American’s Spin On Ending Same Day Standby Earns the Cranky Jackass Award

Earlier this week, American decided to stop offering free same day standby to customers who aren’t elite members in the AAdvantage program. While I’m sure some are steaming over the move, I’m not. It actually makes sense to me. I’m just pissed that they’ve decided to treat 06_09_12 jackasstheir customers like two year olds with their incredibly stupid spin. And for that, they get the not-so-coveted Cranky Jackass award.

The press release announcing the change was entitled, “American Airlines Streamlines its Airport Processes.” Usually a vague message like that means they threw a bunch of stuff into one release, hiding the bad news at the bottom. I think that’s what they teach in the College of Spin. If there was such a place, it would undoubtedly be located in a beautiful mountainous environment with grand vistas of panoramic wintry wonders (Siberia). But that’s not what happened here.

The entire release was focused solely on the fact that you can no longer standby for earlier flights on the day of travel unless you’re an elite member. You now have to pay $50 for a confirmed seat, if it’s available. Taking away this option does, in fact, “streamline” airport processes, but does I'm an Idiotthe customer care about that? No. They care about the changing benefits, and they’re not going to be fooled by that headline. Gimme a friggin’ break. Do I look that stupid to you?

Wait, don’t answer that. That wasn’t one of my finer moments.

But here’s the point. I completely understand why you’re doing this. I’m sure too many people were taking advantage of the same day standby option to avoid paying higher fares. Sure, you book the 6p flight and standby for the early morning flight. Or you book the redeye and fly during the day. That’s money out of your pocket and into the pocket of the consumer. I may not like it, as a non-elite flier, but I get it.

So don’t feed me a line of crap about how American is doing this “as part of its efforts to streamline processes and the customer experience during flight departure. . . . ” Clearly that’s a benefit to you as well, but I don’t care what the benefit is to you. I care what the impact is for me. Please stop treating me like a child and tell me why you’re doing this. I want to see this headline:

“American Airlines Starts Charging for Same Day Standby Because You Bastards Won’t Pay Enough for a Ticket”

Now that would be refreshing.


23 Responses to American’s Spin On Ending Same Day Standby Earns the Cranky Jackass Award

  1. Axelsarki says:

    A Cranky Jack well earned. I do agree with you, why feed us with all the extra bull? “Streamlined the airport blah blah blah…”

  2. David SFeastbay says:

    As I get older in this world I understand more that when a big company says they are doing something “wonderful for our customers”, “listening to our customers”, or “making something easier for our customers” you know it means they are only doing something that will make and/or save them money.

    The airlines want you to pay for everything now in what (mostly) used to be part of the ticket. Will your local restaurant start doing the same? The dinner is $8.95, if served on a plate that will be $3.00 extra, want a fork/knife/spoon that’s $2.00 to rent or $8.00 to keep, the meal comes with a free soda or coffee, but if you want it served in a glass/mug that will be $2.75. Great now watch that happen since I just kidded about it…lol

  3. Graham says:

    Yes, AA’s press release lies to our faces, but I’m afraid that this is par for the course. They could take out the seats in the plane and then announce that “AA is helping fight obesity by allowing passengers the freedom to stand for their flight!”

  4. I, for one, am pretty upset about this, together with the recent fee hikes for luggage and blankets… Seems they’re out to screw with the long-standing customers who aren’t elite (I don’t fly enough, and being based outside of the US, I don’t get miles with my credit card).

    Yes, still best loyalty program that I can use. No, not the nicest airline anymore.

    BTW, if you seriously have enough free time to stand by for (possibly) the whole day because you want to fly that time rather than the redeye, you have too much time on your hands. Might be a scrooge move, but certainly not one that really benefits the flyer, I’d say.

  5. BRog says:

    Darn!

    Well as a Chicago based flyer who is required to fly United for work most of the time, this really takes American out of consideration for me for my personal flights. While I might lean slightly toward United for personal because of my elite status (and the available upgrades), many times American would be less expensive, so I’d go for American. But now if they take my flexibility away, it’s unlikely I’ll fly American at all. So, after all of this, United wins…

    B

    P.S. Nice photo Cranky – love the orange ear plugs

  6. Kathryn says:

    Thanks for the info, and for the great deconstruction of the press release. I forwarded your comments to my Marketing/Communications major daughter as a real-life example of what-not-to-do!

