away the best mileage program with the best award availability.

Alaska has a fantastic mileage program and a well-run airline operationally speaking. They have a small footprint, but that will be growing with their acquisition of Virgin America. They also give credit if their fares drop.

Frontier and Spirit are cheap. You pay for drinks and for an assigned seat. You will be cramped. You won’t get free carry-ons or checked luggage. You may wait around for days if your flight is cancelled as they’re too cheap to put you on another airline and they don’t have frequent flights. They won’t even honor the 11:29pm next day cancellation policy if you book on Priceline. You may even wind up along the side of a highway on a broken down bus. But you’ll fly on the cheap and you can fly even cheaper on Spirit by buying tickets at the airport.

But American?

It was a great airline. Then the guys that ran America West and ruined USAirways proceeded to ruin American.

The WSJ ranked them as the worst airline for 2 years running. They cancelled the most flights, lost the most bags, and had the most extreme tarmac delays. That’s made worse by their inability to rebook passengers on Delta.

-They massively devalued their mileage program last year and followed that up by wiping out saver award availability on most routes. They charge massive fuel surcharges to travel on their primary Transatlantic partner, British Airways. They have draconian routing rules (Just try to book an award from the US to Australia via Asia or from the US to Southern South America via Central or Northern South America), they limit the total amount of miles you can fly on an award, and they don’t offer any kind of free stopover option on awards, making it even more difficult to use their miles. If you don’t know how to search for hidden partner awards, you probably can’t use your miles at all. Even when you do, it can take many HUCAs before an agent can find it.

-They made their gutting of saver award space worse by increasing their AAnytime award levels by massive amounts. United still maintains one rate that makes the higher award level far more reasonable than American and they give their cardholders expanded saver award space and last-seat availability at the standard level. For example a United flight from Newark to Los Angeles in business class is capped at 50K miles one-way while an American business class flight from JFK to Los Angeles can cost 97.5K miles one-way.

American couldn’t even be bothered to match Delta and United’s promises to offer up to $9,500 or $10,000 respectively to passengers in order to make sure that someone will always volunteer their seat in an oversell situation. Southwest even announced they would match JetBlue’s policy in ending the overselling of their flights.

-Their elite tiers are completely non-competitive with Delta and United. Lower tiers don’t get free upgrades, they get less free baggage, and they have more fees than elites at Delta and United. AA’s new 75K elite tier is stupidly named “Platinum Pro” and is a joke compared to United’s 75K Platinum offering. While United gives their Platinum members 3x 70 pound checked bags, free same day confirmed changes, free upgrades on awards for cardholders, expanded coach and business saver and standard awards, and free award redeposits outside of 60 days and $50 redeposits within 60 days, American only gives their Platinum Pros 2 free 50 pound bags, $75-$150 same day confirmed changes, no upgrades on awards, a $150 award redeposit fee, and no expanded award availability. Even AA top-tier elites got their confirmed upgrades slashed in half!

-Delta and United waive the airline spend requirements for elite status if you live abroad or if you spend $25K on their credit card, while American does not.

-There are zero weekly nonstop flights from North America to Tel Aviv on OneWorld compared to 7 on SkyTeam and 30 on Star Alliance.

-American won’t check bags onto another airline, even partner airlines, if you’re booked on separate tickets. That’s incredibly annoying when you need 2 award tickets to fly somewhere.

-American won’t allow 20 pound+ strollers or double strollers to be gate checked. And this is what will happen if you try to bring it onboard when you’re told you can’t gate check it…

-American’s flight status on their website and app are very primitive. It’s updated very late and often displays incorrect information in delay situations. United’s app is so far superior to American’s in every way.

-If you do want to redeem for an American flight, you’ll always do better by using miles from partner airlines like Alaska, BA, or Etihad, so there’s no longer much of a point of collecting miles from American. If you do fly on American you should credit your flights to a partner like Alaska.

Delta and United are much better than American these days, but they too continue to degrade their service standards as they get stuck in the middle between no-frills Frontier and Spirit and better value JetBlue and Southwest.

Really the main advantage of the network carriers (aside from their network of course) is their mileage programs. American and Delta don’t seem to get that, but at least Delta runs a decent airline operation.

It’s no surprise that American had to write down expected “other revenues” last month by some $220M less than expectations “primarily due to lower than expected AAdvantage credit card acquisitions as first quarter promotions were not as effective as planned.”

Maybe their customers aren’t as stupid as they think they are?

Customer unfriendly moves like Basic Economy and ridiculously narrow legroom will just continue to chase people away to better value airlines that don’t nickel and dime you to death, like JetBlue and Southwest.

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69 Comments On "American Continues To Lead The Major Airlines’ Race To The Bottom With Even Less Room Throughout Coach"

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yada

Oh no! We all just booked lots of American tickets to TLV on the deal you posted last week. Sounds like we’ll need some massages by the time we get there 🙁

Don't forget

Don’t forget that 9/11 contributed to this downward spiral. Airlines around the world never recovered from the new regulations imposed upon them, and kept scavenging for side money ever since.

You can thank Islam for this.

There. I said it like it is.

Joe

Gut gezogt!

bubkiz

Very well written.

I wish Jetblue/Southwest would start flying CLE-NYC

yoni

Am I the onyl one who goes crazy that American doesnt let you choose a seat to LAX unless you pay??? or is that all airlines now?

SHMUEL LIGHT

Could not agree with you more on this one, you did forget to mention the anger and frustration that the American Flight attendants have. delta at least they are nice and United is trying hard these days.

That said, the delta skypesos is what turned me away from Delta, I no longer use their Credit cards and now I buy my tickets with my platinum card, I also got rid of my delta reserve, not worth the fees and definitely not worth the miles.

Booky

I think most people who are not a dd member book the cheapest flight they find, they don’t look to be comfortable

Moshe123

Burn!

Dose of reality

First off AA is only changing their NEW DELIVERIES of 737 Max aircraft and have made no determinations about the current fleet. Second, they are a business. If they can make money with more seats they will. You as the customer can simply choose another airline. If enough customers do they change their business plan. Lastly, you already hate UA as you made abundantly clear. You hated the beginning of CLE, even tho it made perfect business sense to do so. So please stop whining, especially when you use free miles from credit cards to travel anyway.

B

@Dont Forget
LOL. That’s the best you can do.

When someone provided comparisons of 6-7 other airlines that appear to do a much better job.

I actually hope you use that line for your work. You can blame mooooslems for your troubles.

There. I said it like it is.

Sy Katz

Has anyone had trouble finding AA flights using Avios miles? I tried to find flights from ORD to LGA for months out and switching from day to day and there wasw nothing. Not one flight! Any help/insight would be greatly appreciated.

Ejb

I don’t think their elite program is much worse than deltas or uas, as an elite member of all three. Free Upgrades are always challenging unless you’re a high elite.

Dose of reality

@Dan: @Dan: no worries Dan I don’t mean to be a troll to your site you do a great service with to ir deals. I just sometimes see your airline posts and think what’s he complaining about now. I don’t travel as much as you so you see it more first hand and it impacts you more. Bit again no I’ll will sorry for upsetting you or being too negative keep up the good work.

Tom

I’ve been very happy with Spirit lately. I find the leg room not so bad since the seats do not recline and do not have bulky seat back pockets. I have a carry-on bag that exactly complies with their personal item maximum size and I buy my tickets at the airport, which makes them cheaper. True, it’s not Delta, but when I save a few hundred dollars per person it’s hard to argue.

@B

@B:

Which 6-7 other airlines are you talking about? Appear to do a much better job?

People getting dragged and thrown off planes are the result of crazy rigid FAA regulations. Not obeying an airline employee today is considered treason. I don’t know how old you are, but I have flown plenty before 9/11 and the experience was completely different. Airlines were never “nice”, but it was absolutely nothing like today.

But I guess it’s just easier to keep your head in the sand.

ilherman

Awesome post. To the point.

Did you watch the hearing in Congress this week with the airlines? It was nauseating to see Kerry Philipovitch promising how they work to improve customer service. on a side note. it would be totally fare for someone like you or other experts in the industry and have them ask questions. So when the airlines try to BS you can follow up. How come non of the members brought up the problem with AA cutting saver awards? They were all talking about interlink agreements but no one challenged aa and UA about their unfriendly policies when it comes to baggage interline. And so on and so on. When customer experience would really be their top priority they would not allow all these mergers to happen which is one of the main causes of airlines being unfriendly. they were making some noise and they became quite soon after the airline lobbyist arrived.. I hope president Trump will take care of the aviation industry soon starting by getting rid of the lobbyist. End rant. Unedited post..

Ejb

@Dan:

Most of the benefits you mention are essentially the same. Fees are the same or close. Bag allowance is close. One big benefit of AA is that they give preferred seats to OW sapphire. Ua and delta don’t treat partner elites that well!

Duvy

Spirit air is made for people on medicaid!

Eric

Great points Dan. Just to add one more point. American is very unfriendly when it comes to families. They dont let strollers past security anymore. This being the case if you’re going through a terminal which is only AA (as we have at LAX) they will stop you and make you check it. When I asked them about it, they blamed it on TSA. I guess TSA has a different policy for all other airlines on this.

Former Travel Agent

I just want to say that every day the airlines are running is a Brocha from Hashem!
Most major airlines have not made a profit in 15 plus years. That being said I don’t understand why the airlines are making people uncomfortable by squeezing in more seats. If you are going to be a Non For Profit do it with a full heart and make everyone even more comfortable!!! If you are gonna go broke then you may as well go BIG first!!!!!!
(In my experience most people would pay more for better experience then less money for a crappy experience.)

Momofboys

Flying these days is a nightmare. JetBlue has been having more flight cancellations made me drop them and stick with united but they r not much better.
Sitting in an economy seat with a baby on ur lap is disastrous

frontier free water

Correction required: Frontier does not charge for water. They do charge for soda and they do not offer snacks, but water is complimentary.

There is no complimentary beverage or snack service on Spirit flights.

Joetraveller

AA Top tier status gives me 4 SWUs which usually get confirmed prior to flying. I get upgraded on domestic flights about 80% of the time, even on trans cons (you gotta know when to fly). Expanded award availability over the phone has come in handy for me, speculative award booking with free redeposit is very useful. I spend enough on two different AA credit cards to get 20k EQM’s, most of the way to gold, and covers most of the necessary EQD’s. And domestic upgrades should be coming in June, according to a rep I spoke to last week. I think these perks for top tier status are equivalent to(if not better than) the other legacy carriers. Yes, the saver award availability is terrible, but between AA, UA, and Alaska I am usually able to patch together decent itineraries for my family, with proper planning and some flexibility.

dale

Agree with almost all, good work – – but wanted to say I have flown award flites in the last month with AA and been upgraded (twice) as a Plat. One agent in a club pushed back (questioned when I asked to go on the list) but it went through.

Judah

That comic you included in the post had me in stitches 😀

Now what?

Besides for getting depressed, what options do we have? We still have to fly and complaining ain’t gonna help…

Jb

“United the best mileage program”. Seriously? I think domestically they are one of the worse. Internationally they are great, and no fuel fees. But domestically I find them a rip-off. Nyc to fll starts at 17.5k each way! Avios is 12k rd trip. Jblu can 12-15k rd trip. I find united horrible domestically. Curious why you think they are “the best”. Unless your solely talking international

Now what?

@Dan:

Need to come to the realization that airlines are not there as a service to our jet setting dreams to travel the world. I’m not driving 45 minutes to Midway to “show” the airlines I mean business and I’ll show you”

Now what?

“Welcome to the real world, we need to get places, they can do what they want and charge what they want and that’s that”

spal

@Dan
I am so happy that you are finally writing a post which exposes that the big airlines can be even worse with spirit. I have taken 20+ flights with spirit this year, and have consistently found them to be as on time if not more than United. I was even the only flight this past Purim to make it back Shushan Purim 959 pm from ORD to NYC before the big snowstorm, while the big airlines canceled way in advance. And lets not mention that the average price I paid one way has been $30 NYC to ORD.

yankel

@Former Travel Agent: you talk smack… united made eight hundred million dollars – you heard me right – $800,000,000 on bag fees ALONE last year… get your facts straight… of the five that showed up at the hearing, 4 made over a billion or even two billion in profits and the last made almost one billion. go to c-span and watch the hearing for yourself. then come back and say something accurate

CUBS FAN

Is there anyway to transfer AA miles to htel programs or some other better use?

Former Travel Agent

@yankel: Hahahahahah, Reb Yankel, saying that over 35% of a companies profit comes from the baggage fees tells you the main business model is failing! $2.4 billion in profits on $35 billion of revenue and over $30 billion in debt and that doesn’t include the money they will spend 24 hours after they published 2016 results for billions of dollars in new airplanes and equipment investment. Just because they paid tax on 2.4 billion doesn’t make them profitable.
The constant need for investing in its fleet and technology and not increasing fares to pre 2001 pricing makes it not profitable. Think of it this way.
You buy an apple for $1 and sell it the next day for $2, very nice you made a dollar. The next day you want to buy another apple, you have $2 to spend but sadly the price of a new apple went up to $3 so now you cant even purchase an apple unless you take out a loan for $1. Do you see where i am going with this? Read up on airlines revenue and spending over the last decade or two and you will see that taxable income that needs to be re invested is not the same as PROFIT!!!

Welder

I agree. Those two airlines, Jetblue and Southwest, have been really making a good impression on me over the last couple years.

The key point that comes up for me, when thinking about what I like about them vs other airlines for me: They’re Generous.

yankel

@Former Travel Agent: great business lesson… but, their shareholders are happy and that means they are doing something right… profit doesnt nec mean it has to be cash sitting in the bank.. they need to reinvest in their product and need to continue to buy new aircraft etc… they are only able to continue doing that by selling lots of tickets, increasing load factor and charging fees. that all counts towards profits… seats shrink… higher capacity… less flights… higher compensation to executives… airline industry is doing amazing…

Observer

Anyone had a run in with AA corporate security with wiping out their mileage accounts due to suspected sale of their points?

Totty

My theory is that after Dr Dao incident airlines will have a harder time overbooking so they are looking for new ways to squeeze extra people onto flights. Shameful!
About AA stroller ban: They admitted to me this past Pesach that AA instructed TSA to enforce it but it’s AA’s policy. When I told them they will have to drive my family around the airport until the flight, the agent lied to her supervisor saying my stroller was less than 20 lbs (it was 33) so they can let it go. True story!

Former Travel Agent

@yankel: We should debate this over coffee sometime and would love to help you learn that if you need to invest all of your profit or more i.e. Constant debt then the economics of the business isn’t working.
Also please note that there is no proof that the investors are happy when there is little to no dividend. Building shareholder value and profits are also two different things. Dont mistake an increase in stock price as an indicator of profit.
Coffee will be on me 🙂

Shmuli

@Dan

Am I no longer able to bring my stroller on AA? I have 3 kids under the age of 4 and usually take 2 strollers. How am I supposed to get them through an airport without a stroller???

Do I need to boycott AA?

Dave

Great article dan!

Question if anyone has advice. I received the annual fee for AA Barclay aviator card. I don’t use the card, called to downgrade it and the rep said they have no ability to downgrade the card and i have the best offer available? I HUCA and next rep said the same thing. I prefer not to cancel the card.

