American Airlines: How to Get Your Two Workforces to Resent Each Other

As American and US Airways continue to merge their operations, one of the key issues is labor integration — and not just getting combined work contracts for flight attendants, pilots, and other groups, but getting the two work forces to operate as one and to be be both happy and productive.

American management does realize that they need to avoid the kind of ‘us vs. them’ mentality that often pervades mergers. Legacy Continental flight attendants sometimes still announce that their United flights are operated by Continental crew. They’re proud of their heritage, think they’re better, and resent legacy United employees.

So when American’s CEO says things like this, he probably isn’t helping:

Mr. Parker said the most surprising thing of the past year was how many things needed improving at American once he arrived from US Airways. He said the carrier was inefficient and accepting of common issues, such as broken seats and frequent delays.

“As we looked under the hood, there was more opportunity than we thought there was going to be,” he said. “That’s all good. Those are all things we know how to fix.”

Ironically, my sense is that the opposite is true. US Airways management came into American thinking that most of the things the larger airline was doing were ludicrous. As they’ve gotten to know things from the inside, they’ve seen there actually were reasons behind some of the decisions they questioned from the outside. In other words, there are fewer opportunities than they thought, at least less low hanging fruit than they assumed.

In fairness, we do see US Airways management ‘re-banking hubs’ meaning less spread out use of ground resources to make for shorter connection times in an attempt to appeal to business travelers looking for quickest transits. And there are fewer meals than in the past. So changes are definitely afoot.

But US Airways management came in thinking many of the things, like premium cabin investments, were ludicrous. And yet they’re announcing new premium cabin improvements.

Given that it’s not unequivocably and obviously correct that there’s more low hanging fruit than expected, insulting legacy American operations by suggesting they were a basket case probably isn’t a great way to get the workforces of both airlines on the same team and avoid an us vs. them mentality.

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. Yeah, I am gonna really look forward to flights where the First/Biz class FT announce that they are ex-US Air. Expect not much of any service, bad food, and lots of lip. Gonna really love flying the New US Air, err sorry American. Maybe it will get as good as the new UA? Biz travelers feel so welcome there!

  2. Why would AA employees resent a guy who wants to fix stuff and make their jobs easier by not having to deal with broken seats and inefficiencies that may make their work harder? Seems you are taking the comment to heart, and personally, since you like and favor AA.

    I worked for US for 3 years up til recently. Parker is not stupid; in fact, he’s pretty smart. He did not like heavy & expensive IFE for US Airways because US’ lower yielding hubs/network did/does not warrant the added cost of the IFE. He plainly said to all leaders that the way he ran US would have to change when running AA. He acknowledged that AA’s higher-yielding network and hubs would warrant spending more $ on product, unlike at US.

    Parker saved US. Him making the decisions he did at the carrier made it one of the most profitable carriers in the sky. While those decisions may not have been friendly to folks like you, it kept the airline flying. I realize you write more about #paxex than business, and I know US post-HP merger was never really known for that. But I strongly believe, if you think he’s still using the same principles at AA, you are incorrect.

  3. US – AA labor integration issues? From the guy who could only stir the pot and fail to resolve East – West issues in over five years? Not a huge surprise.

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