A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Cranky Network Awards

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If you missed last night’s Cranky Network Awards presented by Ontario International Airport, you missed one heck of a show. But hey, don’t feel too sad about it. After all, you can still watch a replay of the 40 minute show right here whenever you’re ready.

Courtney Miller from Visual Approach Analytics and I spent a lot of time trying to craft categories that would be positive in nature while still making sure we kept some of the usual Cranky snark. It was a fine line, and we hope you agree that we were able to walk that tightrope. With so much that went into the creation of this, I thought it might be interesting to walk through the show and talk about decisions we made and how we made them.

First, we had to decide on geography. Since Cranky Network Weekly focuses on the US and Canada, we decided that would be a good focus for this too. But we also knew that it would weigh heavily into the US since Canada has basically been shut down this year. We hope next year will be different, though we still won’t likely go beyond those borders. It gets too unwieldy.

Once we had the award categories picked out, we had to choose the winners. I’ll talk about how we did that in each category below. Then we had to do something to make sure that this was taken more seriously than just another throwaway online awards program with some silly digital badge. First we had to reach out to the winners to make sure they would participate, and we received an enthusiastic response from nearly all of them. I say “nearly,” because Delta was the one that hesitated before it finally declined. We weren’t going to change any winners even if they said no; that would cheapen the awards and take away from their legitimacy. We just had to find a different way to talk about it. For the rest, we had to decide how exactly to honor them.

After getting Ontario International Airport onboard as a presenting sponsor, we were able to move ahead with crafting some pretty nice glass trophies, if I do say so myself. Thanks to University Trophies right here in Long Beach, we were able to put it together quickly and get it shipped off to the winners. We only asked for two things from them — a promise not to talk about it until the show AND a short acceptance video we could display. Everyone obliged except for JetBlue which seems to have had its plan quashed after the comms team discussed it. That was a shame.

Court and I carefully crafted a script that had revision after revision once the acceptance videos started coming in. We didn’t give much direction to the winners except to say that this was a more casual event… winners could wear a tux or an aloha shirt if they wanted. There were no hard and fast rules. As you saw, the airlines all took different approaches, and that made for a lot of fun.

The Opening Video

I took my wife and kids up to In-N-Out at LAX for a little pandemic lunch break, and I had a plan to get my kids to do a little video saying something about how this was boring and they wanted to leave. They didn’t want any part of it. So, I just had my wife film me wandering around. I had an idea of what I was going to say, but I didn’t know which airplane was coming next. I figured it would be Delta or Southwest on that side of the airport, and whichever it was, the script would have ended the same way. Delta just came up first. In the end, I found the music, timed a script to line up with the video, and there we had it.

The Intro

We initially said we wanted to do something that had a little 1970s award show cheese, and so Court dug into music options before settling on the main theme which was appropriately titled “Flight over LA.” We filmed that intro as a Zoom meeting, and then Court coaxed his computer to replace the backgrounds. Unfortunately, you can see a little bit of white halo around me and a red one around him thanks to the colors of our original backgrounds. Still, he did a great job getting that together, or at least his computer did. I think we both feared it was going to just explode on him and surrender.

Side note… anyone recognize the airplane we’re sitting on? That is a factory-fresh Southwest 737-800 getting its new interior. I took that photo when they brought me up to Everett to see the airplane back in 2016. It just happened to be at the right angle and had no identifiable branding, so it was perfect for our purposes.

Sexiest Route – Long Haul AND Short-Haul

We knew we wanted a “best new route” category, but we wanted it to be different and we wanted to separate out by short vs. long haul. We started by first identifying the nominees. How? It wasn’t easy. Since we opted to go with “sexy” as our off-beat descriptor, we first had to find the universe of available routes. As you can imagine, it was tough finding things announced in 2020, so we included routes announced in 2019 that wouldn’t start until later. That was a one-time thing. Next year, it will have had to be announced in 2021 to be eligible.

