‘We really want to make sure that we can deliver a reliable experience for customers no matter what challenges come our way,” said American Airlines Kerry Philipovitch, speaking at Boyd IASF last month.

American Airlines has been buffeted by a series of issues from the flight delays, both due to industry-wide impact of severe weather to internally related ones, as well as the drawn out labor strife with its mechanics union, and the prolonged grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX.

To be sure, just dealing with one of those matters would have made a conference presentation headlined, “Building A World Class Customer Experience” a trial by fire.

But to her credit, Kerry Philipovitch, SVP, Customer Experience for American Airlines, took on a barrage of questions from reporters following her talk at the Boyd IAFS conference in Las Vegas at the end of August.

“What we're trying to do is make sure that we take care of our customers,” Philipovitch said during her press conference. “Both from the standpoint of making sure we do our best to keep people on their way and on time, and then also making amends when we don't do that.

We've been doing some campaigns in addition to our typical proactive outreach to folks that are delayed. We've also been looking at people who have had multiple experiences and having our win-back team call them. We all know the importance of running a reliable operation and we're laser-focused on restoring our ability to do that.”

Suggesting that the worst may be behind it, Philipovitch noted that American Airlines has seen some organic improvement lately.

A More Custom Experience

“July has been better than June, and August has better than July,” she said. “We're out of the summer peak now, so loads are a bit lighter and our flight schedule is reduced a bit, which gives us some more contingency resources to play with. We've had in the past week, some of the best days we've had in a while.”

To try to assuage customers put off by delays and negative news coverage, American Airlines has been making an “unprecedented level of investment” in new aircraft, new lounge facilities, as well as faster in-flight wifi to create a more positive customer experience.

“Our goal is to put control in our customers’ hands, so they can feel that they have options when they fly American and can tailor their experience,” Philipovitch said. “From a revenue standpoint, we're working on opportunities to do more merchandising for customers and then really provide a custom and tailored experience.”

Kerry Philipovitch, SVP, Customer Experience for American Airlines, at the Boyd IAFS.

Toward a New Oasis

To that end, Philipovitch was also hit with questions about how the Oasis configured aircraft leads to a better experience. Project Oasis, which refers to updated interiors in keeping with American’s modernization plan from last year, was primarily viewed as a way to add 12 more seats compared to previous cabin layouts.

The notion that the initial Oasis configuration from a year ago was viewed as cramped has been noted by observers, while the more recent Oasis retrofit has been considered more positively with the addition of the Airbus A321 this past May.

“The Oasis aircraft does a number of things for us,” Philipovitch said. “First, we are reconfiguring the aircraft to make sure we have consistent seat maps. We're going to have power in every seat. We're going to have larger overhead bin space to reduce the need to check bags.

So all of those things contribute to the customer experience and it's also going to have sufficient capacity to continue to offer the low fares that customers value. We think it's going to be a really important part of our network going forward.”

In terms of other high-priority areas of improvement, Philipovitch pointed to international economy, where its customer-satisfaction scores lag competitors. Requisite attention is naturally being paid to corporate accounts, those she said the airline hasn’t recorded any defections in bookings.

Self-Service Solves Several Issues

Apart from amenities like more expansive overhead bins and faster wifi, self-service via American’s app is another important area the airline believes it can raise additional goodwill from passengers.

“When we hear people say that they're unhappy with scheduling, a lot of it is because there've been so many disrupted trips,” Philipovitch said. “And the answer isn't necessarily to change the scheduling system. The answer is to restore reliability in the operation.

That reduces the need for people to work with the scheduling system. When we think about the tools that our team members have to bid on their flights, we've made great improvements for pilots and flight attendants to have flexibility to craft the trips that they want."

“I talk to a lot of pilots and flight attendants on board, but longer galley conversations than what you get when you have cockpit conversations,” she continued.

“And usually even when I'm talking to people about things that frustrate them, if I ask them, will tell me one thing that's good that they really like. They'll point to the new tools, the new bidding tools that we introduced in May, because it gives people more choice and flexibility.”

As for the self-service tools, Philipovitch said the participation rates continue to improve – though she didn’t specify – particularly on our app where customers are using it as the most frequent place for checking in for a flight.

“Purchases on the app are continuing to rise,” she said. “We also have introduced new self-service tools within our reservations organization, so we continue to improve our [interactive voice response system] and offer customers more options for transactions and information that also decreases the headcount needed in reservations.

We're working on redesigning our check-in process and the check-in flow on our kiosks that will make that more efficient and allow us to reduce costs while also providing a speedier experience for customers. That's really always the goal.”