As you can probably imagine, the folks at American disagreed with my post on Monday which 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.
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
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.
Vice President – Communications