American Disagrees with Monday’s Post

As you can probably imagine, the folks at American disagreed with my post on Monday American logowhich asked “Why is American Not Trying Harder to Calm Safety Fears?” While I expected disagreement, I didn’t expect to actually get a response. To my surprise, I received an email from Andy Backover, the VP of Communications at American detailing why he thought my post was “unnecessarily cranky and one sided.” I still disagree, but I’m happy to let you all decide for yourselves.

Below is Andy’s letter to me in full without any edits other than removing his contact information at the very bottom. As you can see, I have threaded my responses in between paragraphs. This is exactly what I sent back to Andy.


Hi Andy,
Thanks for your note. While my site is an opinion site, it is very important for me to make sure that I am basing my opinions on accurate information. With that, I’d like to respond to a couple of things in this email. Please see responses inline…

Attention: Brett Snyder

Dear Brett:

We are avid readers of The Crankier [sic] Flier at American Airlines, particularly in the PR department. We also recognize and respect the important service you offer to travelers, but I would like to clear up a few misconceptions in your recent post, which seemed both unnecessarily cranky and one sided.
Safety is the paramount concern for all operations at American Airlines, and we take every opportunity to reassure our customers and our people who interact with customers, as well as the media and third parties who comment on aviation issues, of the steps we take every day to ensure this.

When seats on two 757s made headlines last week, American was already working on a solution and letting our people and external audiences know American would promptly inspect 48 aircraft to determine the cause of any potential issues.

Vice President of Safety, Security and Environmental David Campbell spoke with more than dozen national media outlets to let customers know the company was inspecting and securing all of the locking mechanisms. I can assure you that Dave is an industry expert on safety issues and, in fact, he plays an important role in providing information about American to the FAA. In addition, we provided our people with the latest information available to share with customers, and our social media team directly responded to posts or tweets. We also shared statements and information with media and third-party industry observers, which are important channels through which we reach customers.

You say you shared with “media and third-party industry observers,” so I can only assume that I am considered neither. I haven’t received any information and I’ve spoken with others who’ve said the same. How do you define that term?

That’s good that Dave was speaking directly to national media outlets, but in my view that is no longer sufficient and hasn’t been for some time. More and more people look beyond national media to get their news every day. A quick Google News search of “American Airlines seat problems” shows over 33,000 articles. Adding David Campbell to the end of that search brings back less than 900. So his message did not get nearly as far as it would have 30 years ago.

This doesn’t mean I would expect a call from Dave myself by any means. But it does mean that I would hope for some sort of statement that might include his quotes on the issue at hand. I would think you would want to blast that out to every single person you have on your distribution lists to get the broadest coverage possible.

I am curious to know more about how you used social media here. I didn’t see any proactive statements about the issue, so I assume that it was only sent as a response directly to people who tweeted or messaged you? In my experience, very few people reach out directly while the vast majority look for public responses and those weren’t to be found as far as I could tell. Was I just missing something?

Less than 48 hours later, when American maintenance teams identified the cause and started installing the FAA-approved secondary locking device, Mr. Campbell was pro-actively calling reporters to make them aware. Flights were canceled and delayed to allow the passengers ample opportunity to adjust their travel. In the hours that followed, media representatives were given updates on the inspection and installation process, while customers were accommodated for the short disruption in service.

I should be clear that I’m not faulting the customer service response in any way. I think that the policies that were set up were more than fair and front line agents have been very good at problem-solving. People who were directly impacted were taken care of. My concern surrounds those people who haven’t purchased tickets yet or who have but aren’t traveling for some time. For example, I have a client flying American in December who wants me to book him on another airline because of his concerns. The customer service response isn’t reaching those people. It’s the PR response that will touch them and start shaping their views.

You again mention proactive media outreach. Is this also only to the traditional, national media outlets referenced previously? How does one get on this list? Does it require specific media credentials?

