American Airlines Just Made a Big Announcement People Have Been Waiting For. There’s Only 1 Problem

It’s the kind of thing I cover in my free ebook, Flying Business Class: 12 Rules for Leaders From the U.S. Airlines, which you can download here. Frankly, it’s something every business leader should think about.

Here’s the top line: American Airlines told its staff within the last few days that its online sales volume is high enough (“150 to 400 percent compared to last year and within a few points of 2019”) that starting in May, it will fly its entire fleet again.

As the airline put it: “No more grounded planes.”

There’s a caveat or two (or three) that we’ll get to below, but I think it’s noteworthy for a couple of exciting reasons.

First, because this is the kind of thing people have been waiting for — a sign that things in the industry might be returning to normal. We’re getting vaccinated (largely), we see a light at the end of the tunnel, and the sheer volume of passengers is approaching what it was, pre-pandemic.

Second, it’s not in a vacuum. In fact, I started writing this article intending to talk about some of the “return to normal” things going on at other big airlines, before American’s announcement.

And while American’s news seems especially noteworthy now, the other airlines’ steps are worth noting in the aggregate:

  • Southwest Airlines is restoring limited beverage service, plus returning to the pre-pandemic method of boarding flights (bigger groups), and adding more vacation routes.
  • At Delta Air Lines, as of April 14, the news is also about beverage service, including liquor. That’s in the form of “canned cocktails” — margaritas and old fashioneds, in case you’re wondering — so that flight attendants don’t have to mix drinks on an airplane during the (hopefully) waning days of the pandemic.
  • And, over at United Airlines, they’ll be rolling out snacks and alcohol on Hawaiian and transcontinental flights. Even more “normal,” the idea of adding alcoholic beverages to a fraught cabin environment prompted pushback from the union representing flight attendants.

Now, for the caveats I mentioned with regard to American Airlines and its announcement about having enough passengers to put all of its airplanes back in service. There are three that I can think of.

  • First, there’s the fact that while the sheer number of people flying is returning to pre-pandemic norms, the mix of those passengers skews far more toward leisure passengers than to the business passengers big airlines rely on. Business passengers are simply better customers, in terms of how much money he airlines make on them.
  • Second, there’s an asterisk on the big internal announcement, because while American Airlines says all its planes will be flying soon, it actually has  nearly 100 fewer planes in its fleet compared to a few years back. 
  • Finally, perhaps we should add the obvious problem, which is that while a lot of people now seem to remember “normal” with a degree of nostalgia, passengers on almost all the airlines sure seemed to find a lot to complain about before the pandemic.

But honestly, when you pack these news stories together, I’ll take them. I also think it’s something other business leaders should emulate.

We’re not going to be truly “back to normal” for a bit, but if there are things you can do to reassure your customers — small policies that you can restore without endangering anyone’s health, or offering social proof that people are doing the things they did before — that could go a long way toward restoring confidence.

Before you know it, if progress continues, maybe all that “faking it until you make it” won’t be so fake, after all.

(Don’t forget the free ebook: Flying Business Class. You can get it here.)

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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