American Airlines has largely been using the slogan “caring for people on life’s journey” and that makes an appearance in their new safety video along with their recently-trademarked ‘we fly so you can soar’. These are slogans, though, and not mission statements. And a mission statement has been clearly missing from the airline.
At times management has seemed confused over whether they’re trying to be a low cost carrier or a premium airline, and flight crew have been confused over whether they’re supposed to be delivering a premium service or something akin to what they think Spirit Airlines is.
- They put in new business class lounges and good business class seats, but squeeze more seats with less padding than ever into coach and take seat back entertainment out of planes.
- They identified some passengers as ‘less than’ with Basic Economy, rather than treating everyone equally once on board (though recently they decided elite members would still receive benefits on basic economy fares).
- Doug Parker himself thought they could get away with not putting seat power on the old US Airways fleet.
- They said they had a premium revenue problem, yet removed premium seats from Boeing 787s and Boeing 777-200 aircraft.
To focus decision-making, and to give clear instructions for employees to internalize, the airline has needed a mission statement. And American’s CEO Doug Parker actually just came the closest to articulating one that I’ve ever heard since the legacy US Airways management took over at the carrier nearly 7 years ago.
In a talk with employees on October 15th he was asked for his 5 to 10 year vision for the airline,and he said it’s “to go be the preferred airline of customers around the world.” He said 3 to 5 years from now they’d be “the airline customers choose to fly given a choice.”
It was actually a much longer and more thoughtful articulation,
The vision is to go be the preferred airline of customers around the world. We’ve got the largest network in the world. We view this as an opportunity to make sure that as we come out of this we could out stronger, certainly vis-a-vis the others.
I have great confidence in the team’s ability to do that. 3-5 years from now what I expect us to be and I think we will be is the airline where customers choose to fly given a choice, and by the way they’ll have more choices to fly us because we’ll have a broader network than others.
We will provide more choice to customers and given that choice they’ll prefer to fly us because we have a great product that people want to fly with great people providing that service safely.
[We’ll be] a place where people want to work because they know they work for a company that cares about them and they’re supported in their jobs and they enjoy the work they do and the people they work with and they know that what they do is valued by the company they work for and it’s important and they understand bow it makes a difference in the bigger picture.
And a company that provides a return for our investors because we have to do that, so one that is profitable and provides a return so we can get more and more investment in the company..anyway that’s where I expect we’ll be in the next 3-5 years, where we deserve to be: the world’s leading airline.
We were well on our path I think. It was hard for people to see given the integration certainly, makes it hard, but we’ve gotten through that – we were headed into 2020 feeling really good about our ability to improve versus others.
We were not at that standard I just said but I felt good about our ability to get there. I feel better about it now. as horrible as this is, this situation, it does provide an opportunity to catch up faster – because everyone’s had to taken their airline down to essentially nothing, now we all build back up to something that – and on things like retiring aircraft that would have been several years till we got to the point where we got to the fleet to the position we’re in now, because we didn’t want to reduce any service to anywhere.
But now we’re going to come out with a much more efficient fleet. That’s an easy example but there are several examples like that and we’re gong to come out of this with a fleet that’s by far the youngest of the majors and the others are going to have to figure out what they do about their older aircraft.
I feel really good about the future of this company. we’re well positioned to be the best airline in the world and that’s where I believe we will be in 3-5 years.
I’d quibble that American was well on its way to being the preferred airline before the pandemic. They lacked Delta’s operational reliability, and they were intentionally making their domestic product worse by cramming in more seats with less padding and removing seat back entertainment from those planes – investments that have continued during Covid-19. And international premium passengers often fly coach domestically (companies perhaps pay for premium on flights over 4 or 6 hours) but even up front the domestic product was worse too with less legroom and less comfortable seats.
But if Parker actually sat down and wrote this out, internalized it, evangelized it – if he believes it and got his employees to believe it, too – they’d be well on their way because they could start making investment decisions based on it.
In the past meal decisions have been based on looking at what competitors do and copying (maybe doing a little less). Jeff Bezos says the number one mistake companies make it looking at what competitors do rather than what customers want. But if the goal is to be the airline people choose to fly, that’s a customer-focused vision.
They’d still have work to do, including defining who their customers are. There aren’t many premium business travelers today, and there isn’t much opportunity for international flying. But American more than some of its competitors needs that flying to return because competitors will have a cost advantage with lower debt and more junior (lower paid) employees. American needs a revenue premium, so they need to be the preferred airline to survive.
And they might just have the start of a mission statement that could let them do it.