Aviation and Communications still don’t seem to work in the same sentence

By Robert Mark on November 7th, 2006

The aviation industry has a history of some pretty repulsive communications efforts aimed at customers and employees, like charging an airline’s best clients the highest possible ticket prices when those customers needed them most … at the least minute.

For years, business travelers shook off the indignity of being not simply platinum flyers, but platinum payers as well.

Then came the tsunami of low-cost carriers that helped the legacy carriers decide they wanted to be our friends again. Perhaps friends is a bad choice of terms since no one would subject friends to airline travel today. Let’s say the legacies are trying to maintain market share.
On the labor side, the debate still focuses on whether unions exist to keep airline management at bay, or whether management reacts to labor out of pure defense.

Regardless of your perspective, the airlines have spent the past five years asking employees for givebacks (is that even a word?), with some regionals still focused on winning pay and benefit cuts. Mesaba Airlines is a prime example.

But there seems to be light at the end of tunnel now that a few carriers like American, United and US Airways made money last quarter. And what could be ugly about a profit?

Nothing really.

It’s the communications style airline management used to handle these recent successes that confirms just how badly they’ve again shot themselves in the foot.

Not surprisingly, turning a profit means everyone has their hand out looking for a share of the pie. And, not surprisingly, the airlines have rewarded executives with a few outstanding bonuses in an attempt – they say – to keep them from jumping ship to another more profitable career.

And what of the employees? They’re still working under the same giveback (maybe that is a real word) schemes. And worst of all, they didn’t even receive the courtesy of a note from management about executive bonuses before they read about it in the newspapers. Why are executive always surprised when employees react to these kinds of condescending tactics, especially from airlines that all employ internal communications people?

Here’s an idea for management.

Even though you know employees probably don’t have any other airline to jump to like management, how about pretending that you appreciate their efforts over the past few years too, by giving the executives a few million less and splitting the remainder among the rank and file … as a gesture.

Personally, I wouldn’t be expecting employees to lay low much longer at any airline that turns a profit, no matter what management and the shareholders want.

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