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Steven Frischling
Live: HVN
Work: JFK-SFO-CDG-HKG
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Steven Frischling, aka: Fish, is globe hopping professional photographer, airline emerging media consultant working with large global airlines and founder of The Travel Strategist. Fish has racked up more than 1,000,000 miles since he started to track his mileage in 2005.

Fish's travel tends to be less than leisurely, including flying from New York to Basrah, Iraq, for six hours; Hong Kong for eight hours, Kuwait City for two hours and traveling around the world in 3.5 days to shoot a series of photo assignments in 4 cities and 4 countries on 3 separate continents.

Fish grew up at the end of New York's JFK International Airport's Runway 4R/22L, which probably explains his enjoyment of watching planes, fly overhead. When not shooting photos or traveling Fish designs camera bags, hones is expertise on airline security and spends his time at home cheering for the Red Sox with his 3 kids 102 yards from the ocean.

American Airlines – Part I – Today & Tomorrow

(For Disclosure: American Airlines Granted Me Access To The Flights & Facilities Of My Choosing Beyond What ‘The General Public’ Would Be Allowed Or Offered. AA & Its Parent Company AMR Have No Input Into What I Am Writing)

It is easy to look back into an airline’s history, or any company’s history, and pick it apart, but all that matters to any company fighting for survival is where they are today and where they are headed tomorrow.  It is no secret that American Airlines, once the World’s largest airline, has fallen to the third largest in the United States, lost US$1,980,000,000 in 2011, is in bankruptcy and is fending off what is essentially a hostile merger by US Airways.

 

In early May I spent a number of days inside the American Airlines network, speaking with executives to rampers, corporate communications to gate agents, pilots to station managers, tower controllers to flight attendants and anyone else I could find in Hartford, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago to get a better sense of where the airline is and where it is going, not as seen from public looking in, or news articles focusing on one aspect of the airline depict it, but from the perspective of inside out.   There are many aspects to an airline operations, revenue and future that are not glamourous and rarely catch the eye of the public, but with millions of dollars being saved or revenue generated they are an important part of the airline’s future.

 

I expected American Airlines’ corporate communications handlers to shield me from freely seeking out people to speak with and was prepared to be stonewalled by the front-line staff because of tense issues between labour and management. While I found some people interested in discussing labour relations, which is not what I was researching, what I encountered was people on all sides of the airline focused in the same direction of moving forward for the betterment of the company and an improved passenger experience.

 

American Airlines, today, is moving itself forward. The airline has committed to innovation and change in its operations and exploring new revenue channels in ways other airlines have not developed yet, or pursued to their fullest extent. While innovation is good, the timing for American Airlines was to late and not enough to keep it from bankruptcy, but it has found a way to move forward, which is important to survive bankruptcy and take over.

 

As American Airlines moves forward to exit bankruptcy the airline’s customer satisfaction is increasing. This increase has to do with improved terminals,  reduced lost and delayed bags, redesign of check in lobbies that make the process quicker, an increase in customer service and customer support, a more in depth understanding of the airline’s frequent flyers and what has been described by travelers as a change in attitudes towards passengers.

 

What sits on the horizon for American Airline, looming like a black cloud, is the company’s emersion from bankruptcy and US Airways seeking to merge with the weakened airline.   While on paper the US Airways merger makes sense, and has won the backing of a number of the American Airlines’ unions the reality of this merger could kill what American Airlines has been moving towards, inside and out.

 

While US Airways’ CEO Doug Parker promises the American Airlines name will remain, should a merger occur, what is more important than a name is the corporate culture, alliances and customer products.   American Airlines has been increasing its premium products, even while announcing its removal of first class from some international aircraft; the overall premium products, soft product and hard product are increasing, while US Airways has been steadily focusing on aspects other than premium passengers or customer service.

 

The merging of the two airlines would result in two combined organizations, with 117,000 employees, two sets of management and three different internal airline labour cliques that do not play well among each other, what would outwardly suffer would be the passenger experience.  Customer service is paramount at one airline and seemingly an afterthought at another airline.

 

Despite the theoretical merged airline adopting its headquarters at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, retaining the American Airlines name, the US Airways management teams will take over the carrier … and historically … would result in a significant internal divide that would last a very long time.

 

So what needs happen if US Airways forcibly merges with American Airlines?

 

Should a merger occur, US Airways’ fiscal management needs to take the reigns.  US Airways has proven time and time again they are superior at turning a profit, while at the same time alienating many of their passengers.  While US Airways fiscal masterminds take control, the American Airlines name and brand must be put forward, as well as allowing the company’s innovations, customer service, marketing and premium products to continue growing.

 

Yes, Mr. Parker says American Airlines would be the surfing name … the reality is that American Airlines must be the surviving brand.

 

Today the airline is in trouble, but tomorrow, the airline has a brighter future either on its own or as the surviving brand in a merger, rather than being taken up and discarded.

 

Having spent years flying within the US Airways network and spending an  intense number of days within the American Airlines network, the passenger experiences on the ground and in the air were considerably different.

 

As I was left to my own devices to largely explore each American Airlines hub, unescorted in the public areas, I found the focus at every gate, on every flight, in each terminal was on putting the customer first. Yes, there were exceptions to this rule, but a corporate culture is being built that despite fractures between management and the front line, the frustration is not taken out on the passengers.

 

Can American Airlines survive on its own?  It’s parent company holds the exclusive rights to present that case to the bankruptcy court, but the airline has made wise decisions on updating its facilities, rejuvenating its fleet and creating new revenue streams.

 

Overall what American Airlines is doing today is not what would be expected from an airline going through bankruptcy.

