The Final Response From American (I Promise)

I’m not one for deviating from my usual posting schedule here on the blog, but I didn’t want to take up another scheduled posting slot to deal with American logothe ongoing back and forth between me and American. After all, it has already consumed two posts this week. (See my first post asking why American hasn’t calmed safety fears and American’s response.) But, I did get one more thoughtful reply from Andy Backover, VP of Communications for American and I thought you’d all like to see it.

Regarding calling the blog “The Crankier Flier,” he said “CRANKY!!! ..Bangs head on keyboard, shakes fist at typos.” But far more importantly, he addresses many of the questions I put forth in the post yesterday, so I’m republishing the relevant pieces of that letter with the responses to my questions. You can always reference back to Thursday for the full text of the original letter. So here is my special Friday afternoon post. Take a read, and leave your comments down below as always.

Dear Brett (and the entire Cranky Flier community): I had hoped to respond to some of Brett’s follow up questions and comments, which I thought were insightful, and I am happy to do so now (in red below). I also have been reading with great interest your views and comments and all I can say is that I am always hoping to learn from the experience and do a better job as a result. You certainly have given me a lot of fodder to consider for the future and for that I say “thank you.” For those of you who have flown or plan to fly American, we are grateful for your business and loyalty. Sincerely, Andy

Andy Backover
Vice President – Communications
American Airlines

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?

This is an area in which we’re working on improving. I consider Cranky Flier to be both a news site as well as a third-party observer and an opinion site — so, very much an influencer in the worlds of aviation and travel. In my view, absolutely we should have been providing you with these updates. We now have a communications professional who focuses on providing information to industry analysts and commentators, and our Social Media team is working to identify more and more consumer advocates in the Social space to make sure that they, too, have access to necessary information. The line is clearly blurring between media and influencers, and we need to continue to evolve our team and strategy as a result. Over time, I think we will make sure that we have the broadest possible distribution.

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.

We used Dave with as many wire, print, digital and broadcast outlets as was feasible in a relatively short amount of time. If you look at some of the coverage results, Dave’s comments were carried by Bloomberg and AP, and wire stories were picked up by USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, The Washington Post and by national/international broadcast outlets such as CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC (either online and/or actual broadcast stories). In addition, this week we released our September traffic/revenue results, which were closely watched for any revenue impact associated with the operational and seat issues. That traffic/revenue coverage, which was abundant, understandably included mention of the seat issues but not many mentions, if at all, of Dave Campbell. I am not sure a press release last week quoting Dave would have changed that dynamic. In addition, on Monday, when American CEO Tom Horton was in NYC for a oneworld event (representing American and as the chairman of oneworld), we set up interviews between Tom and reporters from AP, Financial Times and the New York Times – intended so that we could reach a broad and a global audience. Both AP and FT wrote stories based on those interviews, during which Tom very much focused on customers. He also acknowledged that, while the operation has improved, it is not to the level that customers expect and deserve. I would like to add one observation about the traditional media you referenced. Much has been said about the challenges of traditional news organizations as the growth of new channels and voices has made information more of a commodity. But I think it is also important to note that Social Media, particularly twitter, is giving traditional media outlets impressive new ways to reach audiences. In fact, I asked my Social team to pull some data on the amount of impressions we made in Social Media through “news” articles containing Dave Campbell’s name that were tweeted, or retweeted, or appeared in any social channel, and our analytics tool calculated 5.6 million potential impressions.

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.

Yes, you are right and we are working to improve this. If you are not on our list for proactive outreach from us, we should absolutely fix that right away as I mentioned. I know we have worked quite a bit with CF in the past. Whether our outreach includes a press release will be determined by the situation and circumstances at hand.

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?

Our social media team was working tirelessly assisting customers affected during this period. We saw an increase in the volume of social chatter, particularly on twitter, and the team was focused on helping individual customers with advice, information and rebooking throughout. Once our public statement was released, the social team shared it with customers primarily on twitter and facebook. We considered posting the media statement to our facebook community as a public message, but given how fluid the situation was, the customer communications strategy was to create a central page, with an ‘orange alert’ on the home page, where information would be hosted and updated regularly. The page was linked from multiple communications channels, including social, to ensure consistent information to the customer. We determined not to make a public facebook post as we simply did not have enough detailed information – which was evolving as our investigation continued — to publicly respond to the diverse range of questions and discussion that a public post generates.

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.

Thanks for acknowledging the efforts of our customer response teams. Those folks are working hard to take care of customers. When the communications team put together the updates on the 757 issue that we shared with external audiences, we also made sure that our colleagues in AAdvantage customer service and Reservations had that information to share with customers. I already mentioned the personal responses on Social Media. In addition, we shared all of the relevant updates with our Corporate Sales and Strategic Alliances teams, so they could communicate with corporate customers and alliance partners. Our procedure is to ensure all of our people who interact with customers have the information they need, so we are communicating consistently, quickly and with the latest information. That’s one of my department’s key roles internally. I also very much agree that it’s critical that we reach customers through our public relations efforts. We’ve worked to do that this week, having Tom talk to a variety of media and provide operational updates so the progress we’re making can be widely understood. That will continue to be a priority in the weeks ahead.

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?

As I mentioned, we are rapidly expanding the universe of media and industry experts with whom we communicate regularly. I hope to fill your inbox with information going forward.

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.

See answer above related to AAdvantage customer service, Reservations, alliance partners, and Sales.

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 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.

You bet! The great thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice. Thanks for allowing me to address this important issue with your readers.

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