New American Airlines Board Member Once Told Furloughed Employees To Go Dumpster Diving

It seemed notable that American Airlines brought former Northwest Airlines CEO Doug Steenland onto its board. He led Northwest through bankruptcy and into a merger with Delta. American itself is the most vulnerable of the major U.S. airlines.

American carries the most debt and failed to secure as many senior employee early retirements as competitors, so their ongoing operations will be staffed by the most senior, highest paid crew, putting them at a cost disadvantage.

I had forgotten just what Steenland’s tenure at Northwest was really like though. Commenter ChuckMO brings up the 2006 dumpster diving incident.

Steenland’s Northwest obtained employee pay cuts in bankruptcy. They also got to outsource ground handling at airports with fewer than 50 flights a week, meaning some employees faced layoffs. In an effort to make them those employees feel better about it, they put out a guide to making do with less, “Preparing for a Financial Setback.” They recommended “101 ways to save money.”

The four-page booklet, “Preparing for a Financial Setback” contained suggestions such as shopping in thrift stores, taking “a date for a walk along the beach or in the woods” and not being “shy about pulling something you like out of the trash.”

Northwest reduced pay to its employees but paid an outside firm to sell those pay cuts to staff, including the guide which recommended dumpster diving. I’m all for living frugally and might have added that walking around headquarters and raiding conference rooms for donuts and lunch buffets after executives leave is another good way to save on food costs.

Here’s one of several old union flyers about Steenland from the period that I have:

Here’s the full list of Northwest Airlines money saving advice for employees about to be laid off,

1. Set your thermostat to 64 and turn it down to 60 at night.

2. Use the phone book instead of directory assistance.

3. Use coupons at the grocery store.

4. Carpool.

5. Ask for generic prescriptions instead of brand name.

6. Do your own nails.

7. Rent out a room or garage.

8. Replace 100 watt bulbs with 60 watt.

9. Make long distance calls at night and on weekends, instead of mid-day, mid-week.

10. Throw pocket change in a jar and take it to the bank when it’s full.

11. Always grocery shop with a list.

12. Buy spare parts for your car at a junkyard.

13. Go to museums on free days.

14. Quit smoking.

15. Get hand-me-down clothes and toys for your kids from family and friends.

16. Meet friends for coffee instead of dinner.

17. Request to get interest on a security deposit for your apartment.

18. Take a shorter shower.

19. Write letters instead of calling.

20. Brown bag your lunch.

21. Make your own babyfood.

22. Use public transportation.

23. Drop duplicate medical insurance.

24. Buy old furniture at yard sales and refinish it yourself.

25. Apply for scholarships and financial aid.

26. Exercise for free-walk, jog, bike, or get exercise videos from the library.

27. Form a baby-sitting cooperative with friends and neighbors.

28. Buy your clothes off season.

29. Go to a matinee instead of an evening show.

30. Share housing with a friend or family member.

31. Hang clothes out to dry.

32. Do not use your calling card.

33. Volunteer two hours a month for reduced cost food through the Share Program.

34. Change the oil in your car yourself regularly.

35. Get pre-approval from your medical insurance company before undergoing any procedures or tests.

36. But ‘no frills’ vitamins.

37. Take a date for a walk along the beach or in the woods.

38. Make cards and gifts for friends.

39. Shop in thrift stores.

40. Have your water company do an audit so you are not charged sewage fees for water used in your garden.

41. Refinance your mortgage.

42. Grocery shop on double coupon days.

43. Trade down your car for a less expensive, lower maintenance one.

44. Convert your cash value life insurance to term.

45. Shop around for eyeglasses.

46. Don’t be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash.

47. Recycle.

48. Move to a less expensive place to live.

49. Use low flush toilets or water saving devices in the tank.

50. Drop unneeded telephone services like call forwarding or caller ID.

51. Buy fruits and vegetables in season.

52. Avoid using your ATM card at machines that charge a fee.

53. Bicycle to work.

54. Shop around for auto insurance discounts for multiple drivers, seniors, good driving records, etc.

55. Ask your doctor for samples of prescriptions.

56. Borrow a dress for a big night out. or go to a consignment shop.

57. When you buy a home negotiate the sales price and closing costs.

58. Turn the hot water heater down and wrap it with insulation.

59. Never grocery shop hungry.

60. If you qualify, file for Earned Income Credit.

61. Shop around for prescriptions including mail order companies (Medi-Mail 800-331-1458, Action Mail Order Drugs 800-452-1976, and AARP 800-456-2277).

62. If you pay for childcare, make use of the dependent care tax credit or your employer’s dependent care flexible spending account.

