Ad campaigns prove legacy airlines just don’t get it

How long could you watch the ad for “The World’s Greatest Flyers” before you started rolling your eyes? Five seconds? Did you even make it to the part about babies?

The message isn’t bad. The campaign urges airline passengers to be polite and make the most of their flight.

It’s the messenger that’s the problem.

As many of you have pointed out, it’s like the CIA interrogator at a black ops facility telling you to make the most of your waterboarding session. (“Good detainees thank their warden for not leaving any permanent marks.”) As to your level of gratitude, Texas oilman and former gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams might have drawn a different analogy, perhaps jokingly.

No one is laughing.

Coming from American, “The World’s Greatest Flyers” seems like a clumsy effort to induce Stockholm Syndrome, the misplaced affection felt by kidnapping victims toward a captor. And it makes the airline, which is the most complained-about company in the travel industry, look terribly tone-deaf.

That’s where the analysis ends. There’s usually a quip about how the airline should be asking itself how to improve. As one recent letter to the editor noted, a better campaign might be, “Make American great again.”

But there’s a little more to the story. Airlines, and particularly legacy carriers, have rolled out several similarly clueless ad campaigns recently.

How about Delta’s “Keep Climbing” ad campaign?

On several levels, this one’s even more baffling than American’s ad.

Is that a Great White shark lunging out of the water halfway through the clip? Is that Donald Sutherland’s voice — the same guy who played the evil President Coriolanus Snow in the Hunger Games movie (or, if you’re my age, the turncoat Matthew Bennell in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers)?

And how many jokes have you seen about Delta’s “Keep Climbing” motto? Climbing higher than what? American and United? How hard can that be? I mean, when your business model is, “We suck less than the other legacy carriers,” the bar is at ground level, isn’t it?

And that brings us to United.

Wait, the friendly skies?

Is that supposed to be some kind of joke?

United hasn’t been “friendly” since airline deregulation allowed it to stop competing with the likes of Pan Am and TWA based on amenities and attentiveness, and start offering “you-get-what-you-pay-for” service, which it seems to excel at.

Flying the “friendly” skies in 2016 is perhaps even more offensive than “Keep Climbing” or “The World’s Greatest Flyers.” If you fly like the rest of us in steerage class, then you know United isn’t friendly. Its customer policies are not friendly. Its fare rules are not friendly. Most of its people are not friendly.

What do these airlines take us for, fools?

But that brings us to the real issue here. How can there be such a disconnect between these airlines and us, their customers? How could they possibly make these ads and think they will be taken seriously?

The answer is: For the most part, they have stopped listening to us. They “handle” their customer service complaints without bothering to ask: Why?

Why don’t we think American is a great airline? Why don’t we think Delta is climbing? Why don’t we believe United is friendly?

I know the answer because I have personally visited these airlines, and beneath the cursory apologies of the customer service lapses that keep me in almost constant contact with them, there’s a misguided sense that they are actually doing a great job at taking care of their customers.

There are simple, easy ways to fix that. Start asking your customers why they’re unhappy. Find out the root cause of their dissatisfaction. It won’t take long before airlines realize that they and their avaricious, customer-hostile policies are to blame for their ridiculously low customer service scores.

Also, ask your managers, including your CEO and board members, to fly in economy class. Not economy “comfort” or “plus.” Real economy class. On a real ticket with real restrictions. Let them experience the delays. Let them sleep on the airport floor. Let them talk with real passengers like you and experience the airline as you do.

It won’t be long before they understand why their ads are the laughingstock of the travel industry.

Which ads offend you the most?

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