Airlines are not particularly popular with the American public right now–and they haven’t been for a while. We now associate what was once a glamorous industry offering the promise of culture, class and access to compelling and exotic lands with long lines, intrusive security searches, hidden fees, incompetence and poor customer service (not to mention schedules that run late before 9am).
In order to bolster their bottom lines and increase profits, airlines have implemented fees for everything from extra carry-on bags to what once were basic amenities such as food and headphones. Today, airplanes resemble busses in the sky, where the quarters are cramped, worn and offer few creature comforts.
The one aspect of air travel that separates it from other forms of transportation, however, is the flight attendants. It’s nice to know that someone on board gets paid to be nice to you the entire trip, quick with a pillow or blanket should you need one. Not many businesses beyond upscale restaurants and beauty salons offer such services to average people.
Many frequent air travelers know the names and faces of the flight attendants who work scheduled domestic flights. Customers like to be recognized; it makes feel human and worthy. But the faces of American Airlines flight attendants are about to change.
American Airlines recently announced that 2,250 of its flight attendants have agreed to accept $40,000 buyout offers. The deal was available to employees who have worked for American Airlines for at least 15 years. Employee interest in the buyout offer was enormous, and the cuts will save labor costs while the business remains in bankruptcy protection. To replace these veteran flight attendants, however, American will hire 1,500 new faces to begin training in January.
From a public relations perspective, this move poses a host of possible question: Just how much importance do frequent flyers place on having familiar faces on their flights? Will customer service standards suffer? No amount of training can replace real-world experience, especially in an industry whose employees serve alcohol to beleaguered customers in tight quarters.
Another option: Has the American public reached a tipping point? Do we see any positive airline experience as something of a minor miracle? Whatever your opinion may be, the airline industry’s precipitous PR fall is amazing. Or perhaps it’s just a sign of the times.