American also reached out to customers, including AAdvantage and corporate customers, during September’s operational disruptions to let them know we updated our policies to make them more flexible to meet their travel needs. We will continue to monitor our operations and adjust accordingly.

While we disagree with your assertion that American was not upfront with its customers about safety or operational issues, we are also more than happy and willing to keep you more informed about our actions in the future. Thank you for your time and consideration.

I did see the email sent to AAdvantage members and I’m sure there were some sent to corporate accounts as well. But the ones I saw were sent before the seat problems, and for me, that was the big moment in this crisis. Even if you deem those emails to be adequate, the message doesn’t get to any of the travelers who aren’t members of the AAdvantage program (or who don’t provide you with an email address). That includes plenty of unaligned travelers but also those who may be members of your partner programs like British Airways Executive Club or LANPASS.

While I appreciate the email, I still believe my Monday post to be accurate. However, in the interest of letting my readers decide for themselves, I will post this dialogue on CrankyFlier.com without any edits so they can see American’s position. Thank you for reaching out and I am happy to take you up on your offer to keep me more informed about American’s actions in the future.
Brett Snyder
CrankyFlier.com

Sincerely,

Andy Backover
Vice President – Communications
American Airlines


40 Responses to American Disagrees with Monday’s Post

  1. Tom says:

    American Airlines is in a PR mess!
    As a frequent flyer (over 100 trips a year) I stopped flying American Airlines the day they filed for bankruptcy. Companies in bankruptcy make me uneasy, and with the latest problems AA has been experiencing only proves my point. Once AA gets it?s act together and can prove to the flying public that they are a safe and reliable airline than I might consider flying them again.

  2. Don says:

    With apologies to Andy I have to disagree with him. While the media has cause to be concerned over AA’s seat problems, more should have been done. When jetblue had the pilot mishap going on less than 48 hours later there was the CEO himself talking to The Today Show and other media outlets directly. More should have been done to reassure the public in regards to safety. This problem with AA happened THREE TIMES in LESS THAN ONE WEEK. More media contact was needed.

  3. Nick says:

    Mr. Baker – I would have to side with Brett on this one. After years of airline involvement on both sides of the ticket counter, family, friends, and business associates often ask me for booking advice or help when travel plans go awry. In the last two weeks I’ve have been asked by more than a few people about American. First and foremost, safety is their concern. While I would not hesitate to board an American airplane and would tell people such, just 2-3 times-a-year fliers to elite frequent fliers are seriously asking me the question suggests a bit of a PR problem.

    The former CEO of Johnson & Johnson, Jim Burke died last week. He was and is lionized for his handling of the Tylenol poisonings in the 80’s. While I’m not suggesting the problems facing American are as ghastly as what J & J faced, I am recommending that American get senior executives out in the media, traditional and social, to regain some control of the story. Perhaps look at the beating United took for weeks during the “United breaks guitars” debacle for some inspiration of what not to do.

    Sadly, I doubt the current AA management team has that strength of leadership. While it is pleasantly surprising to see you respond to Brett’s opinion and analysis, it would be much more reassuring to see actual human beings from Amon Carter Blvd get out in front of the story, any story, that is playing out in late night TV show monologues.

  4. D-ROCK says:

    My parents fly 2-3 times a year and live in the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex. Usually when they come to visit me in Los Angeles, they fly AA due to the number of flights between DFW & LAX, providing them greater flexibility. After the seat issues and the operation issues from the last month, they specifically requested NOT to fly on AA and are instead trying Virgin America for the first time. The cost of the flights was the same, but they didn’t want to risk a safety issue (whether unfounded or not) or a delay/cancellation. They are not huge aviation geeks or frequent travelers, just normal people that watch Good Morning America and the ABC Evening News. American’s response obviously didn’t reach them, and I fear didn’t reach many other travelers like them, who are now looking for other options.

