American Apologizing for Photos of Pilots Mixing Cocktails in Inflight Magazine

During American Airlines’ bankruptcy, The Onion reported that the company was going to stop flying and focus on its core American Way magazine business.

“Our first love is and always has been our travel and lifestyle magazine—in fact, distributing American Way is the reason we first got into air travel back in 1930,” said former American Airlines CEO and current American Way editor-in-chief Thomas Horton. “Sadly, the publishing industry is changing, and we can no longer afford to use the seat-back pockets of a major international airline to maintain our print circulation. It’s simply not a cost effective way to run our magazine.”

Two years ago, though — post-merger and with a lower cost of fuel — American was clearly still flying and they began to outsource the magazine.

And it never occurred to the outsourced magazine folks that it would be a bad idea to use a photo of bartenders in pilot uniforms pouring drinks.

While statistically rare, it happens more than pilots and airlines would like to admit. There were 23 reported US pilot alcohol violations in 2014 and 2015.

These are incidents airlines would prefer not get much play, when I first started writing the blog a customer was cited (and had to pay a fine) for asking whether their Delta Connection pilot had been drinking only two days before a Delta pilot tested positive for alcohol.

But the American Way piece put it front and center. In a piece on Australian dining, owners of a mobile cocktail bar were highlighted — they use old Ansett Australia galley trolleys and the article showed them “preparing and holding drinks while wearing pilots’ costumes with jackets, caps and aviator sunglasses.”

Relations with American’s pilots are so tense that pilots are even speaking out about customer concerns as an excuse to take shots at the airline. So American responded quickly here. They pulled the story from the online magazine, and pulled the magazine a week early from aircraft. They flushed it down the memory hole. And the airline put out a statement apologizing.

The portrayal drew criticism from the president of American’s pilot union, who said the publication of the photos “reflects extremely poor judgment.”

In a message to employees last week, an American executive called the photo “appalling and disrespectful to the aviation profession.”

“A huge apology to our team and especially our coworkers who are pilots. … We know that a photo depicting pilots drinking in uniform is not appropriate,” vice president of global communications Ron DeFeo said Thursday. “Even in jest, if that’s what this is, our aviators put safety first and this is never an area where humor works. Full stop.”

No doubt American will make sure the outsourced magazine leaves alcohol to the list of choices onboard in the back going forward.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Would LOVE to see the cover of that American Way issue that was pulled. I noticed the copy was outdated last month on all the 8 flight segments over the week of March 20th, so I’m guessing that was the reason. Was this American Way issue dated for the last half of March?

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