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Memo to American Airlines: You Need a PR Transfusion

Posted by: David Kiley on May 27, 2008

There is much hub-bub over American Airlines’ $15 fee for a checked bag, and the PR fallout with consumers.

PR fallout? That would presume that the airlines had any credibility at all with consumers and business travelers in the first place.

When I hear that businesses have difficulty passing along rising fuel costs to consumers, I scratch my head. What do people expect when they see gas rising above $4.00 per gallon? Do they think the price of corn flakes going by their cars on the highway in a tractor trailer truck paying even more for diesel fuel isn’t going to go up?

American is charging $15 per checked bag rather than nosing up ticket prices for a few reasons. Business travelers on whom they depend hardly ever check a bag, so they are unaffected. Even if they do check a bag, they don’t care because it doesn’t add up to enough money for most companies paying for business travel to care.

This is a move to soak non-business travelers, and discourage people from over-packing, thus reducing weight.

It is a canard to think that most people choose airline flights based on price when the price between two carriers is within $50.00. People choose flights based on where they have frequent-flyer accounts, and by schedule before they start quibbling over $15.00 or even $50.00. Because, even in hard times, time is worth more than the money. Try and book a flight based on your time needs, and you would be extremely lucky to find more than one caarrier choice. True, if you have some time flexibility, you might have a choice. But more often than not, you get backed into a flight choice based on scheduling.

Here is a bit of the chatter on the issue at Skytalk.

Weber-Shandwick is allegedly American’s PR counselor. Here is a memo, for which I am not going to charge.

Dear Client: Instead of instituting a fee for checked bags, which will be a lightning rod of bad publicity, please consider burying the cost of rising fuel in across-the-board ticket price increases. Consumers understand that many consumer prices are rising because of increasing fuel costs. What they don’t like, or understand, is when companies begin charging for items they have previously gotten for free—a single checked bag, a soda, a bag of chips, a WiFi connection, etc. The best solution to this problem is to stay out of the news, not to lean into it and ask for a pie in the face.

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Reader Comments

Awilda Robles

May 27, 2008 04:53 PM

The govenment should intervene in this terrible situation with the airlines. In Puerto Rico, where I live,this is causing a lot of anxiousness among the employees as AA is downsizing by 15% and almost half of the employeees are being layed off. I have two daughters one works for AA and the other for AE they have to transfer to another area or lose their jobs.

Anthony J. DiDonna

May 27, 2008 08:11 PM

I need air fare round trip from Albany N.Y. to murrels Inlet Sc.

Tom Richardson

May 29, 2008 07:53 AM

American Airlines has zero credibility with the public right now. While the current price of fuel clearly affects how they operate, this is nothing but a way to gouge their customers. Should the price of oil drop and American becomes profitable again, I doubt they'll remove the checked bag fee.

Moreover, I doubt that the price of oil is the sole motive behind this cash grab. How many tens of millions did American lose this year when it grounded its MD-80 fleet because it failed to maintain its planes properly? I've seen figures from $40-60 million. Clearly, they need a way to recoup from failure and gouging

I've always been fan of American Airlines and have many miles with their frequent flier program. Needless to say, given a choice in air travel I will not be flying American.


June 1, 2008 04:58 AM

The problem is that american needs to renew some of their fleet before 2012, and they use the excuse of the oil to down size their flights and cut personal to have the money to buy all aircrafts, besides the bad administration and maintenance of the fleet that ground the md-80 fleet is sinking the airline.


June 3, 2008 09:40 AM

They could have easily turned this into a semi-positive instead of a negative. As you mentioned in the post, build the extra cost into all tickets across the board. Then you could even give a discount for those who choose not to check a bag. Make it an incentive, not a punishment.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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