Wednesday, November 26, 2008

American Airlines Trying To Crawl Out Of Customer Service Celler


American has been struggling with performance issues for several years and may have hit bottom this spring. In March and April, the Federal Aviation Administration twice ordered the airline to ground its fleet of MD-80 jets for inspections.

The second grounding lasted more than a week and resulted in 3,000 canceled flights. Thousands of passengers were affected, with many stuck for days waiting for available seats.

"We were not at a very good place in the first part of the year," Mitchell said. "It was a low point."

But initiatives were already in place that executives hoped would start to improve the airline’s performance. More have been added, and others are being planned, Mitchell said.

For example, the airline had reduced the cruising speed of its airplanes to save fuel. But the slower flights had been increasing delays, so in July pilots began flying faster to get to destinations on time.

The airline began adding more ground time into schedules to account for high passenger loads during peak travel times. Time was also added to routes that were chronically delayed because of bad weather or air traffic control issues.

New technology was installed to help employees better track luggage. Airport upgrades helped during bad weather, such as a docking system that helps bring planes quickly to the gate at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport during lightning storms.

And the airline has also worked to improve the cleanliness of aircraft cabins as well as customer service at gates and during flights, Mitchell said.

Those efforts appear to be paying off. American received 54 percent fewer complaints about the condition of airplane cabins in October compared with the previous year. Customers lodged 32 percent fewer complaints about employee service during flights.

And the airline received 60 percent fewer complaints about how lost-baggage cases were resolved.

The airline is also planning further steps to keep the momentum going. Three teams are studying how to get planes quickly out of the gate during the morning rush, how to get aircraft to the proper airport for maintenance and how to reduce delays from mechanical issues.

The goal, Mitchell said, is to return American to dominance in operations and service.

"We want to be best in class again," he said.

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