  7. Jay says:

    Cranky? Or Adam Sandler?

  8. Evan says:

    Anyone have any idea how many people do this anyways?

    My sense is this has little to do with people gaming the system (avoiding higher fares but standing-by) but rather just raising revenue from fees.

    The sad part is that it flies directly in the face of core airline economics. A seat has near zero marginal cost, so if someone gets an empty seat (by definition since it’s stand-by) on an earlier flight, that is effectively freeing AA to sell (or otherwise fill) that seat they vacated on the later flight.

    In other words, that is a net benefit for AA. They would prefer that before every flight leaves, they fill all the empty seats with people who were going to fly later. It’s good for the operation and opens more revenue potential.

    So by charging a fee to do this now, they may raise some revenue, but they are creating a disincentive to a positive action.

    Obviously they’ve determined the fees outpace the advantage, but it’s a bad trend — for travelers AND for the airline.

  9. Erik says:

    Is there an open nominating process for the Cranky Jackass Award? If so, I would like to nominate United for an e-mail I got today (they have it posted here: http://www.united.com/page/article/1,,53364,00.html?_&vs_campaign=DOTOnTimeEmail).

    The title was “United is number one at getting you there on time”. You then read, well, there really only #1 of the old-school carriers (please ignore those whippersnappers at Alaska and JetBlue!). Oh, and it was for one month. Oh, and if you look at the numbers differently, US Air actually beat us (http://airconsumer.dot.gov/reports/2009/December/200912ATCR.PDF).

    Now I’m not sure it fits all of the Cranky Jackass criteria, but it struck me a pretty funny.

  10. Oliver says:

    It’s a friggin’ press release. They are all spin. Not worth getting upset about that fact, IMO, unless you want to get upset each and every time you read a press release.

    As for the actual change: I don’t think it’s a bad thing. AFAIK, “no fee leader” WN does not offer free standby either — you have to buy up to full-fare or something. Ultimately, you the consumer have to decide what the benefit of flying earlier is worth to you. When WN wanted $120 to fly me two hours earlier from ONT to SJC once, I passed.

  11. coldtusker says:

    Evan has said it…

    An empty seat for a 9am flight is ‘unsaleable’ by 8.30am (I am being very generous here since boarding has started). Standby passengers are (should be) the last to get on so the seat remain ‘unsold’ until the last minute.

    Letting the standby passengers fly ‘earlier’ vacates a seat at 6pm (or any other flight after 9am) which can be sold. Perhaps at a higher price as the ‘emergency’ buyer might be desperate!

    For some frequent (on the hour) destinations, sending some pax off on earlier flights & others on later flights means they could even cancel a flight with a low load factor!

    I have paid $600 for a $250 seat just coz my employer needed me there asap. Surely, these late/redeye flights might even command a premium as the flight doors close!

  12. Brad says:

    It is a necessary change due to people gaming the system and adding to delays a the airport and gates. Most airlines now operate with only one agent to board a flight and two if they are real lucky. Just watch any gate prior to a flight and the workload on the agents is ridiculous. Every conceivable request from 1/2 the passengers comes their way and they are trying to dispatch an aircraft. Any changes need to incur a cost. Perhaps this will cut down on work load at the airport and help ensure these flights get out on time. No, I am not an airline agent, I just pay attention a the gate and realize I am not the only “valued” customer flying. It is transportation…nothing more and nothing less…..

  13. Shane says:

    I use standby frequently on business trips on United. Schedule the latest return flight and try to catch an earlier one at the airport. I have always been able to get on an earlier flight from DEN to IAD. This change would definitely affect which airline I would book for work given that I want the flexibility.

    Although I’m sure United and the others will match the policy.

  14. Chris says:

    AA doesn’t have a blog? This came from PRNewswire? In which century does this airline operate?

  15. Ron says:

    @Evan, @coldtusker: Allowing a person to standby on an early flight is helpful only if the airline sells the seat that is freed up. Otherwise it doesn’t help the airline (other than generating goodwill). The airline has to weigh the expected return from future sales against the expected return from change fees.