 

Over the next few days I will discuss different aspects of American Airlines that are generally not seen by the public that are generating revenue, reducing costs, increasing efficiencies and improving the customer experience … because where the airline is today is not what you see when you enter the terminal, set foot on the plane or read a new story. There is much more setting the airline apart from what ‘what was’ and ‘what is.’

 

Below are a few photos shot while exploring American Airlines.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

 

 

 

13 Responses

  1. How much have been paid (or promised to be paid) by American Airlines (or any agency/representative or intermediary for American Airilnes) this year?

  2. Fish,

    I’m looking forward to reading more. Keep it coming!

  3. aadvantagegeek

    Great post. I’ve been looking forward to your series, can’t wait to read the rest!!

  4. Carl,

    I have not been paid anything, compensated in anyway, or given any favours from American Airlines or AMR. I spent a month working on getting the access to airline I was seeking. I was unable to meet with MRO because of labour issues, so it was the one door that was slammed on me.

    I have been writing about AA’s bankruptcy for some time, shredded the airline as it entered bankruptcy and have written about the potential AA/US merger more than once, always from the same point of view based on research.

    AA and AMR have no control over what I am writing. I went into this research looking for specific answers and walked out with a different perspective in many ways.

    I also hold no status on AA, my only status with any U.S. airline is with Delta and my last paid seats have all been on DL.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  5. Good post but hold on a second. At the end first paragraph you say American is fending off a hostile takeover from US Airways. Unless I am gravely misinformed any merger potential with US Airways would hardly be a hostile takeover!

  6. Ian,

    The term I used was Hostile Merger … not Hostile Takeover

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  7. 1. It’s not US managment that is causing the problem. the two unions US and AW have been unable to come to an agreement between each other. However, as no one is able to join the AW list this problem will eventually go away.

    2. AA has piss poor customer service, up and down the line. i have experienced time and time again.

    3. AA leadership has destroyed any possible relationship with their workforce.

    4. AA’s hard and soft product were generations behind the current standard.

    5. US created an industry leading seat that has been adopted by CX and LH.

    6. US has the best domestic lounge product in the US.

    Cheers!

  8. John,

    1) I never addressed what caused the rift in labour at US Airways. The fact is that the divide between labour and management is substantial, and management does little to ease the tension

    2) American’s customer service has been significantly improving. The focus has shifted toward empowering the front line to better deal with customer situations in real-time

    3) American’s management has severely damaged its relationship with labour. No arguments there. Previous management heads have stuck a knife in the back of certain unions. I never addressed this either in my post.

    4) AA’s hard and soft products are not two generations behind current standards. Depends on various factors, various aircraft and various airports. They are also pushing forward with some signficant premium products

    5) US Airways created what seat that was adopted by CX and LH? The seats between CX and LH are nothing alike

    6) US Airways has the best domestic lounge product in the U.S. ? Are you kidding me?

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  9. So you paid for all the flights out of your own pocket to meet these folks and talk to them? Or was the ticket comped by AA?

    If the latter it seems quite disingenuous to say that you weren’t compensated in any way or given any favors. Just the fact that you were in the Ops tower and on the ground “behind the scenes” at the stations would suggest some favors; those aren’t areas that most folks have access to.

    As to the idea that US management has caused a divide in the HP/US merger, the labor issues are more or less completely the fault of the unions. They’re so busy bickering amongst themselves that they haven’t bothered to fight with management yet, at least not with a unified voice.

  10. Seth,

    A disclosure will be added into each section that actually delves into my research that I was on seats provided by AA, however they have no say or control over what I am writing. I was not paid or compensated in way. In fact I slept in airports ever night, not hotels, except for the evening I slept in an economy seat flying from LAX to JFK. That said, I did state in these comments I spent weeks working on access. The key to getting the info is access. It would not be possible to even pay for the seats the show up at airports and speak with crew chiefs, tower ops, catering, rampers, station managers, etc.

    Also, I didn’t delve into the issue of what labour problems exist. I sought to avoid discussing labour at all while looking for my info. Labour is a whole other topic, once I won’t dive into because many others cover it in a way that I cannot.

    Happy Flying !

    -Fish

  11. Great insights, looking forward to the next part. AA is like all other airlines,they have their great moments and their really really terrible ones. Having travelled with AA for the last 3 years, I had good experiences on the whole. I agree that their equipment and IFE are oldish to say the least and their fleet renewal orders are way overdue. For an airline with labor problems, the staff are usually friendly and smiling.

  12. Fish – I mostly enjoy reading your posts, but this seems so booster-ish as to be surreal.

    In my experience AA has more cancelations than the other legacies as well as LCCs. There have to be some critical comments. Everything isn’t as bright and shiny as the photos you chose.

  13. Carl,

    I went into this story, and hands on research, having spent a considerable amount of time researching this. It is not boosterish, it is looking at what is in front of me once I got into it. I have shredded American Airlines more than once, and been on their not-so-favourite list more than once. Look at their baggage data, look at the environmental cost savings initiatives, look at how they are redesigning the check in at many airports, look at the premium ground products they are rolling out. The airline should have done this all a few years ago, but they are doing it now … to late to avoid being bankrupt, but its all right there.

    Also, if you’ve followed my blog, facebook, Twitter, you’d know that I have said more than once I stopped flying AA in mid-2005. I didn’t go back until recently. When I stopped flying AA it was a customer service issue, as well as them pulling out of PVD, leaving them flying from only one of my three local airports, usually with higher fares. Things change, they offer wifi on more flights than US Airways and United and their fares came more in line with what I wanted to pay. While I have switched most miles from US Airways to going back to Delta now, I am doing more on AA than US or UA now because of the changes. I have no status on AA but was previously a BA elite.

    I am not writing about labour issues because that is a whole other issue and one that I feel others are more capable of writing about.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

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