Tag Archives: American Airlines

Marketing: Five lessons from my recent American Airlines misery

Marketing: Five lessons from my recent American Airlines misery

Last week’s post (and subsequent Tweets) elicited responses from some nice people at American Airlines, one of whom is a VP at American Eagle.

They refunded our airfares (we never did get to our final destination) and, all in all, were very pleasant in resolving a lot of my concerns. It took them a while.

Lesson 1: Handle complainers fairly and promptly and you’ll probably get them back as customers, happier customers.

Along the way, a lot of my blog and Twitter friends tweeted and emailed about their AA problems. I hope the airline, at least for its own sake, does its best to help them out. If I owned AA, I’d get helpful people online and on the phone immediately.

The problems I heard about (as well as my own problems) rarely had anything to do with bad weather or mechanical problems. We’re all grownups and we know that stuff happens. The problem is always the way a company handles customers’ issues. It’s a lot like the bigger problem politicians always seem to create after they’re caught doing something stupid. The inevitable dissembling, outright lying and tap dancing for the media – the spin – cause more problems than the original offense.

Lesson 2: Tell the truth.

I was talking to a west coast friend last night. His name is Dwain and he’s an online whiz. He suggested that maybe American Airlines shouldn’t even be involved in social media. They’re not dedicating enough resources to it. He might be right; as near as I can tell, AA has two people working on Twitter and, apparently, neither works on weekends. Again, if I owned the company, I’d have more people, with some company clout, ready, able and, most of all, willing to help customers solve their problems.

Lesson 3: Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.
Above all, don’t do what AT&T does – threaten customers who have problems. I found this unbelievably ham-handed and so will you: econsultancy.com

Lesson 4: They’re your customers for crying out loud. Treat them badly and they’ll tell two friends who’ll each tell two friends, and sooner or later one or more of them will eventually tell the whole world … which they can do just by typing a few words and hitting “Post”.

On my AA debacle-trip, I was traveling with a friend. Neither of us racks up hundreds of thousands of miles in the air every year but we do fly a lot, perhaps 40 flights a year between us. Nobody in the Chicago airport the night the debacle went down, seemed to understand that we, and probably a lot of our fellow passengers, represented significant business – and that’s not counting all the people we influence.

Lesson 5: Know you’re customer. Get gate people and phone people to look us up and react accordingly. Treating everyone fairly is a good idea; treating really good customers fairly is a great idea.

How do you think American Airlines and companies like them should handle the complaints they get – given their tiny social media presence? Please let me know, because maybe we can help them and ourselves.

American Airlines is a no-listening zone!

American Airlines is a no-listening zone!

I fly a lot and I understand that planes get delayed, gates get changed and things happen.

But this was ridiculous.

We were booked for a May 27th flight to Calgary from Ft. Lauderdale with a layover in Dallas. The first leg was canceled on May 26th and the wonderful travel agent (Marlin) in Alberta re-booked us through Chicago O’Hare with a three hour and forty minute layover. Quite a feat on a long weekend.

The flight to O’Hare was fine, except an older man collapsed and we were afraid he was going to die. When we got to O’Hare, our flight wasn’t on the Departures Board. We somehow found out that it was an American Eagle plane (small, too small for a 3+ hour flight) and they sent us to a basement gate where we waited for an hour or so before the first of two gate changes with all the relevant gates far apart.

The scene at the last gate, G11, reminded me of the evacuation of Baku in the original Lost Horizons movie, the one with Ronald Coleman. For starters, we shared our waiting area with a lot of nice people trying to get to Atlanta (and they never made it, not that night,anyway.) There were lots of couples with small children, other couples from Europe hoping for a vacation, a woman in a wheelchair … and no word from Johnny M at the desk After we’d waited two hours, a pilot named Tom Hildebrandt showed up. He told me we were taking off, but were waiting for a flight attendant to show up.

We waited until after 11PM, and then they cancelled the flight. Johnny M gave us all vouchers for hotel rooms and food. Our vouchers for a nearby La Quinta were useless because the hotel was already full. Good ol’ Johnny told us to wait for our luggage at Carousel 9, and, like good little sheep, we did, until 12:30 AM when it finally dawned on us that our luggage wasn’t going to show up.

The food vouchers weren’t much use either. All the restaurants were closed. We walked to the airport Hilton and got a room for $230. My companion went back to the airport to see about the lost luggage.

We booked a flight back to Ft. Lauderdale because Johnny M said the next flight to Calgary wasn’t until 7 PM the following day. He seemed annoyed at having to give us information. He rolled his eyes up in his head. Customers seemed to be such a bother. The pilot just left.

The entire time, I was tweeting to my followers (15,000) and getting similar stories back, but no response from @AmericanAir. Our luggage wasn’t with us when we returned to Ft. Lauderdale (not having seen our relatives on the weekend or attended our client meeting on Monday).

Lost Luggage Maria said it would be on the next flight and we’d have to come back to the airport. We did, and it was.

Meanwhile, I kept tweeting, and no word from @American Air, until they asked for my phone number. I direct messaged them the number and they said I’d hear from Customer Service. I haven’t. I have, however, heard from dozens of people on Twitter and Facebook about the awful customer service at American.

Just read about Erik Schonfelfeld, who has 31,000 followers on Twitter and 2 million readers on Techcrunch.com: “I’ve lost count of how many errors American Airlines has now made in this comedy that is my travels. Oh, and @AmericanAir also managed to prove that it is an utterly toothless marketing arm of American which fails when it comes to providing actual customer service.

How can American Airlines not have people on Social Media? How can they alienate us all and survive? I doubt they will if this keeps up.

Let’s consider direct mail, the workhorse, of direct marketing.

Let’s consider direct mail, the workhorse, of direct marketing.


Many years ago, the Chairman of Ford of Canada called my agency in to his office for help. He needed to have more women in Canada buy their cars. They were losing market share to General Motors (who actually knew how to train their salespeople to talk to women in the showrooms).

We developed a curriculum approach to building relationships with the women. It began with a survey, and a nice letter from the chairman asking them to help him to do a better job.

It was signed in blue ink by the Chairman(of course it was printed), but it still looked authentic.

Then he gave them an offer of a book, Car and Truck Buying Made Easy…after they helped him out with the survey.

All of the names and answers to three questions were databased.

If they were going to buy a car in the next three months, we sent them a $200. gift certificate to come to the dealership near them, make the best deal, and then whip out this special certificate for additional savings. The other groups were handled differently, and all groups got a newsletter to “continue the relationship” with them.

Now, they call these kinds of programs “trigger mailings”. If I do this, then you mail me that offer.


I’m just wondering why more companies don’t do that. They have triggers on line, like offers that come popping up, when you abandon the shopping cart. They have trigger pop-ups when you are about to pay, and then there’s one more offer.

Why aren’t more companies doing this in the mail? In fact, why don’t they write to me, when I defect?

For instance, about 3 months ago, I stopped using my Mastercard to get American Airlines points. Why? Because I realized I don’t fly that much on AA, and I’d rather get some of the exciting gifts they offer on American Express Membership Rewards.

Maybe you should consider some small tests, with trigger mailings, and follow-up. Might work wonders for you.