  5. This is an example of how out of touch many in corporate America are. This isn’t only true of airlines. As companies grow, their structures get more complex, less flexible and less responsive to consumer needs and desires. I hope this is a wake up call to all airlines. One of the biggest complaints about the pre-Amtrak private passenger railroads was the lack of communication with the traveling public. So this kind of thing is nothing new. As an aside, one thing I often find interesting as I peruse airline and travel blogs is the apparent fixation with the on-board experience (i.e., food and in-flight entertainment) as opposed to getting from point A to point B safely.

    • SEAN says:

      You have a point. There’s a disconnect between corporate america & the rest of us. Look at Romney’s atempt at courting donations & his 47% comment. Many of those in his shoes have a similar worldview & bringing this back on topic, you can almost get the same impression by AA’s management style that safety & good workers come second to making money.

  6. Did I miss where this is happening with 757 seats in other airline fleets? I’ve only heard of AA so the public is going to think AA either has bad maintaince or as touched upon before, it’s workers (or another companies workers) are sabotaging the airline.

    It’s one thing to send or put out printed text, it means a whole other thing when the head of the airline is front and center explaining the situation to the public.

    I must have missed this notice sent out to AAdvantage members, the only thing I seem to get is the shop online and earn miles emails.

    Overall it was nice of Mr Backover to get in touch with Cranky, it does show at least some department is keeping up with what the ‘common’ folk are thinking/saying about their company. The heads of companies usually forget it’s the ‘common’ folk that pay their multi million dollar salaries and should be listen to.

  7. Jim A says:

    Excellent response Brent.
    AA PR was asleep at the wheel. Maybe they did not think these things were going to grab as many global news headlines but they did. The meek response from AA has been lost in the avalanche of hits.
    Even the pilots union has better PR, putting out virtually a daily release voicing the safety concerns of its members.

  8. Chicago Chris says:

    I echo the other posters. This is a clear example of American playing defense rather than offense. Reaching out and talking to “national media” is one thing, but the communications team should have been working on internally created videos showing the airline making repairs and talking with executives and front-liners about safety and posting it on YouTube to drive the point home to average consumers.

    As noted, many traditional media outlets did not receive comments from Campbell. A simple statement available on the news and information page would have sufficed so journalist can point to that. Part of the changing information climate means reaching customers on social media and driving home the point. Instead American just proved why it’s an airline stuck in old ways.

  9. drybean says:

    AA has always been very controlling of who it allows to speak to the press, too controlling. AA needs to realize they are no longer the largest carrier in the free world. AA cannot call the shots anymore. Don’s example of JetBlue’s CEO on the TODAY show is right on! Why wasn’t Tom Horton on GMA and the others the next morning? I am not sure, but I thought I heard some tear drops falling in Brett’s beer when he found out AA does not consider him “media or third-party industry observer”. But not to worry the Cranky Filer is on the list now. And AA could, should take PR lessons from Brett or from someone who knows because they are missing huge opportunities not just for damage control but also to repair their image.

    • CF says:

      drybean – No tear drops there at all. But I am curious how they define media and third party observer because I know of plenty of others who haven’t been contacted either. I really would like to know how they pick and choose.

      • Mary Kirby says:

        They sent their statements to select members of the media. The rest of us had to call American Airlines’ PR, have an email exchange with one of their reps, and request that they add us to the distribution list ‘for statements about the loose seats’.

  10. Martin says:

    I also side with Brett on this. I did not receive any AAdvantage communication from American, yet I flew them recently from Philadelphia where we experienced a significant delay which was never explained to passengers in the waiting area (causing a number to speculate on both safety and labor issues as a cause.) In fact, no employee showed up at the Boarding Gate until moments before the delayed inbound aircraft arrived. In Mr. Backover’s response to Cranky, he doesn’t mention any proactive contact with the Travel Agency community. I live in an American hub, and I know several Travel Agents who have stopped selling AA and are recommending their customers fly on alternative airlines for the foreseeable future. You’d think AA would want to communicate more closely with their partners selling them to avoid further revenue loss. Then again, they made more money in September thanks to the number of flights they cancelled, so maybe there is a method to their madness!