    Ideally, from an airline’s perspective, it should be doing revenue management up to the last minute, so for example it can charge me for standing by if there is a lot of space on my later flight, but offer it for free if my later flight is oversold — perhaps even pay me for taking an earlier flight in sever oversell situations! But until the technology gets there, what we can expect is blanket policies, and it looks like a standby fee is more profitable (that is, standby fee * passengers willing to pay > new ticket price * potential new tickets).

    I’d be surprised if passengers gaming the system by standing by for a more expensive flight is such a big concern. My guess is that it’s more common for people to want to fly early because their plans have genuinely changed. I recall two times this happened to me on work trips — I booked a late return flight in order to leave myself enough time to do my work, but then finished early and wanted to go home. One time in Lawton, Oklahoma, American allowed me on an earlier flight and I was also able to stand by at DFW; in Glasgow, on the other hand, I was flying with easyJet, and they were all to happy to allow me to toss my existing ticket and buy a new one at full price. That time I declined their generous offer, but if I had an employer who would reimburse me for this, it would have been a net gain to the airline.

    I think Delta eliminated free standbys about two years ago, but they were able to soften the blow by offering same-day confirmed changes for a reduced fee of $50. Unfortunately for American they can’t do this, because they’ve been offering $50 confirmed changes for a few years now…

  16. Pingback: How dare you not blog, American Airlines! | englund blog

  17. I wonder if the 80/20 rule still applies: 80% of revenue from 20% of the customers, those 20% being the high-mileage road warriors.

    If it does, then up to 80% of the customer base is exposed to this $50 fee. Boil off the once-a-day international flights may help some but it still seems a fairly large potential revenue opportunity assuming at least half of those customers would take an earlier flight if their plans allowed it.

    At the end of the day, I agree wholeheartedly with Ron. Waive the fee if the ticketed flight is oversold and an earlier flight is begging for business. Otherwise they can put me on the volunteer list right then and there – I’ll wait for my flight, then sit back and collect denied boarding compensation. They can pay me (even if it is a zero-value travel voucher) instead of the other way around.

  18. Mary says:

    Agreed- they “stretched” a little to far with their positive spin on this new move even though I totally understand why they are doing this… the entire standby system has been a mess for sometime.

  19. CF says:

    David SFeastbay wrote:

    The airlines want you to pay for everything now in what (mostly) used to be part of the ticket. Will your local restaurant start doing the same? The dinner is $8.95, if served on a plate that will be $3.00 extra, want a fork/knife/spoon that’s $2.00 to rent or $8.00 to keep, the meal comes with a free soda or coffee, but if you want it served in a glass/mug that will be $2.75. Great now watch that happen since I just kidded about it…lol

    I don’t really see it that way. I see it more like a restaurant will let you make a reservation to eat there, but if you want to change it, you’ll have to pay a fee. It’s not an essential part of the flying process, but an additional perk that has just been a part of the process up until now.

    Jack from eyeflare.com wrote:

    BTW, if you seriously have enough free time to stand by for (possibly) the whole day because you want to fly that time rather than the redeye, you have too much time on your hands.

    Yeah, they’re called college students or really cheap people. Those are the ones they’re trying to stop here, I imagine. But that’s the extreme example. There are people who may be booked on a flight two hours from now who want to get home earlier. If they can charge for that, then they will.

    BRog wrote:

    While I might lean slightly toward United for personal because of my elite status (and the available upgrades), many times American would be less expensive, so I’d go for American. But now if they take my flexibility away, it’s unlikely I’ll fly American at all. So, after all of this, United wins…

    Well, if American does something, it’s rare that United is far behind. But if you’re elite on United, then yeah, you’ll still have the benefit. It is certainly another step in airlines focusing on their elites.

    BRog wrote:

    P.S. Nice photo Cranky – love the orange ear plugs

    Thanks, BRog – that was the monster truck rally down in San Jose back in 2004 – were you there?

    Jay wrote:

    Cranky? Or Adam Sandler?

    Hmm, I guess my open mouth does make me look like I have an egg head . . .

    Evan wrote:

    Anyone have any idea how many people do this anyways?

    Unless someone on the inside wants to share this info, I don’t think we’re going to get this answered. But I can tell you that it happens incredibly frequently on routes with high frequency. On lower frequency routes, not so much.

