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You frequent fliers will call me a fool for even thinking that I could reason with the CEO of a major airline. You’re right – I couldn’t even reach him.
I’m a multimillion-mile airmule, with the bulk of my hauls being made on American Airlines. I have stuck with American over the years because its frontline people are terrific – check-in staff, flight attendants, mechanics, and all others I’ve dealt with.
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These days, however, air travel has all the joy of a real mule train. Even though American and others have regained the profitability they lost after 9-11, the honchos have fired so many people and cut so many flights and services that planes are over-jammed, delays are the norm, and the remaining workers are severely strained and stressed. Also, it has not helped frontline morale that top executives have padded their own pay with multimillion-dollar bonuses while refusing to let employees recoup some of the cuts they were forced to take in the bad times.
So, I wrote to Mr. Gerard Arpey, American’s top dog. It was a positive message. “My letter is not to complain,” I wrote, “but an attempt to engage your personal attention, to urge you to focus your creative executive talent on making American the industry leader in customer service.” I called on him “to reinvest in your frontline people,” so they have the support they need to make flying pleasant again.
Gerard did not respond. Instead, a PR staffer sent an email full of cheery, corporate-promoting boilerplate about how American values feedback from all customers and how it tries hard to make employees be friendly and helpful. “Thank you again for writing,” he concluded.
I might as well have tried teaching opera to a pig. He shouldn’t try to push it off on workers – American Airline’s problem is not with its employees, but with the executives in charge. If Gerard can’t even answer a well-intentioned letter honestly – how can he run an airline?
“Letter to Gerard Arpey, President and CEO of American Airlines, from Jim Hightower,” October 31, 2007
“Email to Jim Hightower from P. Barnholdt, Customer Relations for American Airlines,” November 7, 2007
“Will fliers ever smile or are U.S. airlines destined to disappoint?” USA Today, October 17, 2007