  11. Ed Kelty says:

    As an AAdvantage member, I did not receive any communication from AA. Guess I do not fly often enough with them since the bankruptcy.

    My question is why did the seats come loose? Was the contract for replacement seats defective in its specifications? Did the installer fail to follow the instructions? Did contracting-out make a difference? Where was the FAA in this process? The 757 is not my favorite plane, but I haven’t heard of this problem with other airlines.

    • drybean says:

      The letters only went to AAdvantage Gold, Platinum and Platinum Elite members. I guess AA was hoping less frequent flyers would not notice or those who live in a cave and do not fly at all!

      • CF says:

        drybean – I had someone send the email to me, so I didn’t realize it only went to elites. (I guess I should have since I’m a regular member and never got one either.) Oh man, that does make it even worse.

  12. RICH says:

    Just wondering if US Air will revamp the PR department when
    the Merger takes place later this year…

  13. Pingback: AA just loves to retaliate? | UXmilk

  14. David says:

    AA is full of crap. I am sitting on AA 2 right now, still at the gate at LAX after missing our scheduled departure time of 9:30 to JFK. Supposedly there is a maintenance log discrepancy that has required AA’s LA maintenance manager to come to the aircraft. I have chatted with the purser and she swears it is a legit issue, but i just suspect it is the pilot finding reasons to delay the flight that would have overlooked in better labor times. They have opened the doors to let people off and there is no updated departure time. I hope AA employees know that if they continue with these shenanigans there will be no airline left when e dust settles. Remind me to fly VX next time regardless of the extra cost.

  15. Mary Kirby says:

    AA has still not answered a number of questions about the multiple failures of these locking mechanisms. I asked American the following questions: “How old are the seat lock plunger mechanisms? And were these delivered with the original Weber seats (and from Weber or another supplier)?” I was not given a clear answer, and was told: “As far as the manufacturer, I haven?t been able to find someone to track that down.” AvGeeks will appreciate the irony of that response.

    • CF says:

      Mary – I was told by Andy that I would have another reply coming to answer some of my questions, and I’m still waiting for that. (I received an update this afternoon saying it was delayed and it would come in either tonight or tomorrow.) So the wheels seem to be turning very slowly (if at all). You’ll probably get an answer in 2013.

      But maybe they can’t track it down because there’s too much gunk in the way.

      • Mary Kirby says:

        Multiple failures of the same part signals a problem with both the part and the install process (or at least the oversight of the latter). These aircraft go into heavy checks every 24-30 months so the gunk excuse is a red herring.

  16. Cook says:

    Brett: I thought that Monday’s post about AA was spot-on. I also found no seriouis faults with your facts or your conclusions. I’m not surprised that AA too i ssue with a few things and communicated with you. (On the whole, they are very bright folks and the PR and communications folks are first rate.) I certainly understand the need to delete Mr. Backover’s personal contact details, but… If I had the ability to shoot a message directly to Mr. Backover, without the message passing through and be ing filtered by countless additional hands, hmm… I and a thousand or so others probably would have done so. I ha ve no desire to burn or blister Mr. Backover’s ears (or eyes in this case) there are a few things that he and his AA colleagues should hear, firectly from the paying public. In short, their carefully structured satisfaction surveys don’t reall tell them much and – their boilerplate responses to customers who do bother attempting to communicate with them, convey virtually zero information to the individual customer. Now, several days later, I’m sure that an adequate number of AA’s customers have been able to discover the proper links and have communicated with Mr. Backover, so I have no need to do so. (I’ll bet that got an earfull!) In time, we’ll see just how effective the responses from AA really were. For t he most part these days, I do not bother sending any feedback to a vendor such as AA, unless I have valid contact point(s) for a specific individual. And yes, I thought Monday’s post was entirely proper, properly civil and certainly got the airline’s attention. You are most certainly doing your job!! Best regards, -C.

