Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

By Robert Passikoff

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the most-important customer engagement driver in the airline category is “Safety.” The plane goes up, the plane comes down, safely, as planned. That’s what passengers expect. And, because we have regulations, planes get grounded when they aren’t considered safe enough to go up.

In October, American Airlines, which has been bombarded with bankruptcy problems and breakdowns in talks with the pilot’s union, grounded dozens of airlines for another week for breakdowns of another sort – loose passenger seats. When we say “another week” we’re referring to the fact that this has happened before, with American making two emergency landings after seats came loose on a number of flights.

The re-grounded airlines made up nearly half of American’s fleet, which caused a high number of cancellations and delays over the past few months (which are value components in another of the category’s engagement and loyalty drivers) to surge, so kind of a double-whammy for the beleaguered airline and the brand.

American used to be #1 on the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, but that was quite a few years ago, and in the interest of full-disclosure, their slide down the list had nothing to do with safety. Current airline brand rankings look like this, so we can’t be precisely sure how the newest disclosure about the brand has eroded equity further:

    1. Delta

    2. JetBlue

    3. Southwest

    4. United

    5. US Airways

    6. American

Anyway, American acknowledged the problem and was – as legally-required – looking into it, although they didn’t provide details as to what caused the loose seat problem, then citing “a lot of contributing factors.”

But in October came the revelation. American told CBS that “a combination of wear, poor design, and even soda spilled into the seat tracks caused the pins to pop out of the grooves.” No, seriously. According to American the seal lock plunger mechanism can “get gunked up over time from people spilling sodas, popcorn, coffee, or whatever, and that can affect the mechanism that locks the seats to the floor.” ‘Gunked up” is apparently the technical term, but don’t worry because it’s just a condition that’s been identified on American’s planes.

Anyway, for those of you with nonrefundable tickets on American, American is currently in the process of installing an FAA-approved locking mechanism, so you ought to be A-OK.

Oh, and there is no truth to the rumors that American is going to ask you to be neater or is going to charge passengers extra for a sippy cup!

About the author

Robert Passikoff is President at Brand Keys, the New York-based brand and customer loyalty research consultancy that conducts the national survey.


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