American Launches a Campaign to Be the Airline That the World’s Greatest Flyers Want to Fly

American Airlines just launched a new ad campaign — World’s Greatest Flyers — showcasing American’s customers and employees. They tell me their goal is “to be the greatest airline in the world, by being the airline employees want to work for, customers want to fly and where investors want to put their money.”

I think there have been good reasons why investors have been skeptical of airlines generally. I think the ads are well done, though, but could use a great voiceover. Delta has Donald Sutherland. United recently had Matt Damon, but used to have Gene Hackman (who trumped them all). American’s advertising needs a voice.

Their new tag line is “The World’s Greatest Flyers Fly American” and here’s a spot that I take it is describing their vision of a Road Warrior.

I very much like the ad. But nearly all airline advertising fails because it highlights flying itself, a destination, or.. sex. It doesn’t tell you why to choose one airline over another.

Singapore Airlines is an exception, they tell you they go to great lengths and pay attention to small details to make you comfortable.

In the late 1980s, American made an argument. They were The On-Time Machine.

Now Delta filed to trademark that phrase. Do the World’s Greatest Flyers Fly American?

Here American flatters their customers, they’re awesome flyers, but what is it about American that makes the airline better? They have another ad out as part of the series and it’s about the employees, talking about how great they are. In some sense it’s the Oscar Munoz strategy at United, rally the troops in hopes that happy employees will lead to happy customers.

Sometimes you need to set a goal, and will it into existence. And if this campaign represents a commitment to be the airline that experienced travelers want to fly, if that becomes their True North, it would be exciting progress.

So far though it seems like the plan is… something else with changes at the airline driven by the 87% of customers who fly American airline only once in a given year.

The drive for D0 – exact on-time push back overriding all other concerns leads gate agents to start boarding before published boarding time. Which means you have to show up at your gate ahead of time if you want overhead bin space (to avoid gate checking your bag). Which also means – with re-banked hubs – that you often have to head straight from one flight to another without time to stop for food.

But American doesn’t do well updating delays until after scheduled boarding so you often wind up standing at the gate early even when you aren’t on-time. (And in rolling delays, doesn’t tend to update times until previous boarding or departure times have passed.)

Since this D0 focus hasn’t made them the on-time airline and instead shifted the focus to making customers wait on planes (the original Airtran Atlanta hub model) rather than planes waiting on passengers, they start out from a position more as an airline for people with a low opportunity cost of time rather than an airline for business travelers. These ads need to be more than marketing, they need to be a mantra, and change the airline’s focus.

American Airlines Boeing 787 Business Class

I’m not sure whether American wants to be a premium carrier, or an ultra discount one, an airline for business travelers or a low fare low service airline. Hopefully this new campaign is clarifying, that they need and want to be the airline that the best flyers want to fly.

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. After gutting their award-winning AAdvantage Program and alienating some of their most loyal flyers (the other 13% who flew them either regularly or exclusively) now they want/expect to get the “Worlds Greatest Flyers” (ie the ones who spend a lot of money flying) to fly with them?

    Sorry not happening. I for one now will spend my money to where its easiest/most convenient for me to fly – based on scheduling and fares. Also, international carriers such as CX, SQ, QR, etc. are going to be be getting the bulk of my business – certainly NOT American Airlines.

  2. So now you are the marketing expert too? There are no shortage of marketing personnel at HDQ and abroad in LHR, SYD, TYO for the company.

    Agents boarding flights early? Do you not see all that is involved in dispatch, countless people like yourself coming up screaming about their free upgrades, wanting seat changes, gate checking bags (to dodge payment of the fee at the counter), etc? Can’t get good? Build more time into your connections if noshing on expensive HMSHost mass produced is you thing or the overcrowded Centurion Lounge.

    What do you mean people don’t want to fly AA? Planes are full, load factors are up, DFW, LAX and MIA have all handled record enplanements.

  3. Another lofty, inspirational tagline aiming at both customers and employees. Reminds me of tagline from certain accounting firm: Together, we’ll change the world.

    The logo flying across the nations and fields has a bit Big Brother feeling to it. Drones flying, perhaps?

  4. @Josh G – who said people aren’t flying American? Once again you criticize something that’s not there. Arguably Delta is the airline that business travelers want to fly, that shows up in the data, their revenue premium. American has been an operational mess, especially at LAX, that’s why they shuffled Network Planning and Ops.

    In any case the world is full of ad geniuses producing garbage, I thought this ad was pretty good but the important question is whether it’s just an ad (probably) or whether it’s a mantra the airline can or even tries to live up to.

  5. Groan. Could they spend some of that ad money and get some damned AC outlets on their planes first?? So tired of their sub standard equipment. The best slogans or ads in the world aren’t going to help. I’m back on DL now, after getting tired of their lousy (inconsistent) hard products.

  6. @joshg doesn’t get it at all.

    I don’t want to be standing at a gate 10m prior to boarding every fight because I don’t know which flight will board early or on-time, drives me crazy and angers the Mrs because it stresses her out.

    This marketing campaign would be great if they had their act together, but they don’t, it’s a bs hype that from your second flight which will either be delayed with rolling 10m auto generated updates, cancelled, you’ll sit for 45m waiting for a gate you’ll be fine with their marketing message.

    AA does have automated delays that kick in 10m after scheduled departure and every 10m they add 10m more, check ExpertFlyer under comments for your flight.

    I had 2 ua gs’s that came to AA with me 3 years ago, both just left within the past 2 months.

    AA is broken and it reminds me of united bringing back “Friendly” because AA is f*#ked too right now.

  7. Josh,

    Perhaps a little thought should go into why those passengers are screaming and scheming in the first place.