Finding the routes wasn’t easy. We pulled Cirium data to identify routes that were scheduled to start in 2020 or 2021, but then we had to go and find when they were actually announced which wasn’t simple. We looked at the final joint list and came up with the 3,000 mile divider since that seemed to be the right split between short-haul and long-haul services.

For Hawaiian, we liked both the Orlando and Austin routes, but there’s not much sexy about Orlando, so Austin it was. Keep in mind, we weren’t basing this on performance. Some of these haven’t even been started yet. We just considered routes that we thought had a good chance to succeed.

For short-haul, we had to throw a joke in there since Southwest had added so many routes this year that could never be considered sexy. Sorry, Mississippi, but Jackson was the one that floated to the top. On the opposite end was Loreto, a unique spot that Alaska has served for years. American adding it to the network really opened it up to the US, and that was a clear winner in my eyes.

Stretch Award

This award was tricky. As we said, we wanted to make this a positive honor and not a “what are they thinking?” kind of award. We chose the nominees carefully, and we tried to present this in the right light. To us, JetBlue’s flights from LAX were really clever, even if we had our doubts about viability. We wanted to award that willingness to do something risky and counterintuitive as a way to stand out and push forward. Our initial discussion with JetBlue was very positive, and they were ready to do it. The comms team told us where to send the trophy, and we waited for a video. It never came. After missing promised dates, I received a note from someone on the comms team that was effectively a p.s. at the end of a response about the American partnership.

Separately, we aren’t going to be able to get you a video for the award you emailed about. I don’t want to hold you up on this any longer.

There was no explanation given, but it seemed pretty clear that someone in comms had quashed it. We couldn’t just ignore that, so we… had a little fun with that.

Network Victory Award

The idea behind this award was like a “lifetime achievement award” at a regular awards ceremony. We didn’t want to have nominees. It was more about diving into data, finding something that did well, and then creating an award for it. After looking at a couple of different things, we landed on United’s Cape Town route fairly early on. Patrick Quayle did that excellent acceptance video, and yes, that is real whisky he’s drinking there. The man in charge of sending widebodies all over the world for an international-focused airline deserves more whisky than most of us these days.

Firestarter Award

This was the other award we had to be careful about. You can see how someone might think of this as being negative if it’s not presented appropriately, and again, we did everything we could to convey that this was positive. In some of these cases, the winners wouldn’t have been thrilled. I mean, Delta and WestJet certainly didn’t want to fight the US government. And that’s why we picked Delta as the winner for the chain of events it set off in Latin America with its LATAM deal. Delta should be proud of that effort at the time, and when I first told Delta comms, it was received positively. Unfortunately, after two and a half weeks of not committing one way or they other, they decided they didn’t like a post I wrote about them, and they would no longer consider accepting the award. So, there’s that.

That was probably the lowest point of this whole thing for me. Again, we were trying to recognize those who were doing good and interesting things, and that shouldn’t have been held hostage just because of something I wrote on a completely different topic. I don’t have any close contacts at higher levels in the alliances/network world at Delta, so I hadn’t spoken to anyone in that area directly. I don’t even know if they were aware of the award. That is a real shame. I still have the trophy here, so if those behind the LATAM deal want to send me a note, I’d be happy to send it out.

Best New Partnership

You can tell we had to stretch a little on this one. Korean and Asiana? That’s more like a forced acquisition. And while we liked the Air Canada and Etihad frequent flier partnership, it’s not quite in the same league as some of the others. In the end, we decided against American and JetBlue because very little of that partnership was known in 2020, but I think it’s safe to say it’ll be nominated again next year. And while American and Alaska had been partners before, this was clearly a very substantial and new partnership agreement that we wanted to recognize.

This was the one award that went to two airlines, and the juxtaposition of the two award speeches continues to crack me up. We told everyone to keep it light if they wanted and have fun with it. Vasu, being Vasu, did exactly that and razzed us in a way we thoroughly enjoyed, not too mention setting us up perfectly for that PSP money joke. Nat, on the other hand, put together this amusing but highly professional video with some quality production value. They were both so good yet so opposite, which was perfect for celebrating a partnership.

