AMR's $8 Blanket Bungle: Firing Line
By Matthew Buckley, Contributor 02/10/10 - 08:37 AM EST
While profitable Southwest(LUV Quote) continues to poke at the legacy carriers in its national ad campaign, it appears the executives at AMR are taking a page out of President Obama's PR book. "We know you don't like all the extra fees, but your problem is that you aren't hearing us. You need to listen louder," AMR seems to be saying.
I must fully disclose my relationship with AMR. My first scheduled flight as a pilot for this airline was Sept. 11, 2001. I was supposed to fly from Dallas/Fort Worth to Miami and from Miami to Cancun. I was supposed to be in a conga line that evening. My mother-in-law called from the East Coast to give us a heads up that something had happened with an airplane in New York.
As I stood there watching the TV going through my mental aviation checklist of how an aircraft could've flown into the World Trade Center on such a clear day, I saw the second airliner hit.
I immediately knew we were under attack and I reached in the closet and pushed my never worn American Airlines uniform out of the way for the familiar feel of my well-worn Navy flight suit. I broke the land speed record and got out to Naval Air Station JRB Fort Worth just as the base was closed and it went to a combat posture. I flew the F/A-18 Hornet for the Naval Reserve in addition to being a pilot for American.
We connected with NORAD (North American Air Defense Command) and hooked up with the F-16 squadron next door. We then set up a combat air patrol for the southwestern United States. I went from flying in an airliner that day for the first time to possibly shooting one down.
Amazingly, three days later, crew scheduling called to inform me that I was scheduled for my first trip the following day. I thought it was a prank a squadron mate was playing since I had just landed from launching on an alert and forcing a small plane to land that had violated the no-fly rule and was heading for presidential airspace.
Realizing the guy from crew scheduling wasn't joking, I asked the guy if he had any access to the outside world from where he was sitting. AMR had just made an ill-advised purchase of beleaguered TWA and all of its pilots had been placed on top of me on the seniority list. I was one of the most junior pilots and I knew I was toast at a minimum. I also had my doubts that AMR as a company would survive the attacks (see bailout, government series of).
But since I still worked there I showed up early the next morning, flew a plane with a couple of stranded AMR employees back to Miami and went to the crew hotel where the captain informed me that crew scheduling had called to inform him that I was now furloughed (polite airline code for "laid off"). The captain seized my ID card. I didn't even get a flight back home.
So it doesn't amaze me that the leadership at AMR made such a hilarious business decision as to start charging for blankets. Why?
Let me count the ways.
Will AMR order pilots to lower the cabin temperature to increase sales? "Captain Buckley, we notice that your blanket sales are low this month. Can you explain why? The flight manual says to keep the cabin temp at or below 32 degrees (except on flights to south Florida ... we can't afford the liability of older passengers and their conditions, but we expect you to use your judgment if they look like a healthy bunch)."
Maybe the thousands of furloughed pilots could start a business. Sell blankets outside of security for $4, thus undercutting the market by 50%.
Or as a frequent business traveler on AMR (executive platinum a year ago, dropped to unwashed masses gold status recently), I'm going to pack my carry-on full of space blankets. I'll sell those for $2 onboard, selling ad space on them to rival carriers for a premium.
Seriously AMR. Find a business plan that actually sells a product that makes more than what it costs to produce.
Firing Line: I want my former employer to succeed. The employees were the best team I ever worked with (for a day). But a business so focused on the tactical generation of revenue rather than developing a strategic business plan that makes sense is a business that is destined for trouble.
Written by Matthew Buckley in Boca Raton, Fla.