Being an airline executive ain’t what it used to be. Air France executives literally lost their shirts after the company laid its cards on the table, revealing layoffs that will leave thousands jobless.
After failed negotiations with unions last week, Air France announced a “restructuring plan” that will eliminate 2,900 jobs, five routes and 35 weekly long-haul flights.
The news wasn’t received well.
Hundreds of angry protestors stormed the meeting at company headquarters where details of the plan were to be announced and ripped the shirts off executives’ backs, leaving top brass shocked and tattered.
Xavier Broseta, executive VP of human resources, Pierre Plissonnier, an Air France director for human resources, and Alexandre de Juniac, Air France CEO, were targeted.
The images from the protest were stunning and dramatic, and fueled an outpouring of reaction among the public and the media.
France’s president said the events were unacceptable and damage the country’s image.
The airline denounced the violence but said it will push ahead with its restructuring plans anyway.
Unions also denounced the events, but said tension will likely continue as long as job cuts are on the table.
A top city councilman said it’s “unbelievable,” adding that “some people show more compassion for a ripped dress shirt than for 2,900 workers who are going to find themselves jobless.”
What do the events say about airline relations in general?
For industry executives, there’s one clear takeaway: Your employees may like you even less than your customers.
And while union protests in the US tend to be less dramatic, airline execs here ignore the public shaming of their French counterparts at their own risk.
Lesson one: Suits, ties and loafers make for poor getaway apparel when announcing massive layoffs.
Lesson two: Although Monday’s violence in France was at the hands of a small group of extremists, massive “restructuring plans” damage the lives of thousands, elicit powerful emotions, and tend to be broadly resisted by both workers and the public in general.
(Psst, United Airlines.)
Lesson three: Although violence often raises questions, it is never the answer.
For the airline industry, the question is, how to repair the disconnect between leadership, employees and the customers they serve.
Let’s hope the industry will learn from its mistakes. But for that answer, we’ll sit tight, and hold on to our shirts.