In defense of aa

I mostly agree with what you wrote

However, I do think the are working on making their customer service much better. I’ve had much better experiences with them than on united. (Although of course delta takes the cake on great customer service among other things). And (correct me if I’m wrong) their planes are generally newer and nicer than united

And just to point out, that specific story with the stroller you pointed to was the result of one bad apple, and was dealt with pretty well by american. Upgrade the woman to first class for the rest of the trip, apologize immediately and suspend the obnoxious flight attendant.

While united’s recent fiasco can be directly blamed on their training and policies vis a vis overbooking.

Their award availability has gotten much better too.

Aviator

@Dave my two cents, I recently downgraded from the red to the “flavorless” aviator

jb

@Dan:

@Dan “It’s even better if you have a United card and are logged in when searching.
NYC to FLL and all domestic saver awards are 12.5K on United.”

1) nyc to fll 12.5k rd trip or each way. I suspect each way (which isnt a bargain)

2)If one has the united card, its in the system automatically so when one logs in they see the “better rate”?

Dave C

Hate to be a dissenting opinion, but if you don’t like it don’t fly at all. Especially if you have strollers. The only reason someone really HAS to fly is for work, in which case they’re getting reimbursed, not with kids, or flying Biz class anyways. When I was a kid, we DROVE to Disney World (from New Hampshire) because flying was just too much of a hassle.

If you REALLY need to fly (which no one actually does), then suck it up and deal with it. People should either a. Learn about their surroundings within driving distance and plan vacations there (US has tons of attractive areas, not just Miami, LA, and NYC). or b. Take this into account when choosing where to live. If family is really that important, don’t move across the country then complain about flying.

Shaul

@Dave C: Really backwards outlook. If a company has a product, and then gets preferential government treatment to protect said product, they should not be allowed to mess over the customers at every possible time.

Barclays card

They couldn’t waive the fee so instead offered a $100 credit if I charged $100 over the next 3 months. I did and they did. Another year free

Pillan

The pitch changes only apply to 737’s now.

I’m fine with Basic Economy fares. If people are willing to pay a lower price for bare bones travel, let them have at it.

Another overlooked aspect of all this is the USA’S lack of a high speed rail network. In China, airlines compete with railways domestically. In the US, airlines just compete with each other.

Ben

Dan, What do you suggest i do with my 250k+ AA miles? I wanted to use them for a trip to the Maldives or something but, like you said, YQ on BA will be super expensive???

Ben

@Dan: And that can be booked on AA’s website? or from the partners?

Ben

@Dan: Thank you kind sir, as always!

In defense of aa

@Dan: I meant aa’s planes are newer than united. Delta is famous for using aging (though supposedly well maintained) md80s. I was on a delta md88 when we blew an engine during taxiing

Eli

Is there an up to date post of usages for Alaska miles?

Anonymous

@Jb:

What route are you finding NYC-FLL using Avios?

Last I checked there are no OneWorld non-stops between NYC and FLL!

Harry

There is a line missing from the cartoon”It would be nice if there was a more legroom” – “my feet nearly touch the carry on bin”. I frequently fly to Europe and would never go with an American airline unless there really was no choice.

Jake

Its time for the government to set minimum standards for seat pitch to ensure the safety and health of all passengers.
There will be so many seats crammed into the plane that people will not be able to easily evacuate in an emergency.

Why are handicap seats mandated on trains and buses but not airplanes?

Airline profits should not Trump passenger safety. Due to low oil prices and baggage fees etc, airline profits have never been higher; not even before 9/11.

sam i am

can anyone help me out?
I am flying (with AA) now with a lap infant who is currently one and a half, but will be over 2 for at the time of the return trip. He is booked as a lap infant for the entire trip, what will be for the return will he be able to fl as a lap? will I be forced to book a new ticket for him? do I have to worry that flight will be booked and not be able to get ticket [forcing me to lose my ticket too??]

Audrey

@spal: I totally concur! Plus their FAs are a pretty cheerful group overall. Also agree about the seat comfort mentioned above.

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