The American Airlines and US Airways CEOs sat down to pitch their merger earlier in the month to the New York Times, and I was quoted nine times in the ensuing piece.
I received a package from US Airways as a followup to those quotes, and I wanted to talk about what was in it and share their side of things.
Now, I’ve been quoted in several media outlets recently on the merger. But such is still the power of the Times I suppose that that’s the one which got the attention of US Airways management.
I have actually been extremely friendly towards the merger, at least compared to most commentators — which is to say that I’m lukewarm and not openly hostile. I would have preferred to see American Airlines remain a standalone airline. It has the best top tier elite program, I believe, and does a pretty good job with inflight product. So I don’t like changes which risk that.
But I’ve also been clear that while there will be some winners and losers in the merger (some routes with easier upgrades, some with harder upgrades, integration pains the first few days of the merger probably, and an accelerated re-evaluation of many of the best features of both frequent flyer programs that putt hose in greater immediate jeopardy than otherwise — though in most cases just speeding up decisions that would already get made, I think) there’s not really anything concrete at this point to object to nor are the concerns all that major as far as mergers go.
Nonetheless, I did make the point in the piece that American offers a superior inflight product to US Airways and my fear is that they ‘split the difference’ rather than raising the legacy US Airways offerings to American standards. US Airways CEO Doug Parker, who will run the combined airline, is on record clearly believing that what’s important is to run an on-time airline not to offer frills. To a large extent he’s right, of course. And despite this it’s US Airways that pioneered the business class seat that would become the best in the sky. But I still lament even the possible loss of meal service for flights under three and a half hours!
The letter I received (reproduced below) came from US Airways’ Vice President for Corporate Communications and came with two bottles of wine that they serve in international business class. (Pizza in Motion got the same letter, and plans a giveaway for his wine.)
Now, the 2011 William Hill Central Coast cab is about a $16 – $18 bottle, not a particularly inspired choice but in all ways completely inoffensive. I haven’t tried this Pinot Grigio but I expect that it’s similar in stature.
I’ve said that international business class is all about the seat and US Airways has a good one (American is rolling out a newer version currently).
I’m not even concerned how good the food is, above a certain level, because usually business class and domestic first class food isn’t all that great which is ok. The idea is it should be perfectly edible, and not all that unhealthy, so you don’t go hungry in the air. I’ll leave it to first class products to try to mimic a top restaurant in the sky (while the food is often good, it is rarely ever great no matter how hard they try — and yet that doesn’t mean I won’t much enjoy it).
What I don’t want to see is the combined airline cost cut to drop service down to US Airways levels. The last time – admittedly two years ago – that I flew DC-Phoenix in US Airways first class it was an ex-American West crew and cabin and wine at dinner was served in plastic cups.
Doug Parker has already addressed my number one concern, which reservation system platform they’d go with (almost certainly American’s — which everyone should rejoice at). If the airline would announce no reduction in meals on sub-3 hour flights, no intention of removing first class seats to conform to the number of seats on US Airways planes (there’s been no contrary suggestion, of course, just spitballing potential negatives), and no changes to American’s generous international upgraeds, I would become a downright booster of this merger. Because I happen to live 10 minutes from Washington’s National airport, which in recent times US Airways has talked up as a hub.
I don’t intend to keep the wine, by the way, I will give it away to frequent flyers somehow (not on the blog, darned interstate shipping laws, but perhaps at Frequent Traveler University).
Here’s the full text of the letter:
I’d like to first start off by thanking you for being a US Airways customer. We value your business and hope you continue to fly with us. After reading Stephanie Rosenbloom’s New York Times article “The Getaway: If American and US Airways Merger, What Should Fliers Expect?” I wanted to personally reach out to you and let you know we’re listening to your feedback and value your opinion.
First, we don’t want you to go hungry! You may be pleased to know that US Airways is redefining the inflight experience for our customers. Recently (April 1, and no, this isn’t an April Fools prank) we launched several onboard enhancements. We introduced a continental-style breakfast on-the-go that includes a yogurt smoothie, croissant, almond butter, jam and (if there’s still room after all of that, a mint) in the First Class cabin on overnight coast-to-coast flights. In addition, we have added a new snack basket with popular brands that you will recognize and love (well, we love them anyway) along with the meal service. We’ve also introduced Dos Equis beer, a Mexican lager, to provide our customers with additional choices as they travel with us.
Yes, we may be the most interesting airline in the world.
In all seriousness, while these are just a few changes we’ve made recently, I assure you that you will see more enhancements in the very near future. We are listening to our most elite customers and using that feedback to provide you with a more comfortable travel experience, and just wanted to update you.
As a token of our good faith efforts, enclosed in this package you will find a menu of our award-winning wines and thought you might enjoy a sample. I’ve also included an overview of our enhancements that launched this month.
I hope that you enjoy these wines in good spirits (like that play on words?) as you look forward to our inflight changes to come. I’d like to also extend an invitation to “Unplugged,” US Airways’ annual Media Day, Wednesday April 24 at our Corporate Headquarters in Tempe, Arizona. [Information on Media Day and how to register removed] We’d love to see you there. Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any questions or would just like to chat.
Vice President, Corporate Communications
I was of course unavailable for media day already since its the day before the Freddie Awards ceremony at USA Today headquarters in Northern Virginia, and I’ll be busy preparing for that.
I do plan to reach out to Mr. McDonald, though, not that corporate communications is the best way to get feedback to the various powers-that-be about what’s important as they go forward with the merger.
US Airways does have a nice snack basket, though that’s not as important to me as actual meals. I’m not overly impressed by the service enhancements, but I get that they are at least paying attention to these things while watching their pennies carefully. The US Airways stock ticket symbol ‘LCC’ is indicative of where they’ve been, this is the airline that tried charging for water for awhile. No question they will ‘get’ that American flies different routes with different customers and needs to offer a different product. I just hope to get through the advice not to dilute the American product.
None of which, of course, is reason to oppose the merger at the level of government approvals. It should sail through, though ultimately with some divestiture of slots at US Airways — which will mean less service to small communities, as Parker predicted in front of Congress, but will happen because it’s an opportunity for the two airlines’ competitors to extract slots out of the process.