American Airlines refers to long haul international and premium transcon flights as ‘Flagship flights.’ They represent 5% of American’s flights but the airline says they generate more than half of premium cabin revenue. The airline has told employees that “[n]early 50 percent of first and business passengers on Flagship flights are elite customers.”
They extend this branding to lounges (Flagship lounge and first dining) and other premium services. And they say that Delta has improperly used the term flagship in some press releases – confusing consumers into thinking Delta has American’s great Flagship product – and they’ve filed a lawsuit against Delta.
American Airlines sued Delta Air Lines for trademark infringement in Texas federal court Friday, accusing the rival of confusing consumers by adopting the term “Flagship.”
American, the largest airline in the country, says it’s used the name “Flagship” as a trademark for premium air services since the 1930s — long before Delta started using the term for similar purposes in 2017.
“Despite knowing that American owns the exclusive right to use the Flagship marks, Delta has begun to use the terms ‘flagship,’ ‘Flagship,’ and ‘FLAGSHIP’ to promote its own airport lounges and premium services and interiors,” the company wrote in its complaint.
“This is no accident,” the company wrote. “American believes Delta is looking to capture additional market share by targeting its greatest competitor, American, and eroding the brand, goodwill, and value that American has built over the past eighty years through the Flagship marks.”
The case is American Airlines Inc. v. Delta Air Lines Inc., case number 4:19-cv-01053, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
‘Flagship’ Is Trademarked By Many Different Companies
The word Flagship itself is used in many contexts. It is trademarked by several different companies for different purposes. Flagship Athletic Performance filed for “weightlifting, metabolic training, strength development, mobility, and yoga.” Shulton filed for fragrances. There’s the Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards Credit Card from Navy Federal. Even in the area of rewards, where American Airlines competes, they don’t have ownership over the word Flagship.
Flagship Is A Commonly Used Word With Meaning
In losing protection for ‘Big Mac’ in the European Union, the sandwich is described as McDonalds’ flagship. Apple’s flagship store design can be trademarked. Lexus has trademarked a new model name that “hints at a more powerful flagship SUV.” Nike has a ‘flagship’ store in New York.
What Delta Has Supposedly Done
They’ve referred to their business class suite with doors as their “flagship” Delta One Suite. They’ve also referred to their Airbus A350 as their flagship. And their new SkyClub in Atlanta is also a flagship SkyClub, since it’s promoted as a jewel in the lounge crown at their largest hub.
In other words they’ve used the term as it is ordinarily used. Does American’s trademark give them exclusive use of this term to cover premium products in air travel?
Is Any Consumer Likely To Be Confused?
Delta has the better consumer reputation and earns a revenue premium because of it. It’s absurd to think that Delta would try to confuse consumers into thinking they were getting an American Airlines product when buying travel from Delta. They’ve worked hard on their own brand and they believe it is responsible for outperforming the industry in general and American Airlines in particular.
What’s more, American’s President Robert Isom says the carrier is laser focused on competing against low cost carriers Spirit Airlines and Frontier. The focus on degrading their economy product has eroded the value of their premium brand. Most passengers fly coach. Most premium passengers buy coach domestically, since companies often have rules about the length of a trip before they’ll pay for business. And it’s that experience that colors consumer expectations of what American can deliver in its flagship product.
If there’s any consumer confusion it seems like it would work in reverse – that customers might accidentally buy American Airlines tickets instead of Delta tickets.
The more Delta uses the term flagship, and equates it with its own friendlier and on-time product, the more American Airlines benefits from the term’s uses – precisely because potential American Airlines customers might be confused and think they’re buying Delta.