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Would You Rather Be Confused or Marginalized by an Airline?

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American Airlines can’t seem to get it right with customer experience, leaving customers either confused or marginalized, says Jay.

Hey guys, it’s Jay. Hope you are doing fantastic. This is another episode of Jay Today. Let’s talk about whether you would rather be confused by an airline or marginalized by an airline.
Today, I received an email from American Airlines. Now, I fly American somewhat—they’re not my preferred carrier, but I definitely fly American a few times a year. Got this email that said, “Hey, we are changing our boarding procedures effective March 1st.” So as a frequent flyer, I’m like, well I definitely want to check in on that. Let’s see what the new boarding procedures might be. Is it by height, is it by size, is it by number of Twitter followers? Is it by amount paid for the ticket? What could it possibly be?
Well, it turns out that historically, American Airline’s boarding procedures have been a little bit of a cluster. Definitely confusing because it’s been, if you have the plutonium card, you’re first, and then if you have, sort of, a rock or a chunk of Kryptonite, then you’re second. And then if you’re a gold member you’re third, and then if you’re a One World ruby member you’re fourth, and so there’s lots of colors and flavors and animals and minerals that they’re announcing and people aren’t sure what category they’re in. And so the boarding process, and I noticed this not too long ago, I thought, “This seems very, very confusing.” So, I was confused, passengers were confused, I think gate agents were confused, everybody was confused. So, to alleviate that, American Airlines said, “We need to improve the customer experience.”
Now, this makes a lot of sense, like we should try to improve the customer experience. I mean that’s what we definitely strive for in business. But I wanna remind you of what customer experience actually is. So we talk about customer experience all the time, but we tend to lose sight of what it actually is. And the customer experience is, quite simply, how we make our customers feel, how they feel about interacting with our businesses at every turn. So, customer experience in many cases can’t even be identified. It’s like pornography—”you know it when you see it”—and it’s how do you make them feel.
So, American’s idea, presumably was, “Customers will feel better if we add some reduced complexity and some order and some logic to this boarding sequence.” Okay, that’s a good plan and to their credit, if you are American Airlines, it is not easy to make this change, right? To say, “Hey, we’re gonna make this shift.” You have to let all the flyers know. You have to let all the gate agents know and train them. You have to redo your computer system. You have to redo what gets printed on the boarding pass. It’s like there’s a lot of things that have to happen to put this into the field and so, you know, to their credit, they made that investment and time and training and things like that to make it work.
But here’s the scheme that they came up with, okay? So let me just show you, this is the new plan, okay. The old plan was, first it was First Class and U.S. Military and then Advantage Executive Platinum. One World Emerald, business class people. Then it was One World Premium, Advantage Premium, Platinum, and then if you had a credit card you could do something, et cetera. And then they would get into the numbers. After all of those people Boarded, then you’d get Group One, Group Two, Group Three, and Group Four. Now, their new plan, the better plan: The better plan is we’re gonna have nine groups, okay? So, First Class is Group One, Group Two is Platinum, Group Three is something else. Group Four is Gold. Group Five is Silver. Group Six is Aluminum. Group Seven is, is dirt. Or whatever the case may be. So here’s the actual graphics, sorry I missed that earlier.
So, here’s my challenge with this, okay. I presume that this is well-intentioned. But if you are in Group Eight, or Group Nine, how does that make you feel as a passenger? Before, the lowest group you could be in was Group Four. Now Group Four, when you see everybody else boarding and you’re in Group Four, doesn’t make you feel very great either ’cause you’re like the last one on the plane. You’re like, “What’s wrong with me?” If you’re in Group Nine, you’re like, “Hey man. I paid to be on this plane too.” I mean, imagine if in the Titanic, right? You remember everybody saw that movie, like, “I’m the king of world.” Like we all know that story, right? You have like first class, second class, in like steerage, third class and I think that was it. Fourth class was like fishes, right? So, nine boarding groups? If you were in Group Eight, or you were in Group Nine, from a customer experience standpoint, how does that make you feel? Do you feel valued by American Airlines at that point, or do you feel absolutely unvalued, right? Do you feel like you have been marginalized in a very significant way?
So I really wonder if, as part of this whole process, they focus group this. If they actually talked to people and said, “Hey, if you were in Group Nine, how would you feel?” Now, no question, Frequent Flyers, First Class flyers, Gold, Platinum, Silver, Diamond, Plutonium, feel pretty good about it ’cause now you don’t have to remember like what color you are or what mineral or what your birth stone is. But you can just say, “Hey it’s Group Two. It says that on my boarding pass, I get on second.” I wonder how many people who are now in Group Nine that they talk to before they role this out.
So, we’d love to know what you think. If you are all of a sudden in Group Eight or Group Nine, how would you feel? Would you say that’s a better customer experience? Or a worse customer experience? Sometimes, the best intentions have the opposite consequences I think.
I wanna remind you that this show, the Jay Today show, is brought to you by my friends at Emma, who can certainly help you with the customer experience of your email. Get more from your email marketing, go to to see how they can help you do that. They’re really, really good at email design and layout and tips and tricks for doing just that.
So, I’m Jay. This is Jay Today. Thanks as always for watching. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the show at I’ll see you pretty soon, maybe Mondayish, something like that. Thanks.

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