You wouldn’t be foolish for wondering if American Airlines was throwing everything against the wall lately, just hoping something would stick. But I’m going to give American Airlines a bit more credit.
Yesterday, I discussed AA’s mad dash to innovate, including new longhaul service from Seattle and new partnerships with Alaska, GOL, and Qatar Airways.
Is there a coherent logic tying together these distinct moves?
I’d say YES. The goal is to offer an alternative to Delta.
First, American Airlines finally woke up and realized that the status quo was not only failing to produce progress, it was actually regressive. Stockholders? Angry. Employees? Angry. Passengers? Angry.
But while that should have prompted change years ago, it was Delta’s poaching of LATAM that was the straw the broke the camel’s back.
What else prompted the mad scramble to partner with GOL and Alaska?
It was a belief that AA was being left behind; that Delta was not only growing in stature and profitability, but doing so at the direct expense of AA.
The link-up with Alaska Airlines makes a lot of sense. Alaska is a west coast carrier with strategic service to Hawaii, New York, and Washington, DC. American Airlines is a carrier that is weak in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a positive match for consumers too, especially if Alaska maintains that basic structure of its Mileage Plan program.
What about Qatar Airways? How did this come about after American so derisively spoke of its oneworld partner for many years? Part of it, I suspect, was the collapse of Air Italy. With Air Italy’s collapse, so collapsed the narrative that Qatar Airways would sustain an airline hemorrhaging money. But while that may have been the final impetus for the link-up, American Airlines recognized the untapped potential it had to put Qatar Airways passengers on its own metal. Passengers love Qatar Airways. Why shouldn’t American Airlines be the feeder to/from Qatar’s U.S. gateways?
Now AA Management Must Inspire Employees
The strategy is in place. But that’s not the entire battle. All the partnerships in the world don’t build much sustaining loyalty if employees hate their jobs or resent management. It always shows…there is no way to hide it. Capitulation, like the foolish move to proactively offer raises instead of saving that carrot for contract negotiations, isn’t enough. If employees are well-paid but don’t see direction, they will flounder. I’ve seen that in my own work and I’ve certainly witnessed it as an observer of the airline industry.
Inspiration starts with communication. Management must be transparent about its goals and expectations and win the confidence of its employees by following through on its words. That starts with inking labor contracts, but doesn’t end there. Front-line employees need a product they are proud of; not a product they must apologize to customers for.
As much as we can fault AA for taking so long to move, at least it is now moving. Some of its recent moves, like the announced build up in Miami and partnership with GOL, are defensive. Others, like its build-up in Boston and Seattle, are offensive. AA’s inertia wasn’t enough to keep pace with Delta and even United.
We’ll have to wait and see what sticks. Maybe Seattle to Bangalore will work, maybe it won’t. Maybe AA’s expansion to more markets in Central Europe is smart, maybe the revenue just isn’t there.
But recognizing the problem and emulating success (i.e., Delta) is not a stupid strategy.
And every single move American Airlines has made lately has the potential to make a better airline for investors, employees, and customers.
Now AA needs to sell this new and fresh vision to employees, reminding them that they are a critical component in changing AA’s direction in a positive way.
image: American Airlines