    Evan wrote:

    The sad part is that it flies directly in the face of core airline economics. A seat has near zero marginal cost, so if someone gets an empty seat (by definition since it’s stand-by) on an earlier flight, that is effectively freeing AA to sell (or otherwise fill) that seat they vacated on the later flight.

    I think that’s debatable, as Ron said in a later comment. If they can charge $50 for someone to take that seat, the revenue coming in just has to outweigh the foregone revenue that could potentially have been opened by letting someone move to the earlier flight. It has to come out positive for the airline or they wouldn’t have made the move.

    Erik wrote:

    The title was “United is number one at getting you there on time”. You then read, well, there really only #1 of the old-school carriers (please ignore those whippersnappers at Alaska and JetBlue!). Oh, and it was for one month. Oh, and if you look at the numbers differently, US Air actually beat us (http://airconsumer.dot.gov/reports/2009/December/200912ATCR.PDF).

    Actually, I understand why they do it that way, but it’s just like this American example. It’s an internal distinction that the customer doesn’t care about. Running a hub and spoke operation is very different than going point to point. If you’re point to point, weather in one city doesn’t cripple you, but if you run a hub, well, we know what happens there.

    So when I see that US Airways rewards their employees for high on time performance compared to other hub carriers, that makes sense. But when they pitch it externally on a nationwide basis, well, then it doesn’t.

    For the record, the report you linked to is only through October. The current one shows that United squeaked ahead of US Airways by 0.1 points for the full year.

    coldtusker wrote:

    For some frequent (on the hour) destinations, sending some pax off on earlier flights & others on later flights means they could even cancel a flight with a low load factor!

    Believe it or not, this rarely if ever happens. There are too many things that rely upon that flight going, so you won’t see it canceled because of low loads.

    Shane wrote:

    I use standby frequently on business trips on United. Schedule the latest return flight and try to catch an earlier one at the airport. I have always been able to get on an earlier flight from DEN to IAD. This change would definitely affect which airline I would book for work given that I want the flexibility.

    If you fly frequently on business on United, you’re probably an elite member, right? Then this change wouldn’t apply.

  20. David M says:

    The ability to jump on an earlier flight for free if I got to the airport in time was one of the reasons I often preferred to take an American Eagle ERJ over a Southwest 737 on the SAN-SJC route. Often times, mostly southbound, I’d arrive at SJC in time to hop on the flight before mine and be able to get home that much sooner. Eagle has dropped the route so it’s no longer a consideration, but it was one of American’s advantages.

  21. Darren says:

    There has to be another side to the story. I’m wondering what rationale AA’s PR department had for focusing on making the airport experience so streamlined.

    I agree with you 100% – I don’t see what AA has to hide, but perhaps they were afraid of something.

  22. Brian says:

    I fly American all the time and I am Platinum…but not Exec. Platinum. I make most early standby return flights due to status…only Friday afternoon flights will I stand in DFW for three early flights to Austin and finally settle for my eventual seated ticket. Every time an Exec. Plantinum walks up to the counter and checks in…they bump me back one spot. If I had a way to guarantee a seat to fly home early for $50, I’d take it just so I don’t have to play the waiting game and get bumped by higher status. Thus, AA is making money off their loyal customers too. BUT IT WILL BE AAs MOST LOYAL FFs THAT WILL BE PENALIZED by the less frequent flyer – thus penalizing the Exec Platinum who would otherwise have made the flight before AA sold it to any stanby flyer willing to pony up an additional $50.

  23. Brian says:

    To finish the last post…therefore the people that AA will be making the most $50 confirmed standbys will be their most loyal customers…the Exec Platinum and Platinum. All standby seats on 95% full planes will now be bought for $50. The Advantage status flyers will not want to risk being bumped by the infrequent flyer. Having status on AA has just taken a HUGE hit by diminishing a once nice feature of flying AA. Flying standby on AA has just been prostituted to the first person willing to pony up $50 until the standby seats are taken. (Someone at AA said “How can we make more money from people that are already our customers?”….BINGO!….”I have a brilliant idea…let’s charge em for standby but make it seem like the FF’s dont have to pay it..but they actually will pay the most….ha ha ha ha ha!!”)

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