An influential labor leader at American Airlines has called out management over AA’s onboard product in a leaked note that has caused an uproar within world’s largest airline.
Infighting: Union Leader Has “Had It” With American Airlines
Delta Air Lines has long been seen as the premium U.S. airline and United Airlines announced intentions to pursue a more premium offering last week when it unveiled a plan to retrofit the interiors of all its mainline single-aisle jets to include new lighting, larger overhead bins, faster wi-fi, power plugs, and screens at every seat.
With that subtext, John Nikides, the Los Angeles Base President of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, sent a note to management (CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom).
I’ll be honest. I’ve had it with this company. After months of flying around on broken airplanes, offering a less-than-mediocre product, it is obvious to me that upper management has effectively destroyed the brand. Not only have you destroyed it, you remain tone-deaf, refusing to listen to those on the front lines who really wanted to see this airline succeed as a competitor to Delta and United.
A perfect case in point was last month’s Crew News, where a flight attendant asked about United’s plan to add seatback IFE to all planes.
A woman with a British accent, ostensibly involved in decision-making with regard to on-board entertainment, answered with one of the most unengaged answers I have ever heard from management. She said that management likes the content we offer via streaming and left it at that.
Real managers would have added, “but we are always examining different options.” Instead her insulting answer shut down all discussion. This is symptomatic of our absolutely intransigent, uninterested, tone-deaf management. No wonder our product is at bargain basement levels.
Never have I been more embarrassed to work for this company than now.
In some sense, my first reaction to this note is “don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.” As the late Donald Rumsfeld once said:
“You go to war with the Army you have not the Army you might wish you have.”
And there’s certainly a degree of truth in that: flight attendants must work with the tools given to them and complaining about a management decision to stream IFE instead of use seatback TVs in such harsh terms seems a bit counterproductive, as does complaining about a British accent. It serves to create an even more toxic environment than currently exists on AA.
On the other hand, you cannot help but admire the tenacity of addressing a concerning trend of AA management being tone deaf to customer and employee demands and indeed seeming to waffle on a strategic vision for the airline emerging from the pandemic: how will AA compete in our changed world?
Thus far, it seems, the answer will be more of the status quo. Responding to the note, an AA spokesperson told View From The Wing:
Feedback from customers on our inflight entertainment options and high-speed Wi-Fi has been very positive. More than 90% of our customers bring their own electronic devices onboard with access to our library of 600+ titles of movies and TV for free. American has more aircraft equipped with the highest speed Wi-Fi than any other U.S. carrier and will have power at every seat this fall. Empowering customers to stream content on their own devices allows us to provide fresh, diverse and innovative content that is updated frequently.
Yes, we all have smart phones these days. But when we cannot watch a movie because there are no power plugs, it is not very helpful…hopefully that part will at least change. I’m also not sure why seatback screens would prohibit American Airlines from providing “fresh, diverse and innovative content that is updated frequently.”
American Airlines does find itself in a difficult situation and this scathing note nicely highlights it. As AA emerges from the pandemic, it must assert a vision and then defend that vision, even if it is not what most employees want. There are valid commercial reasons not to follow United and Delta and install seatback screens. But engaging with employees instead of snippy responses is key to rallying flight attendants and pilots to support the airline, which will translate to better service onboard. It’s all about leadership.