American Airlines Extends 737 MAX Ban Until At Least September 3rd

American Airlines has now cancelled its 737 MAX flights through to 3rd September 2019. This will impact approximately 115 flights a day. Previously American had cancelled its 737 MAX flights through to 15 August 2019.

American Airlines states that it’s confident the software fix and new pilot training will see its 737 MAXs up in the air again. But this fresh round of cancellations suggests the airline thinks it will happen in months rather than weeks.

American Airlines Extends 737 MAX Ban Until at least September 3rd
AA’s 737 MAXs aren’t expected to fly until September 3rd. Photo: Prayitno via Flickr

American advises that it will contact affected passengers directly. Passengers will be rebooked or, if that is inconvenient, offered a refund.

The 737 MAX grounding has hit American Airlines hard. It was flying 24 of the MAXs prior to the grounding. Those 115 daily flights represent only 1.5% of American’s total daily flights, but the cancellations, rescheduling, and passenger dissatisfaction levels are a logistical and financial headache for any airline.

Is American America’s least favourite airline ?

American Airlines has been copping it lately. The airline has consistently been criticised for its poor on-time performance rate and high cancellation rate. The now notorious Project Oasis has been abruptly cancelled. The ill-fated plan to squeeze more seats into already tight 737-800s and A321s sunk faster than a brick in the Hudson River once news of it leaked out.

In early 2019, WalletHub assessed the best and worst US airlines across 15 different metrics. Best and worst lists can be subjective, but WalletHub uses a reasonably sophisticated methodology.

Out of a possible score of 100, American Airlines scored 38.42, beating only Frontier Airlines on 30.42. Frontier is the type of airline that kicks passengers off its planes for complaining about vomit covered seats. By comparison, the airline consistently regarded as the best US carrier, Delta, scored 59.69.

American Airlines extends 737 MAX Ban Until at least September 3rd
The once great American Airlines is now considered one of the worst US airlines. Photo: Nathan Coats via Flickr

No doubt American Airlines sees itself as more Delta than Frontier, but that’s not necessarily how the marketplace sees it these days.

That YouTube clip

In an article in Skift, American’s President, Robert Isom, acknowledged that customer satisfaction with the airline had been declining. It raised an interesting point. Yes, there were problems with sometimes below standard service, reduced legroom, and mediocre inflight WiFi, but what Isom found really irritated customers was a lack of reliability.

People hated late planes and cancellations. The Skift article cities a October 2018 metric that had American’s on-time performance rated as seventh from a list of 10 airlines. Even prior to the 737 MAX grounding, 1.5% of flights were being cancelled. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s enough to cause grumbles.

Two years ago, a vlogger called Unilad had an American Airlines cancellation experience backed up by terrible customer service. The short video has since received 5.1 million views. It’s doing the rounds again, thanks in part to One might argue that part of the reason American Airlines is perceived so poorly is not because of issues like the 737 MAX cancellations, but because it lets situations like this occur.

The fall and rise of American Airlines

So what’s the point of this? This writer has no bone to pick with American Airlines. Occasionally American rises to greatness, like last year when the pilot of a delayed and diverted flight brought the entire plane pizza. But that kind of good news rarely makes it onto YouTube. It’s a shame that an airline that a generation ago was the best carrier in the United States is now struggling with how it’s perceived and how it performs.

American Airlines extends 737 MAX ban until at least September 3rd
Buying a planeload of pizza turned around a possible PR disaster for AA. Photo: Eduardo Francisco Vazquez Murillo via Flickr

It’s not just about the 737 MAX cancellations. Nobody blames American or any other carrier for that. Nobody likes their flight being cancelled but far better a cancelled flight than an unsafe flight.

In an era when social media and blogs like this spread bad news fast, a business needs to be super careful about how it’s perceived. It can’t be easy for American. It moves more than half a million passengers a day on over 6,700 flights to 350 destinations in 50 countries. Yet other airlines seem to do it without all the adverse publicity – Singapore, Delta, Cathay Pacific to name a few.

Getting those 737 MAXs back in the sky is just the first step in the rehabilitation of American Airlines. Mr Isom has a big task ahead of him.