    Blaming the customer for bad service usually doesn’t work well in other industries. If you need extra time at the gate, either budget and plan for that extra time or try and figure out why it’s even a problem. Those customers scheming to gate check their bags are doing it because it makes economic sense to at least try. I’d love to see a research study to see the cost/benefit analysis to the airline of how much time they waste dealing with customers vs how much revenue they actually bring in off those checked bag fees. The numbers for the last part are easy to find, but at-what-cost?

  8. It’s obvious that AA is not familiar with the famous quote about cars, “cheap, fast, reliable. Pick two.”

    How will AA be the airline:
    1)employees want to work for? That requires paying higher wages and offering better benefits than the competition
    2)customers want to fly? That requires having a new planes, getting rid of your jaded and retirement-age FA base, offering comfortable seats, improving onboard entertainment, and having a best-in-class loyalty program (not simply following the herd.)
    3)investors want put their money? Kind of conflicts with items #1 and #2 above!

    This is just some marketing scheme that has no real merit.

  9. I think a lot of people are overthinking this.

    Products aside – companies need advertising. Do you think Nike has the best products available? Not always but most people buy into what they really sell – advertising.

    Leave the planes out of it – every airline sucks if you want to think in terms of consistent performance. The whole lot of them. That’s not going to change.

    I think this is clever advertising.

    ALL airlines talk about the things they are doing to make flying better – and it’s all the same. But IMO the people next to me can make or break my flight. This is saying that if I want to fly next to great people I should fly with American….that simple.

    At least finally they’re not just talking about themselves. And that’s something I can get behind.

    Leave the bitchfest about airline performance out of it and focus on the advertising.

  10. It’s beautiful, it’s simple, it’s positive.

    That’s more than most advertising out there.

  11. It is advertising! Reality is delayed and cancelled flights, shoddy customer service and a gutted loyalty program.

  12. Agree with Ivan X. I like your analysis and the fact that you spent time w/ research and piecing it all together. It’s posts like this that give your blog the ‘must read’ it deserves.

  13. This is a cliche ad–has been done before–nothing really new except this time it’s being done for American. And as opposed to popular misconception, the client gets the last word on advertising; if they don’t like it, they won’t accept/run it.

    More importantly, the actual experience falls far short of what the commercial portrays. Under-promise and over-deliver works much better. My suggestion to American: Fix your service, and then the business will follow.

  14. @JP
    “Getting rid of your jaded and retirement-age FA base”

    Wow! Did some senior FA not give you enough ice in your pre-departure drink?

    Maybe the reason AA and the other legacy carriers have a senior FA base is because their pensions have been gutted as a result of mergers and other trade offs made in order to keep the airlines afloat through recessions and bankruptcies in the past 15 years. All this to provide the flying public with lower fares.

  15. I think it is terrible, but advertising is subjective. I’m not sure what audience this would target. I want to know what you can do to make my life better. Telling me about how good your customers are, but not showing me any of them? Also we all know B-roll is cheap American.

  16. My wife and I just flew 1st to Tokyo on AA 169 and returned 1st on AA170. If these two flights are an example of being an airline that frequent flyers will want to fly, AA has missed that goal by a country mile. Outbound my wife’s arm rest was falling apart and taped in place. The food was barely eatable. On the eturn flight, the steak looked great but how do they expect a person to eat that with a butter knife. The TV screen was he smallest I have seen in ages plus when I say that the movie choice was limited, that is an understatement. Somewhere along the line, AA decided to install audio on this 777. Damm near impossible to locate that plug and worse yet, once I found that plug, the fit was very loose and required frequent repositioning to watch one of 8 Big Bang TV offerings.
    I could have flown CX but did not want to have to transit to a Tokyo flight. Next flight to Tokyo, I am back to CX. AA has a long way to go before I find reason to return.

  17. CX is the best airline, not the best cuisine, seat or even timeliness! They are consistent, and they apologise!! On our AA flight to Mexico and back from USA, AA was late, but refused to provides information on their tardiness nor apologize. I asked many people why and they theorized that if they state the reason or apologized, they may have legal liability, go figure!

    My latest flight from sf to HK, cx had over an hour departure delay, apologized constantly and stated it was due to late arrival if aircraft, we landed on time in HK, this is service,.

  18. I actually quite like this advertisement – it’s simple and creates an emotional appeal. It kind of reminds me of the old Qantas “I still call Australia home” advertisements.

  19. @Donna

    Tell me one industry that hasn’t been gutted and still offers pensions? Loyalty doesn’t exist from employers and it certainly doesn’t exist from employees.

    What I don’t understand, is this entitlement that FA’s have. It’s not a career! It’s something you do for a few years when you graduate from college. Go travel, party, see the world. Then, go get a real job. It’s a glorified waitress position.

  20. Obviously, we live in a very competetive world, AA, DL, UA the top major airlines left all had to merge with others in order to compete and try to offer a product superior to the other. They all have similar products yet in order to outshine your competitor things need to change, for the better. The quality of the product needs to reflect in every aspect of the business. Its like running a household, a big beautiful home means nothing if what is in it says differntly. You need to convience everyone that infact that the family is happy, united,well put together. The saying “happy wife, happy life” goes without saying. The family is composed of more than just the “CEO” in this case the mother. The children can be an imbarresment to the home if out of control, unkept, undiciplined or unruly. The children are the employees. If the family believes in
    the product , take pride in the family structure and wants to see it last throughout decades to come, they need to believe, have faith and also be happy. Afterall the fall of the Roman empire was the family structure. With this being said maybe finally with the changes being made by AA it will become one day the Greatest Airline, because Great Flyers will not fly with just anyone. There is still plenty of room for improvement, its just the begining of changes. Only the future and decisions made from this point forward from American Airlines will determin their future.

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