Something Nice About an Airline


After my last few complain-ey posts, you might be surprised to see something positive…. especially about an airline.

For all of my complaining about airlines, I actually have something NICE to say about American Airlines.

I discovered a new feature on their “AAdvantage” program customer service line when I called to get info about my flight on Friday. Once I registered for their new option, their system automatically recognizes that it's me when I call from my cell phone. The result is convenience and time savings (and a reduction in frustration) for me as a customer… and it surely cost American $$ to implement this… my head is spinning, the idea that an airline is spending money to provide better service. My world is turned upside down!

In the old system, it was a “voice recognition” prompt, and by “recognition” I mean “not recognizing.” The system would ask for my AAdvantage number and it might take two or three tries to be understood, as I'd get the condescending “you seem to be having trouble” message (ah, how one computerized voice prompt summed up their attitude towards us customers). To find automated flight information took a few minutes and many prompts. I'd try to say what city I was departing from and the system would misunderstand me… I don't think I mumble that badly, nor am I usually calling from the middle of a hurricane. The old voice prompt system was horrible.

So, in comparison, this new system is a dream. Sunday, I called in… “Hello… Mark” (it called me by name… somewhat personal in a very computerized impersonal way). It then went on to say something like, “If you are not calling about today's flight that you are on, press 2.” and the system continued to read off my flight information for that afternoon. I didn't have to press a single key.

It's beautiful. The software/voice system works great. I assume there is some research that shows the most common reason for a customer call is for flight status. The system seems to follow the “Lean Solutions” idea of not wasting the customer's time… I love it.

American Airlines, don't say I don't ever say anything nice about you.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Although you were a very happy customer I bet there are some happy Customer Service Reps that are happy that they don’t have to deal with calls for Flight Status only. When I fly, all the airlines have the flight status built right into their web sites and are easily read using a phone browser. Some even text you every hour with your flight status.

    Now if you can only get the people at the gate counters to actually pick up the Announce Microphone and let us know when a change in flight status or gate status occurs in a timely manner. I have been sitting for hours in so many airports with minor and major delays and the counter folks don’t say a word 90% of the time. My own airport in Philly my flight got canceled and it even disappeared from the fancy overhead board. I had to ask someone what had happened.

  2. This sounds like a really great feature all around, I just want to make a brief comment on the cost of implementation –
    It was probably close to nill.

    Basically they’re just hooking a database up to the caller id function on their voip phones (or non-voip, but it’d take about 30 seconds as opposed to 30 minutes).

    They probably tasked two in house developers on this and had it done in a day – or, at least, I hope they did.

    Here’s a question though – this should ease burden on call centers significantly, think there’ll be layoffs around the corner?


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