American Airlines’ new single-agent boarding process, a policy which requires passengers to board using only one printed boarding pass, is set to go into effect on August 10. The new policy has been the subject of much debate, and a passenger advocacy group has already begun a boycott. The group, FlyersRights.org, has launched a full scale campaign to remove all American Airlines flights from its list of companies to avoid.

Many people are familiar with the boarding process at an airport. The method is simple: passengers line up to board the plane, and the first in line gets to go first. However, the way most people board is not an efficient way of getting everyone on the plane: they line up in single-agent rows, and wait for the last person in their line to board first.

American Airlines’ new single agent boarding (SAB) system, in which passengers board planes in groups, rather than one at a time, is a disastrous idea, according to the Canadian economist Doug Saunders. What Saunders is worried about is the fact that onboard staff will have to ask each passenger a series of questions, which will likely be referred to their trolley sheet (a paper sign-in sheet). This will greatly increase the time it takes for passengers to get to their seats, causing an increase in hold-ups and angry passengers.

American Airlines ‘Single Agent Boarding’ Will Be A Disaster

by Gary Leff on May 26, 2021 On Tuesday I wrote about the American Airlines plan to reduce labor costs with ‘single agent boarding’. Airline CFO Derek Kerr brought up the plan at an investment conference after saying that employees just “have to work harder in certain areas.” My immediate reaction is that this is going to be a customer service nightmare. Without sufficient staffing you can’t take boarding passes and also,

  • Monitoring carry on bags and charge to gate check oversized ones
  • Add people to the standby list who show up at the gate looking to get onto the flight
  • Handle last minute upgrades (when a passenger no shows)
  • Help customers change seats so they can sit together
  • Answer questions from new or nervous flyers, and provide general customer service

word-image-16329 This can’t all be done with single agent boarding, let alone doing all of this and still push back on time which American Airlines has made a priority for years though has performed poorly on this score precisely because they haven’t invested in doing all of the things that help an airline to be ready to depart such as having catering arrive on time, getting cleaning crews on and off the plane, etc. Now, to be sure this has already been happening at some stations, where there are enough supervisors relative to active gates where managers can step in when needed. Aviation watchdog Jon NYC shares that the plan for single agent boarding applies to:

  • Narrowbody aircraft (like Boeing 737s and Airbus A321s)
  • When they’re less than 80% full

..that single-agent boarding will be rolled out onto narrow-bodied flights with LF’s below 80% only. Personal opinion- the automated clearing of the PALL list is a joke and is not liked at all by agents. And the big worry is what happens during IROPS. Important to say that.. — ˜”*° JonNYC °*”˜ (@xJonNYC) May 25, 2021 One person reports “Also— Single agent flights was rolled out last year on < 70% load factor flights. It is increasing to < 80% in June” — ˜”*° JonNYC °*”˜ (@xJonNYC) May 26, 2021 As Jon observes, delays and cancelled flights are going to become even more of a problem without sufficient staff to help customers get rebooked. It’s a far worse customer experience to tell passengers to ‘go to customer service’ or to ‘just use the app’ (which tends to offer very few options even when flights are available). Single agent boarding eliminates one of the most important customer touchpoints, a big tradeoff for relatively little savings.

More From View from the Wing

The airline industry is notorious for its customer service – and for making a mess of things. So, when American Airlines announced that it would be switching to “single agent boarding” as of June 30th, 2016, the news seemed like it was destined to be a disaster. But, the truth is that the new system isn’t as bad as it sounds.. Read more about american airlines managing director and let us know what you think.

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