American Airlines: What a ^$*$#(*%^ Mess


It just gets worse and worse.

Whether you believe that the FAA is on a mission to make itself look better, merely do what it should have been doing all along, or catching up on a few “loose ends” by demanding that the bundles inside the wheel wells of MD-80s be tied at one-inch intervals — one thing is pretty clear.

American Airlines has done a god-awful job of communicating with its employees, the press, and most importantly, its passengers, about this whole incident.

Yesterday, way too late after the fact, and after one of its corp comm spokespersons had walked off camera, rather than answer a safety-related question put to him by a reporter, the airline finally put an executive in front of the press — acting in an official capacity. Even worse, this “better-late-than-never” attempt was not a pretty sight.

Dan Garton, the airline’s marketing guy, called a press conference and attempted to give the company’s side of the story.

If you haven’t read about it, you can do so at the Dallas Morning NewsAirlineBiz blog.

The problem is — if American Airlines takes maintenance and safety seriously — why are they trotting out their marketing person to talk about it? And folks, I have to tell you, Dan was not very good. If the bet on someone’s part was that he would be better on-camera then Bob Redding — well, that bet was wrong.


Q. Did your mechanics not understand it or did they ignore it?

A. It’s a relatively significant engineering change order. It’s about 30 pages. The mechanics understood it. When they accomplished it, they took what I would call certain latitudes in accomplishing it. My example would be where they tied those cords.

I think what they didn’t understand that there is a sort of greater focus on strict enforcement or strict compliance with the rules of the AD. The rules have gone to a very strict level of enforcement, and we will meet that and get the planes back in the air.

We had a call last night from someone who told us that the reason American Airlines’ Gerard Arpey has been missing in action on all this was because he left the morning it all began to fly to Los Angeles and a meeting of oneworld. Consequently, he then faced a problem in trying to get back to Dallas.

Does he fly back on a private jet? Does he fly back on Southwest? Does he drive a Hertz rent-a-car? Does he bump an already-inconvenienced American revenue passenger?

Well — my response this morning would have to be, “Why not call a press conference in Los Angeles?” They do have media in LA. It’s not like he was in Slovenia. Or up with the ice truckers in Yellowknife.

Finally — as of this morning, the airline still does not have an easy way for passengers to find out if their flight has been canceled or not. People can’t get to the airline on the phone — as reports of system overload abound. And when you go to the airline’s website, there is no easy to find list of canceled flights.

Terrible, terrible, terrible job by the airline in handling this. Five thumbs down. (I got the cats to join in so we’d have enough.)

Unprecedented happening today here at PlaneBuzz. Two Buzz Bombs in one week. One to union leadership at one of American’s unions for its action against one of its members who dared speak the truth.  And today — the second one to American Airlines’ management — which seems to be having real problems in figuring out what the truth is, and more importantly, in conveying that truth to the general public.

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5 thoughts on “American Airlines: What a ^$*$#(*%^ Mess

  1. Chitragupta

    Ahhh you missed this little gem:
    Q. In light of these problems, will you accept your performance stock bonus next week?
    A. Our executive compensation structure is market based, is in the median of the market and our board will look at our executives and determine where they should be compensated relative to the peer group, and I’m not gong to comment any further than that.
    The boys will be fighting for their place at the trough once again this time next week to gorge on their PUP Buck spoils while the employees in the trenches have to deal with the justly angry passengers.
    Also when didn’t Arpey go out to the LAX airport and work the counters with the over taxed employees and explain the situation to the irate customers himself?

  2. Holly Hegeman

    Ahhh….no I didn’t. If I had posted all the gems, I would have effectively posted the entire transcript. And I am more than happy to send some folks over to Suzanne and Terry. But yes, I saw that.
    As to your comment about Gerard, that’s a fair comment. If it had been handled correctly, the airline could have used it as a way to explain where he was, he could have been there on the front lines, and then they could have flown him to Dallas.
    Yep, it could have been done. Then again, remember that after the Austin debacle, Gerard was nowhere to be seen.
    (Wait! I’m having flashbacks of JetBlue’s David Neeleman on David Letterman….)
    The frustrating part of this to me is that I just gave the airline kudos two weeks ago in PBB for how it handled the most recent weather-related mess in Dallas. On that front, I thought the airline did pretty darn well.

  3. Richard F

    Two points on which I think you’re unfair:
    1. American is taking great care of its customers (including me) by providing expense reimbursement, booking on other carriers and $500 vouchers.
    2. You say that they do “not have an easy way for passengers to find out if their flight has been canceled or not”. What about Everyone has a mobile phone with web browsing these days. Also since they are trying to cancel as few flights as possible, some cancellations might come down last minute. A price I’m willing to pay for the chance to go as scheduled.

  4. Tregonsee

    The reason that they hauled out a marketing type to answer the questions is that marketing runs the airline. Over a 20 year period, I sometimes encountered technical, operational, and personnel issues. I was first amazed and then disgusted at the number of times that the reason given began with “Marketing tells us,” of “Marketing has found…” At one time, only one of the many, many vice presidents had a background other than marketing, accounting, or finance.

  5. FrankZ1

    I guess the fumbling attempt at PR by Garton and Arpey is why AA is going to hire an outside group to check the paperwork and see if the airline is in compliance with FAA directives. Dear God, Gerard – are you saying AMR doesn’t have the “talent” inhouse to check aircraft records?

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