Most Clever Flight Number

I considered this category an investment. Yes, some of these flight numbers are obvious for what they are, and as commenters noted in earlier teaser posts, some of these have been around for ages at multiple airlines, like 1492 in Columbus. We knew it would be like that in the first year, but the goal was to get airlines to open up and tell us about some of their meanginful but less obvious flight numbers for future years. The acceptance speech from Southwest shows exactly what I’m talking about. We can’t wait to get more stories from people next with some more unexpected entries. Start sending them now!

Airlines We Lost Video

When I came up with the idea of the awards show, the very first thing I did was put together this Airlines We Lost video based on the annual post I write. It just seemed so funny to me, and I found the most ridiculous video clips for the overlay. That was what really got this whole idea moving in the first place.

Best New Destination

Unlike the “sexy” route awards, this was about a city instead of a route. We went searching through Cirium data for destinations that hadn’t been served nonstop from the US or Canada before but had begun recently, and we didn’t come up with much. So we expanded to include destinations that had hadn’t been flown since 2015 and were returning. In the end, Bucaramanga was just a clear winner. We had never heard of the place before, but upon looking into it, it looks like a spectacular spot. Presumably this is just Spirit leaning on its ability to carry a great deal of VFR traffic to Colombia from South Florida. Opening up a route like this can also open up tourism and create awareness of new places. That is exciting, and it’s exactly the kind of thing we wanted to award.

Once we got the acceptance speech, we knew we had chosen correctly. I mean, that’s some real enthusiasm there with the most incredible tux jacket. Now we just hope the financial performance supports the route.

Most Improved Network

To me this was always going to be the big award. After all, it’s easy if you’re handed down a great route network, but what can you actually do to improve it during the year? Considering everything that happened during 2020, there were a lot of worthy candidates. Network teams worked overtime to clear a path toward… losing less money. But the sheer scale of what Southwest did last year couldn’t be beat. It’s remarkable, and the airline just keeps going. Whether this is the right move for the airline or not isn’t really the question. There are far more people who are now connected into the Southwest network than before, and those already in the network have a whole bunch of new destinations. It improved its network most.

Worst Airline Ever

I know we touted this as an award, but it was never really going to be handed out. I always thought of this kind of like Matt Damon on Jimmy Kimmel. We would just tease it, run out of time, and then ultimately include Alitalia, because… well it just had to be done. Besides, who would actually accept this award anyway? Nobody.

Wrapping It Up

We had such a good time putting this together, but I think we’re both more excited about doing this in person next year. There’s nothing more fun than getting together with a bunch of network geeks, talking shop, and drinking. We’re excited to do it in partnership with Ontario International Airport, and we just need to make sure we can actually do something in person next year. I’m feeling confident that’ll be possible.

In the meantime, I want to thank our sponsors one last time. We really appreciate the involvement in an unknown event like this one since it’s just getting started. So in addition to Ontario International Airport, thank you TheAirchive.net, The Airplane Shop, Gigapoints, and Turbulence Forecast. We hope you’ll join us again as sponsors next year, and we also hope that now that we’ve set the tone, more sponsors will be interested in joining the party.

21 comments on “A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Cranky Network Awards

  1. Thanks for producing such a great event, Brett & Courtney. It was great to watch, and more entertaining than I was expecting, especially the acceptance speeches… I was very glad (and pleasantly surprised) that the airlines’ comms teams let their network people have some fun and hit more casual tones with the acceptance speeches, especially after 2020, when almost everyone needs something to smile about. Despite the production being compiled from different clips shot and submitted over time, the overall tone felt pretty unified.

    I hope that the Crankies (or would it be “Crankys”?) will become a coveted award for recipients and a fun annual tradition for the airline and avgeek community, and look forward to next year’s show.

    1. Here here. In fact I would like to propose a new category for next years award presentation, best new airport terminal. This would be baste on design, estetics & functionality/ usability. As so many airport terminals are in serious need of updating or replacement, why not reward those projects that get things right or do something new & innovative.

