American Airlines decided to be honest with customers. They may not like it

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It may fly. It may not. Check back later. Getty Images

There comes a point in your life when you needs to unburden yourself.

Let it out, let it go, let it wash over others, and see the reaction.

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Somehow, releasing your inner contradictions, imperfections, and torment can make you feel free. 

Or, at least, a little lighter.

I was moved to an exalted plane of empathy, therefore, upon discovering that an American Airlines executive told it the way (he truly feels) it is.

Brian Znotins is the airline’s vice president of network planning. The basic economy of airline jobs.

He has a soul, you know. And he chose to let it hang out there. You see, he wants airline customers to know that their holiday plans still might — just might — go up in smoke, rather than in an American Airlines plane.

Also: American Airlines pilots want customers to know how bad things have gotten

This Is How We Do It. Or Try To

On the airline’s Tell Me Why podcast, Znotins explained how the airline creates its schedules.

Before the pandemic, American released its schedule 90 days before it took effect. “Currently, we’re publishing it 100 days before we start the schedule.”

This feels like excellent news. Business travelers have more time to choose when to visit clients or co-workers they haven’t seen for perhaps years. Leisure customers now have more time to perfect their end-of-year visits to friends and family.

If, however, you’re the sort of person who likes — or even needs — to plan much further in advance, there’s a problem.

“That flight that we’re selling then is really based on a placeholder schedule.” Ah, so if you book up to 330 days in advance, you surely know your flight may not exist when the time comes around.

In times gone by, said Znotins, there was a very high likelihood that the ultimate schedule would largely resemble the placeholder.

“But with the pandemic,” he added, “Obviously, those placeholder schedules became much less reflective of the actual schedules we would plan to fly.”

Obviously.

Also: United Airlines just made a ridiculous promise to customers (can you believe it?)

Information Still Loading

Here, the less good news began.

These days, the schedules American actually flies are smaller than the ones published. Znotins said: “And that’s because building the schedule takes time and it takes a lot of information and inputs from the operation.”

One might imagine that’s how many businesses work. You get your data, you get your inputs, and you get your decision-making.

American’s information gathering occurs, said Znotins, 120 days before departure. Or maybe every 100 days. Or maybe even closer.

Ah, you’re beginning to get it, I fear.

“Sometimes, we just don’t know which flights we will and we will not operate,” confessed Znotins. “Because we don’t know how many airplanes and pilots and mechanics and ground staff we will have to support the schedule. So a flight may or may not operate.”

That may feel a touch inconsiderate.

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I worry that some American Airlines customers will wonder why there isn’t a buffer in place to create a greater sense of certainty. Both for them and for the airline itself.

I worry that many American Airlines customers will fear these words more than any other, especially with airlines themselves blaming shortage of staff as one reason for canceled flights. You mean when you publish your schedule you really have no complete idea of whether the flight will take off?

“What we’re really reluctant to do is put our customers through a number of changes, a number of times,” said Znotins.

A relief, that.

Znotins is unhappy that the media describes American’s seemingly frequent changes as a big deal. It’s not. It’s just part of the process.

He took time out to talk about coders and their current lives. He noted that more of them are living away from head office in places like Bozeman, Montana and now more of them are flying for quarterly meetings to head office. So American has to be cognizant of that.

He chose to describe Bozeman as “nicer” place to live than the Bay Area. I’m sure that’s nothing like calling Southwest a nicer airline than American.

But back to the potential of your holiday plans lying in ruins.

Also: How to keep your home secure when you travel 

All I Want For Christmas Is You (To Fly, Not Just Try)

Here we are, with little more than the magical 100 days to go before the end of the year. Many people will have already booked their flights for the holidays. Znotins promised the airline was focused more on leisure travel than business.

But should you now book your trip to visit your loved ones — or perhaps to get away from them? Will the schedule be reliable?

Also: How to save money when traveling abroad

“We’re trying to fly as much as our operation will support,” said Znotins. “We don’t want to overextend ourselves again.”

Some might translate this as: “We promise not to be (too) greedy and let people down (too often).” Some might even focus merely on the word “trying.” 

One has to admire Znotins for leaning toward sincerity. Airlines have, far too often, disappointed customers and treated them with ill-concealed indifference, all in the naked pursuit of lucre.

But you wonder how much faith his own employees have in his own open-hearted promise to (try to) deliver for customers.

Why, here’s how the pilots’ union at American reacted to his words:

No, the pilots still haven’t secured the raises they’ve been asking for — and are picketing about.

One can only worry, then, that a little bad weather here, a little organizational chaos there and American’s end of year — and yours — may still be fraught.

Let’s hope the inputs somehow match the outputs. For once.

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