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A Lesson for American Airlines and Hopefully Each of Us

I started writing this on Monday, November 18. This is important to understand as it pertains to the basis for this article. I flew on American Airlines home on November 21then to California on November 22 and back home on American on November 24. On December 3 I fly to Buffalo on Delta … then home on Delta on December 6.  At the end of December I fly to Tampa on Delta. My next booked flight on American, then, is in June.

My point is I fly often. It helps bring validity to what I’m about to say.

I left Waco on the 18th at 6:15 a.m. with a 10:00 a.m. connection to Little Rock.

When I arrived in Dallas that morning I saw there was a 7:20 a.m. flight to Little Rock that I just had enough time to catch. I raced to the gate and the agent said the flight was full. No questions—just “full.” I was walking away from the gate when I heard a page for a passenger on the Little Rock flight who was late arriving for the flight. I walked back to the gate and asked if I could have that person’s seat if they didn’t show.

The gate agent asked my name and I gave her my boarding pass for the 10 a.m. flight.  After looking it up she said that “if she could I could get the seat for $75 . . . but with my seat “class” she couldn’t even sell me the seat for $75!”

I’m standing there. I want to get on the flight. I will pay the $75. Yet, she couldn’t sell it to me!

A couple years ago American filed for bankruptcy protection. Shocking.

According to their website, American Airlines and their partners have 10,000 flights a day. For numbers purposes let’s say there was one person like me, per flight, who could pay extra and would pay extra. Instead of an average of $75 let’s say they got just $50 per flight extra from people they would actually sell a ticket for an open seat. Hmmmm … That is only $182,500,000 in extra income per year.

I’m not sure how much extra fuel or overhead they would have to fly a 180-pound person with a briefcase and change of clothes for two nights—but I don’t think it is going to be that much. After all, a 747 weighs between 600,000 and 900,000 pounds on take-off.

This drove me to think about our business and our leadership.

Are we making it easy for people to do business with us? Do we have stupid rules that drive our customers to do business with someone else? (I don’t mind driving from Waco to Ft. Hood or to Austin or to Dallas to fly with someone else at all!)

Do we ask our people how we can do more business? Do we tell them that we would like to pay them more but need help in getting more business so we can do so? Do we have stringent rules that make our employees think that, regardless of the great ideas someone has, we will never listen?

I have an American Airlines charge card in my wallet. I have 126,651 frequent flyer miles. Mary Kay has an AA charge card in her wallet, too. She has over 25,000 frequent flyer miles, too. My sister-in-law is a flight attendant for American. We try and use them as much as possible!

Something tells me I should switch my card to Southwest. They are much more fun. They will fly my luggage free (two bags, too!). They’ll give me peanuts and pretzels. I believe, too, they’ll find a way to let me fly to Southwest to Little Rock if they have an empty seat not making money for them.

Make sure this week you don’t have similar rules, as a leader, that keep you from making more money, too. Leaders don’t drive potential customers to their competition. They figure out how to continue to offer more value to their customers.

P.S. … I finish writing this blog just before Thanksgiving. Coming back from Los Angeles I meet one of the nicest people I’ve ever met working for American. She took care of some issues I had trying to check in online. She’s got me rethinking my attitude toward AA.

As I am about to board the plane the person scanning the tickets takes me back to my “dark moments” of last week. Isn’t that amazing?

Let’s remember this as leaders: No matter our vision or mission statement: Our people are our brand, good or bad. 

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