  17. What I still find amazing is that there is no mention of this on AA’s homepage, either on the homepage or the “News & Information” page.

    Some folks such as myself are going to go directly to AA’s site to hear what AA is saying about the problems so there isn’t any other filtering layer above that.

    AA could release a timeline:
    Date/Time – Seat dislodgment on flight
    Date/Time – Grounding of 757 fleet for inspections
    Date/Time – Etc.

    Show us with raw data what is going on.

    This all being said I wonder if AA’s hands are tied by a criminal investigation into this issue? Even so information about what they did to correct an issue and address it would be invaluable.

    • CF says:

      Nick – How interesting. There was briefly a mention under the news and offers section but now it’s gone completely.

  18. Also, AA’s PR team is all over the doublespeak from the “Updates On Cancelled Or Delayed Flights”:

    You may be experiencing some cancellations or delays as a result of some of the operational challenges we have been experiencing in recent days. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused. Rest assured that we are doing everything possible to maintain the service levels that you expect.

    If that isn’t massaged protective committee speak I don’t know what is. AA needs to be honest about this here is how I’d rewrite it quickly:

    Many of our passengers have experienced delays or cancellations in the recent days. We are not meeting our internal goals of ontime arrival and flight completion. We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience and hardship this has caused our valued customers. Everyone at American values your business, and we recognize that you have a choice in carriers. We are doing everything possible to ensure your flights go as smoothly as possible.

    Sure, my version doesn’t say much more, but it says it in a way that has less doublespeak and doesn’t tweak people off by using the second person. (Saying “You may have..” is a way to piss people off when you’re doing customer service…

  19. Todd in IAD says:

    I just don’t see ole Andy fitting in at USAirways….

  20. SEAN says:

    Please cranky readers, if you missed that first sentence by AA PR, here it is again.

    Attention: Brett Snyder

    Dear Brett:

    We are avid readers of The Crankier [sic] Flier at American Airlines, particularly in the PR department.

    That’s right, butchering the name of the blog & calling him sick as a means to discredit Brett’s reporting & treat him as if he’s not worthy of the information on what’s going on at AA. Shameful!

    • D-ROCK says:

      [sic] Was added by Brett as it means “[sic] dicates that the quotation has been transcribed exactly as found in the original source, complete with any erroneous spelling or other nonstandard presentation” This means Brett quoted “Crankier” even though that is not correct.

      • SEAN says:

        Thanks, I couldn’t see that. The placement of that word gave that impression. Also keep in mind in todays corporate doublespeak, you need to find a way to deflect & disparage those who might upset the applecart no matter how correct they might be. That is why Brett got that defensive letter despite the facts at hand.

    • CF says:

      Yes, I added [sic] to note that it was an error that was quoted directly and not fixed. I usually just fix small errors where the meaning is clear, but I just had to include this one. I did get a follow up email apologizing for the typo.

  21. Brian says:

    I’d like to note that I am an AAdvantage member (and I do get emails from American), but I did not get an email from American regarding the recent events.

  22. Matthew Gulino says:

    Brett,

    You’re 100% right about their PR response. I’m flying home in November on a few AA flights, and my mother is nervous about it. Now, as an educated flier, I know the risk is really no greater than at any other time – but to her, the uninformed casual traveller it looks like the sky is falling over at AA. Apparently, they’re in denial about that!

  23. Jesse says:

    It’s given actually since most of your subscribers are frequent flyers and are concern always with their safety especially when traveling.

  24. Kate says:

    Brett, obviously AA DID consider you and the Cranky Flier to be part of the media – and important. Or why else read it “avidly”??

  25. Danwriter says:

    I’m a member of the media but who needs a press release when I have a flight attendant in F during a delay DFW-DEN loudly commiserating with pax about the outsourcing of maintenance to China? This is a deeply, deeply unhappy labor force.

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