Flight attendants fake strike to make point

Contract negotiations between American Airlines and its flight attendants have stalled. So, the flight attendants kicked off a fake strike on Wednesday. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, they picketed, handed out leaflets and wore red badges, showing flights they feel couldn’t run without them. So, just think of how strong a real strike would have been! Similar protests were held at 12 other airports, as well.

Because of federal laws that intentionally make it difficult for airline industry employees to strike, the fake alternative was the best that could be summoned, at least on short notice. USA Today reports that gauging public support for a flight attendant strike is difficult, but union officials seem unwilling to roll the dice by disrupting flights, especially with the holiday season coming. Smart move: if fliers have demonstrated anything this year, it’s that they don’t give a shit about the airlines. They just want to get from Point A to Point B for as low a fare as possible.

And, public sentiment aside, it’s hard to draw blood from a stone. In less than two years, American’s parent company, AMR, has lost $3.2 billion, and revenue has taken a dive. So, what’s left for the flight attendants to demand?

The union and the airline have been trying to hash out a new contract since June 2008. The airline’s last pay cut came in 2003, at 33 percent. Since then, the flight attendants have picked up 1.5 percent annual pay raises — except in 2009, where compensation was stalled because the contract hasn’t moved.

American says they two sides have come to an agreement on around 75 percent of the items on the plate, but the union says the airline hasn’t put up a comp number yet. The flight attendants are pissed that they had to take a pay cut six years ago, while the airlines management continues to get sweetheart bonus deals.

Airlines and social media: dialogue waiting to happen

Social media means that airlines just have another place where they can be raked over the coals. We complain to ticket agents. We complain to gate agents. We complain to customer service reps. And now, we can complain to the world, thanks to the likes of Twitter. I, for example, follow @DeltaSucks, though there hasn’t been any action on it in several months. I don’t just listen, though. When I’m stuck in an airport, I tweet relentlessly, and I know I’m not alone.

So, what’s an airline to do about this? And Facebook? And YouTube?

The attack is coming on all fronts, and an industry that’s been beaten up so severely and so often has few options. For now, the response is limited to tweeting fare deals, but obviously, that does little to address the continued stream of negative exposure to which the airlines are subjected.

When in doubt, the philosophy on social media complaints appears to be silence. Continental and American Airlines wouldn’t comment on recent tweets from disgruntled fliers, according to a Reuters report. They are monitoring and claim to be responding, but that’s about all. Billy Sanez, who manages social media for American’s parent, AMR, believes that these platforms make it easier to open a dialogue with passengers … but where is that dialogue?

When I got pissed off at JetBlue a year ago, I wrote about it on my personal blog and heard nothing from JetBlue. But, I did hear from other passengers … one of whom was afraid to say too much because he was still in transit and didn’t want to risk angering the airline. This level of paranoia may be extreme, but the implication is clear: passengers could find even a small blog, but airlines are squandering a chance to really engage the people who pay their bills.

Christi Day, who takes care of Twitter and Facebook for Southwest Airlines, told Reuters, “The main thing that our customers need to know is that we hear them.” But, again, there is no discussion of what the airline is doing about it.

Customers finally have a voice, and as we saw with “United Breaks Guitars,” it can get pretty loud. While the airlines may be listening, we’re still waiting for the second half of “dialogue” to happen.

Fed up with your airline? Rent a billboard!

Back in April, Jeffrey wrote about a new initiative by some American Airlines pilots to try and get public attention to the large number of delays and cancellations the airline was experiencing. At that time, they invited people to their web site, where they could “tell their AA story”.

They have now taken things one step further, with their own billboard. The billboard is about 2 miles away from Chicago O’Hare and next to one of the busiest highways leading to the airport. The Allied Pilots Association is behind the billboard, and they want to make it clear that they don’t think you are AA’s top priority. It’s a pretty eye-catching way of delivering your message, and if I had the money, I’d love to rent one every time an airline messed up my trip.