UnAmerican Airline

Two days ago Jake McKee gave an amazing talk at There’s a New Conversation in New York. He came all the way from Dallas to share some of the great work he and his cohorts had done at the Lego Company, inspired in part by .

I didn’t get the whole backstory on the trip until I read this in his blog today.

The short of it is that American Airlines not only decided not to waive the opportunity to soak Jake an extra $359 for moving his departure from New York one day ahead to make his grandma’s funeral, but gave him this peevish, passive-aggressive policy-über-alles response: “American reviewed the policy a few years back and decided that since funeral homes, doctors, and clothiers don’t discount their rates, we shouldn’t either.”

Wow. What a shitty thing to say to a bereaved customer. Not to mention dumb and irrelevant.

Jake concludes,

  When I told Irving, the supervisor, that I’d been a loyal customer for years and that I felt that the “fare difference” (i.e. we charge more for certain times of the day for the exact same overhead) should be waived if for nothing else than because it was the best way American could return the loyalty I’d shown them over the years he said:

  “I’m not here to argue with you, sir.”

  And I’m not here to argue with you either, American. In fact, I’m not here to fly with you, defend you, or support you. Not only have I lost interested in maintaining our quasi-relationship, I’ll now actively work to find alternatives to using you. (Hard to do when you live in Dallas, but absolutely not impossible). I’ll encourage others to think twice about using you. All because you were more interested in potentially getting an extra $359.

  Bravo.

  You stuck to your principles, now it’s my turn.

And a sincere Bravo to Jake as well.

10 comments

  1. Cédric Ringenbach’s avatar

    In VRM project, I understand that companies should focus on their job (that is to manufacture a product or to deliver a service), and that the energy to put offer and demand in contact should be shared between vendor and buyer. Then the price of the product/service shall be as close as possible to the production cost + margin.
    Considering this, everything that costs someting has to be charged. Does this make sens?

  2. Mary Schmidt Marketing Troubleshooter » UnAmerican Airlines: Loyalty, Schmolyalty’s avatar

    [...] then I read this from Doc Searls, (who is a Poobah blogger and big brain Web thought leader) : UnAmerican Airlines, talking about Jake McKee’s recent problem with AA when his grandmother died. The short of [...]

  3. Stephen Lewis’s avatar

    Doc, Thanks for the mention. Actually, “academics” (urban and architectural history and field work, history of national identities, and quite a bit of architectural and ethnographic photography) was the less than the half of it. The bulk of it indeed was “marketing communications” and “strategic sales support” much of it ala Boorman, and later strategic and change consultancy and opening companies to the perceptions and wishes of the individuals and groups comprising the outside world (not unlike VRM) (through communications). This propoelled me though a hundred or so clients in a score of industries. Now, I am glad that we are back in touch and collaborating on projects that contribute to ensuring that the internet (except in its humor and irony) never turns into Boorman’s Journal. Steve

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Well, brevity is the soul of error, I suppose.

    Thanks for the corrections, Steve. Not meaning to niche you. The problem with describing anyone by just one of their many vectors is missing too much of the rest of it.

    I’ll do better next time. Meanwhile, have to go finish packing. Much to do today and then on a plane for The Coast at 0632 tomorrow.

  5. Scott Greiff’s avatar

    How does VRM distinguish itself from gossip and one side of an conversation? How do vendors attempt to address their past missteps and how do private settlements get fed back into the VRM system?

  6. links for 2008-02-16 -- Chip’s Quips’s avatar

    [...] Doc Searls Weblog · UnAmerican Airline This is so typical of American — I’d rather walk than fly with them. Did I mention the time we spent 12 hours at Newark with two kids? Or the time my connecting AA flight didn’t wait for my first AA flight and I had to spend the night, on my own dime? (tags: aa airlines service) [...]

  7. Chris’s avatar

    Quick question related to session on the 13th: any podcasts of the overall talk I can grab anywhere? Would love to catch up on the current cluetrain thinking / discussion.

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Scott, think of VRM as the tools you need to engage companies on your terms as well as theirs. Tools that provide you with independence, plus capabilities independent of any one vendor, but useful to all of them. At the simple end you should be able, for example, to make a street address change that inform and correct all your contacts, subscriptions, memberships and other relationships (magazines, insurance companies, utilities, whatever) — in a secure way that involves minimal need-to-know disclosure. At the complex end you should the “point of integration” for all your health care data, and be able to provide in a simple yet automated way the data your health care providers need to know. Also at the complex end, you should be able to issue a “personal RFP” in the form of a request to the whole market for something you’re ready to buy, without having to go into a silo such as eBay or Amazon. For example, you should be able to notify the market that you need a stroller for twins somewhere in Kansas City in the next 4 hours — without having to reveal anything about yourself other than the fact that you’re trustworthy and your money is good. This will build what we’re calling an intention economy far more efficient and rewarding for everybody than the current “attention economy” build around advertising and other forms of pushing on the sell side. Conversation of the literal sort may be involved, but it’s secondary. Conversation of the figurative sort, of course, is what this is about.

  9. Jake McKee’s avatar

    Doc, it was great to see you again! Thanks for the compliment about the presentation, even if it’s quite unnerving to have the guy who literally wrote the book sitting in the audience :)

    And thanks or promoting the American Airlines story. I know common logic is to just ignore these issues and chalk it up as nothing more than “how things work”. A blogger told me recently that he was dropping his discussion of the airlines to focus on things that will actually get some traction.

    How sad is that? Airlines suck so bad, it’s just simply not worth the time because nothing’s going to change. Blech.

  10. Bill’s avatar

    In this day and age of airline problems… customer service should be KING… when it isn’t it sure makes me think about EVER traveling with that airline again. I had a nightmare experience with WestJet in Canada… they didn’t care…and I could care less if they survive now.

    Details on my blog.

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