What Did American Airlines Do This Time?

In the wake of its labor dispute and ticketing mini-scandal, you may have wondered how the American Airlines PR crisis could get any worse.

This week brought an outrage that managed to combine technical malfeasance with poor customer service: the seats on AA planes have begun to come loose in-flight. Seriously. Wednesday marked the third time this has happened in the past week.

Oh, and these aren’t just passenger seats: last night a flight was delayed due to “missing springs” in the pilot’s seat, and all 48 of the company’s are now going out of service for a second time after technicians discovered that the real cause of this mishap is something called “seat lock plunger mechanisms”. Spokespeople were previously forced to clarify that “Seat-gate” was not, in fact, the result of coordinated sabotage by angry pilots.

This isn’t even funny anymore, guys.

The AA Fail story has made its way around the PR news world over the past few weeks, of course, and in that time we’ve seen no one outside the organization defending the management of what looks to be a swiftly sinking ship. We don’t have much in the way of useful advice for the company, but we do have one piece of slightly good news: Despite losing a bid to block a unionization vote by “10,000 passenger service agents”, the airline workers’ existing union now claims to have reduced the number of coming layoffs by “more than 80%”, from 8,650 to under 2,000.

They did this—at least in part–by convincing 2,800 employees to accept early-out package deals rather than losing their jobs outright, so at least they won’t add to the very slowly shrinking unemployment rate. Small victories!

At this point, we almost have pity for American.

Just kidding.

In all seriousness, though: What can AA do to limit the incalculable damage it has done to its own brand? Airline industry consultant Bob Mann says that the company may recover but “probably not [with] this management team”. Could a few fresh faces turn the disaster around?

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.