American's New Priority Services Are Bad for Average Flyers

Today, American began a gradual rollout of its new PriorityAAccess, a package of enhanced airport services offered to first- and business-class customers; elite members of American's mileage program; elite members of the oneworld alliance; AAirpass customers; and passengers traveling on full-fare coach tickets.

The perks include priority check-in, dedicated security lanes at some airports, and priority boarding lanes at the gate.

Sounds good, right? Or at least neutral. After all, travelers paying more for their tickets deserve to get more. You don't expect a first-class meal or a fully reclining seat when flying on a $169 coach ticket.

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And the business case is obvious. Quoted in American's news release, Mark Mitchell, the carrier's managing director - customer experience, puts it thusly: "PriorityAAccess benefits provide a differentiated experience for our top customers at the ticket counter, at security checkpoints, and at the gate."

But there's a problem here. Whereas the first-class passenger's designer meal and free cocktails don't come at the expense of the coach passenger's snack pack and complimentary coffee, the PriorityAAccess services will degrade the service available to those who don't qualify for the extra attention.

Why? Because it's a zero-sum game. With a limited number of both staff and passenger processing lines, American can't speed up check-in and boarding for the few without slowing it down for the many. So in this case, the fat cats' perks are indeed at the expense of the little guy.

That fundamental unfairness probably explains why such services haven't been widely adopted. And it certainly explains why they shouldn't be now.

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