63. Buy, sell, and trade clothes at consignment shops.

64. Shop around for the lowest banking fees.

65. Caulk windows and doors.

66. Iron your own shirts.

67. Plan your weekly food menu before shopping.

68. Buy a good used car instead of a new model car.

69. Purchase all of your insurance from the same company to get a discount.

70. Cut your cable television down to basic.

71. Go to an optometrist for routine vision tests or to change an eyeglass prescription.

72. Buy pre-owned toys and children’s books at garage sales.

73. Have potluck dinners with friends and family instead of going out.

74. Use the library for books, video tapes, and music.

75. Inspect clothing carefully before purchasing it.

76. Don’t use your dishwasher dry cycle; open the door and let them air dry all night.

77. At the grocery store, comparison shop by looking at the unit price.

78. Make your own coffee.

79. Use old newspapers for cat litter.

80. Shop at discount clothing stores.

81. Skip annual full mouth x-rays unless there is a problem; the ADA recommends x-rays every 3 years.

82. Water your garden at night or early in the morning.

83. Shop around for long distance rates.

84. Hand wash instead of dry cleaning.

85. Grow your own vegetables and herbs.

86. Shop around for auto financing.

87. Donate time instead of money to religious organizations and charities.

88. If you are leaving a room for more than five minutes, turn off the light.

89. Shop at auctions or pawn shops for jewelry and antiques.

90. Keep your car properly tuned.

91. Request lower interest rates from your creditors.

92. Trade in old books, records, and CDs at book and record exchanges.

93. Pay bills the day they arrive; many credit card companies charge interest based on your average daily balance.

94. Buy software at computer fares.

95. Search the internet for freebies.

96. Compost to make your own fertilizer.

97. If your car has very little value, you probably only need liability insurance.

98. Cut the kids hair yourself.

99. Increase your insurance deductible.

100. Buy in bulk food warehouses.

101. If your income is low, contact utility companies about reduced rates.

For anyone who remembers the old Northwest World Club at Washington National airport (pre-security in terminal A), they had finally gotten central approval for paint when the merger with Delta was announced – and decided not to incur that expense while they waited to see what their new bosses had in mind.

This was a long time ago of course. Perhaps Steenland’s outlook has changed. But I find the best predictor of future performance is past performance.

Cost-cutting isn’t new at American Airlines, of course. CEO Doug Parker thought American could get away without installing power in legacy US Airways planes. He was shocked by the outcry when they cut American Airlines meals to US Airways levels back in 2014. And he was proud that a deputy eliminated all meal service without even consulting him. What sort of advice will Steenland bring to bear?

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. Oh I remember that DCA club in the historic terminal! I recalled that local members would stop iN regularly to have a few drinks before a night out in DC.

    Well the airline world looks really bleak so bringing the masters makes sense.

  2. Watch out AA employees , As a former NWA employee I think you guy’s are going to get screwed big time because of Steenland coming over , I am truly sorry for your future , I lost 21 yrs. He’s going to help run another legacy carrier into the ground. He and Andy Roberts.

  3. Your reporting is going the way of the mainstream media. Clickbait headlines that bear little truth in the actual subject. The company put out a pamphlet after the pay cuts and furloughs that was published by another company. The CEO didn’t actually tell any employee to go dumpster diving. Keep it real.

  4. I am not an employee in aviation but I was shocked by this. I used to work in finance and always got disgusted with no raises but c-suite demanded white glove treatment and spent a fortune. While they did there was never money. I find it interesting these airlines spending more when they don’t have it to spend. If you are going to layoffs everyone in c-suite should be affected no more than 200k salary. No bonuses and nothing fancy.

    Dumpster diving they should be ashamed would live to see them do it. See them live off salary of someone making 50-60k.

  5. God helps us all. :0)

    A Facebook memory popped up a couple days ago on my 1st Round the World trip in 2013 where I was positioning to fly a Cathey Pacific B747-400 seat 2K from SFO-HKG.

    The first flight DCA-DFW has Scott Kirby sitting behind me in first, so I posted that. Now, meh? .

    I’m so conflicted with whole industry 🙁

  6. Replied to Jw. Go troll a trump site… your racist rants are not welcomed nor would be on American Airlines

  7. As a former AA employee thanks to Covid, I’m saddened to see the direction this airline is headed. It’s bad enough that the top brass (most all former US Air), were running this airline like a small time no frills airline similar to where they came from. Now they add Steenland, which can’t end in anything good. I also believe the best prediction to future performance is past performance and therfore fear what is going to be the future of a once great and prestigious airline that I took pride in working for.

  8. As a newly retired employee of AA, having worked over 40 years with Piedmont, US Airways and AA , the overall work ethic and atmosphere at AA is the worst ever. Management doesn’t have a clue, they put emphasis on everything BUT customer service, and worry more about being socially correct and preaching diversity than they do running the airline. Feel sorry for my younger co workers that have to remain under these lunatics.

  9. Doug Parker and his crew showed up at HDQ1 and were like kids with a new toy..They are personally responsible for a major portion of these layoffs in my opinion..I’d give my first born to run into him someday..I’d go to jail but it would be well worth it…
    It ain’t about BLM or who you support for office…Its that one percent that we’ve always heard about..They are the real enimies.

  10. Those tips were dated back then. Wonder if it was a generic pamphlet not actually written by Northwest.

  11. American Airlines need someone like Bob Crandall back. Someone who actually has pride in American Airlines that cares about the employees, the company and the customers,. Someone to manage the carrier instead of a bunch of people that only seem to beg the government for handouts and outsource American employee jobs all the while, still taking huge bonuses for themselves as well as hiring their buddies for board members and managers and when they fail, they promote them. I have been a family member of American Airlines for over 40 years and it makes me sad & angry to see what it’s being made into. It has America in it’s name I guess some leaders have no pride in that any longer.

  12. I’m not an employee but I guarantee I and everyone I know will never fly AA ever again. Dumpster diving takes the food the homeless and poor people count on to survive.

  13. Steenland sold out Northwest, and made a HUGE pile of money for himself. If he showed up at AA watch out–he probably wants to do the same thing again.

  14. Yah. Ex NWA exec.. u are shameful. ( but go ahead and take your stock options like you did to me and other NWA employees in 2005.

  15. Steenland is an opportunist and a slimeball. He will never stoop to eating his own cooking!

Comments are closed.