Last spring American Airlines shed 30% of its management staff, saving the company $500 million a year. They did this even though they had federal subsidies that required them to keep everyone on payroll. They offered ‘voluntary’ packages to employees, letting them know they’d be out as soon as those subsidies expired if they didn’t leave.
I published the packages that were being offered when I broke the news about the airline’s move. However the most senior staff got more generous deals. One of the people who left as part of this was Bridget Blaise-Shamai, who ran AAdvantage. She was replaced by Rick Elieson who moved over from cargo to lead the team.
Now, just a little over a year later, he’s leaving the airline. The most significant thing that happened during his tenure, of course, was mortgaging the program for $10 billion after previously using it as collateral for a subsidized loan from the U.S. Treasury.
Other milestones included eliminating award redeposit fees and telephone booking fees and overseeing the program’s 40th anniversary celebration.
Early in his tenure he committed to keeping award charts while saying he didn’t understand their value, while later saying award charts are on the way out at the airline in what would obviously mean a program devaluation. He also tended to speak freely with customers about what was coming down the pike for the program. I first spoke with him a decade ago when he was managing digital marketing.
The Points Guy published Elieson’s departure e-mail,
In February 1994 my older brother called me to tell me American was hiring. There had been a hiring freeze, but it had been lifted and they were looking for foreign language speakers. He encouraged me to apply, saying, “American is a good company. If you’re smart and work hard, they’ll take good care of you.” I know, I know, there’s a presumption in that statement, but he should know – my brother was working for American at the time. He started his career on the ramp loading bags, and by the time he called me, he was leading one of AMR’s smaller subsidiary business units. He went on to spend almost 30 years at AMR and Sabre. I believed him, and I applied for a job.
Twenty-eight years later, it’s my turn to leave American and pursue other interests – and I still believe him. What I’ve come to appreciate along the way is that there is no “the company.” There’s just you and me. We’re each responsible to do our best, and to recognize and develop the smart and hardworking people around us. Because there’s really no such thing as individual success.
This is my way of saying thank you. I’ve been a part of many amazing successes during my career at American and every single one of them were the product of the amazing team of which I was a part. Thank you. Thank you for the honor of working alongside you in the Loyalty organization, and for teaching me something new every day.
There’s so much to look forward to for the rest of 2021 and in 2022. Throughout the pandemic you’ve been hard at work, focused on our customers and moving the program forward – making AAdvantage more engaging and rewarding for everyone. Exciting enhancements to our award-winning program are on the horizon because of the work we’ve done together, and I couldn’t be prouder of what you’re accomplishing and how you’re working together.
My day-to-day responsibilities will quickly fall on the shoulders of others, but I’ll continue working behind the scenes through the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition and the program’s continued success.
Thanks for all that you do for our AAdvantage members and for each other.
The AAdvantage program currently reports up to Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja.