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American Airlines PA Glitch: Root Cause Unknown

Halloween came early on a September 2022, American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Dallas. Unexplained moans and groans came across the aircraft’s public announcement system.

The “unsettling” noises began just before takeoff and continued throughout the flight.  Pilots and flight attendants assured passengers that everything was under control and there was no need to worry.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the Business Insider India article, American Airlines passengers report “unnerving” groans and moaning noises from PA system, by Bethany Biron, August 25, 2022, and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: Westend61/Getty Images

Discussion Questions:

1.  To what did American Airlines attribute the moans and groans?

Guidance: American Airlines at first said they were trying to troubleshoot the sounds. Initially, it was thought to be a prank, but they couldn’t find any evidence.  They also reassured passengers that it was not possible for it to be an “external hack,” because the PA system is hardwired without a WiFi component.

Eventually, American Airlines issued a statement that it was a “maintenance” issue related to the PA system being turned up too loudly.  That claim, however, left some observers skeptical, including one pilot who was interviewed in a news feature about the event.

2. Was this an isolated incident? How does it pertain to quality management?

Guidance: Whether the noises were caused by a maintenance issue with the PA system, or whether someone was able to hack into the system, this problem is disturbing for passengers.  Though American Airline alleges it doesn’t pose a true safety concern, it affects the quality of service that passengers experience.

Five dimensions of service quality include tangibility, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy.

Tangibility includes the equipment, personnel, and communications materials included with the service.  In this area, the flight experience was certainly not functioning as intended.

At least two other passengers from other American Airlines flights have reported hearing similar sounds during their flights, so the reliability of the PA system is being called into question on at least several occasions.

The flight attendants and pilots did demonstrate responsiveness and assurance, quickly trying to reassure passengers that they were not in any danger. By acknowledging that the sounds were “irritating,” they demonstrated empathy with customers.

However, since nothing could be done to stop or explain the cause of the noise, some passengers still may have found it unnerving, especially if they were wary of flying in the first place.  Even if the flight crew reassured passengers, the sounds could have been both annoying and disruptive to passengers who may be trying to rest, read, or work.

The passenger who filmed it found it funny, and perhaps others did too, but most passengers would find this to be a deviation from the kind of experience that an airline should deliver, especially when the airline is unable to determine the root cause.

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