      1. Good point. Wouldn’t hurt to have at least one airport award, provided that ONT (or another airport sponsoring Cranky) wasn’t in the running. The airport award could focus not only on a project that improved the airport, but also consider how well the project met its time, budget, and scope goals.

        Not sure if there would be enough options to choose from, but I’d also like to see airlines recognized & encouraged for efforts at unconventional/creative partnerships with non-airline companies, such as coordinating schedules with bus/shuttle/rail services.

        1. You could also add special & unique features such as DTW’s light tunnel between concourses A, B & C as part of that category. This way there’s enough breath without becoming unmanageable. And yes, budgeting, quality of work & value for money spent must be factored in .

          1. I agree, an airport focused award would be fun, whether it’s a new feature, new functionality, new terminal, new multimodal connection or whatever Brett’s creative mind can think of!

            In advance of this, I’d like to nominate the new north end pier at DCA to eliminate the dreaded gate 35X in which American ran a greyhound style bus service to and from RJs parked on the tarmac.

    1. Noah – Well, I’m going to wait and see if anyone from that team at Delta contacts me. I’d love to get it into their hands if I can.

  2. That was beautiful and it was great that a lot of the award winners were watching too! This is now on my “things to look forward to each year” list.

  3. I didn’t correctly predict the winner for any category, but it was incredibly fun to watch.

    I was impressed/shocked that so many of the airlines sent you acceptance speeches. That by itself was half the fun… getting a glimpse of the different corporate cultures of each airline, beyond what you see at the airport. Even the ones who didn’t send a video said something.

  4. I would be happy to accept the award on behalf of Delta. I have no professional connection to the airline, but I am a SkyMiles member so I think I am part of the Delta family :-).

  5. What were the airport backgrounds? some were clearly obvious, others not so much. What did you pick? You could make it a quiz for the viewers at home and give the winner the DL statue since they don’t want it ;-) Serious question though.

    1. Mike – I knew someone would ask this question! The backgrounds were: @3:50 – I believe Court took that landing in Calgary on an E75 @6:14 – I took that ages ago in Terminal 2 at LAX. I think this might have been for an Air Canada flight @9:03 – That is a Qantas A380 which I think I took when they brought the airplane for a visit at LAX @11:27 – That is Las Vegas Terminal 3, Concourse E which I’m sure was taken when I was flying JetBlue to or from Long Beach @16:06 – That’s Chicago/O’Hare Terminal 3 and its iconic flags @19:10 – I took this at the TWA Hotel at JFK on my last pre-pandemic trip @25:40 – Those beautiful wood beams make up the old Alaska hangar at Anchorage from when I visited a few years ago @28:08 – That lovely rear view is of an American MD-80 in a hangar at DFW when I did that all night tour @31:45 – I took this photo when I was very sad… preparing to board that 757-300 to leave Kona and head home

  6. Well done CF! Was hoping Seattle-Bangalore or Seattle-Doha (just started) would have made the secy long haul list – oh well. Cheers!

  7. I was hoping for LAX – CHC to win best new long haul. The South Island of New Zealand is absolutely amazing.

    I was bummed that Delta was such a spoilsport with their award. That move is huge (especially for someone who is a Delta Medallion).

  8. In addition to Bucaramanga, it’s interesting to note that of the 7 cities Spirit serves in Colombia, Armenia (AXM) is unique as well.

  9. The black and white clip at the LAX In-N-Out was awesome! Especially the part where you try to put the burger in your mouth with the mask on. Made me LOL!

  10. Disappointed to not see some Spirit love in the flight number award! Spirit has had “area code” flights for a decade! 202 and 667 between BWI and DFW, 954 LAS-FLL, 777 back to LAS, etc. Or my favorite one where network planning made the flight between FLL and the Director’s home town flight 1! And as a station manager I was called and asked “What is your favorite number?” and it became the flight number between my city and my home town. Nominees for next year!

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