American Airlines Asked 59,000 of its Employees What They Really Thought. This Was Their Answer

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It’s time to take a pause in our series called Passengers Whining About Airlines

Today, we introduce Airline Employees Whine About Airlines.

Specifically, employees of American Airlines.

It seems that, though they’ve received raises recently, they’re not all that happy.

American conducted a survey, obtained by View From The Wing. 59,197 American employees happily replied and some of those responses seemed to have been typed by frustrated fingers. 

This was the first companywide survey in 10 years, so perhaps there were a few pent-up feelings just waiting to be aired. 

This, for example: a mere 32 percent of American employees believe that the management listens to them and wants to understand their feelings.

Actually, this should have been “an astonishingly high 32 percent.” How often, after all, do big company leaders really listen to their employees? 

They might pay lip service, but that’s no more costly to them than a baggage fee. 

Let’s continue with the grim replies. 

38.9 percent of American’s employees believe that there’s an atmosphere of trust and respect at the airline.

Still, a majority believe that they celebrate their successes with their co-workers. I wonder what those successes are. A flight arriving on time? A record number of change fees charged?

I’ve been saving the most fascinating parts.

Less than half these employees believe that they have “the flexibility to meet the needs of our customers who fly American.”

Yes, you like to complain about airline employees. But as I may have mentioned once or twice, the airlines deliberately puts them in the position of jailers and police officers, rather than customer service staff.

The employees know it. In this survey, only 41 percent believed that management takes “the right decisions that take care of customers.”

Again, I say, that’s a remarkably large number, given the evident truth that most airlines behave as if they have very little interest in their customers, other than their customers’ wallets.

Recently, American’s CEO Doug Parker admitted that he’d only begun to think twice about shoving more seats into planes when employees told him: “What the hell are you doing?”

Working for an airline isn’t all bad, of course.

Indeed, more than 75 percent of these American Airlines employees said they were proud to work for the airline. And, in a fit of contradictory humanity, more than 57 percent said American is headed in the right direction. 

I contacted the airline to ask whether it views these results with glee or grim realization. It sounded like the latter.

A spokesman told me: “We know we need to work to regain the trust of our team members and consider it a privilege to do so. American Voice is our first company-wide survey in more than a decade, and we needed exactly this type of insight to measure against in future surveys. We’re excited about this opportunity and see this as an incredibly helpful tool as we cre­­ate the culture our team members want and deserve.”

Clearly, it’s difficult to keep tens of thousands of people happy. 

But American — as well as its competitors — knows that having a positive workforce goes a long way toward customer satisfaction and, here’s an idea, repeat business.

It will be moving to see how American might react to these results and whether, in some fanciful future, the customers might see some positive results.