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.
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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.
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?