American Airlines fires web designer over response to rant

In an era where communication is fast and easy, sometimes it’s easy to forget about boundaries. American Airlines fired a web design employee because of this. The employee responded to a blog post from a “disgruntled user,” but the airline felt he went too far, saying that he released sensitive information about American. This was a violation of his non-disclosure agreement with the company.

So far, the employee is being called “Mr. X” — an original moniker, right? Well, he saw a pretty brutal post from Dustin Curtis, an unhappy passenger. He basically wrote an open letter to the airline after having “had the horrific displeasure of booking a flight on your website.” It was so bad, he wrote, “that I vowed never to fly your airline again.” He then offered some suggestions, drawing on his background as a user interface designer and closed with the sentiment: “Imagine what you could do with a full, totally competent design team.”

According to Curtis, it only took American an hour to fire “Mr. X” after he addressed to the employee’s response. Yep, a decade of experience as a user interface designer and a portfolio that Curtis wrote, has “some great work,” went down the tubes. In an e-mail to Curtis, Mr. X explains the internal situation at American’s group in considerable detail. He provides insights into which groups handle specific functions and is kind enough to point out that there are some enhancements coming in the next 12 to 18 months (so, keep an eye out for them).

And, he defended himself and his company. Mr. X got pretty blunt:

“But-and I guess here’s the thing I most wanted to get across-simply doing a home page redesign is a piece of cake. You want a redesign? I’ve got six of them in my archives. It only takes a few hours to put together a really good-looking one, as you demonstrated in your post. But doing the design isn’t the hard part, and I think that’s what a lot of outsiders don’t really get, probably because many of them actually do belong to small, just-get-it-done organizations. But those of us who work in enterprise-level situations realize the momentum even a simple redesign must overcome, and not many, I’ll bet, are jumping on this same bandwagon. They know what it’s like.”

Curtis, of course, is “horrified” at what happened to Mr. X (and pointed out that he republished the letter with the author’s permission).

For American, this wasn’t an issue of public criticism. After all, Curtis, as a professional, is in the business of promoting his capabilities, and it’s possible to interpret his initial critique as a pitch — to any potential client, not just American. The airline was upset to see such detailed and sensitive information about its operation sent out into the public domain.

Curtis disagrees. His latest statement says, “When I first learned about this, I was horrified. Mr. X is actually a good UX designer, and his email had me thinking there was hope for American Airlines.” He continues that Mr. X “clearly cared about his work and about the user experience at the company as a whole. But AA fired Mr. X because he cared.”

Yet, while Curtis says American fired the designer because “he cared enough to reach out to a dissatisfied customer and help clear the company’s name in the best way he could,” he opened the door to all kinds of information that I wouldn’t want to show up on Gadling.