Weaved into the proclamations by top brass about the network superiority that American Airlines and US Airways will achieve once their merger is complete are mixed messages as to how the merged carrier will approach the passenger experience. It also appears that the fate of American’s hyped new livery and re-branding efforts remain highly uncertain.
In the short term, upper management echelons of the combined carrier will be divided between the current CEOs of each airline. American CEO Thomas Horton will serve as board Chairman through the first annual meeting of the merged carrier’s shareholders while US Airways CEO Doug Parker assumes his current position at the merged carrier.
Now management teams at the two carriers face the formidable challenges navigating a seamless combination of their respective operations while minimising the effects of inevitable integration challenges on the combined carrier’s expanded customer base.
But cracks appear to be spreading in the joint vision for the overall passenger experience for the American Airlines that will emerge after the two airlines complete their targeted 18-month integration effort.
Roughly a month after American choreographed an elaborate unveiling of an update of its 45-year old aircraft livery, uncertainty is arising over the new branding’s longevity now that American and US Airways are merging to become the “new” American. The new livery that features and American flag on the tail and a flight symbol replacing the iconic eagle next to the American name at the front of the aircraft has drawn more criticism than praise amongst the active aviation community.
Queried directly about the new American branding–including the new livery–remaining in place now that two carriers begin work to build a joint management team for the new carrier, US Airways president Scotty Kirby told investors that the American Airlines name is the greatest in the history of aviation, and with “100,000 employees who are excited about this..that’s going to help us have the best product in the industry, and really your brand is as much about your employees and how they treat customers”.
Prodded that he avoided directly answering the question about retaining the new livery, Kirby quipped: “I was well coached.”
As Kirby’s comments seem to imply uncertainty over the new livery’s lifespan, comments made by executives at both carriers over their approach to the customer experience are bemusing. At the time that the merger was announced US Airways’ chief Parker indicated that his carrier would “move up” to American’s product enhancements, which include a “Main Cabin Extra” stretched economy product, a dedicated first class product on American’s new flagship 777-300ERs and offering inflight Wi-Fi on international flights.
US Airways has also concluded that based on lessons learned from its integration with America West, and observing the mergers of Delta and Northwest and United and Continental, that it is more prudent to “take the larger airline’s [technological] systems and put those in place”, said Parker.
Asked if that same philosophy would apply to the passenger service approach of the combined carriers, and queried specifically about the fate of American’s “Main Cabin Extra” extended legroom offering, US Airways’ president Kirby remarked that “there is going to be a whole host of integration harmonisation that needs to go on.” Soon a transition committee will start work on a whole host of areas where the two carriers have differences, and Kirby stated there are “no answers [on those differences] yet”.
Shortly before Kirby made those comments, American’s CEO and the combined carrier’s future Chairman Horton stressed that American has had a strong focus on “our highest value customers–global travellers that provide a disproportionate share of our revenue, and our strategy over the last couple of years has been all about building a great experience for those customers”.
“Doug and I have talked a lot about that,” Horton remarked. “The mission going forward is to make sure we’re pushing forward with all of those things and ensuring that we only make it better for our best customers.”
Horton declared that as American during the last two years has made a significant investment in the customer experience, and said he had discussed American’s focus on the passenger experience with Parker. American’s future chairman declared that the financial strength of the combined carrier allows the airline to continue investing in products that enhance the customer experience.
Obviously a significant amount of work lies ahead for American and US Airways as they undertake the hugely complex task of merging two airlines, and their approach to the passenger experience falls into resolving those intricacies. But in the short term US Airways has refrained from offering a timeframe of when its aircraft would begin to be rebranded in American’s new livery. The proliferation of the recently-unveiled livery across the combined carrier’s fleet, along with other crucial strategic decisions, lies within a yet-to-be-determined executive team to run the “new” American.