When a private members group of frequent flyers who belong in the American Airlines’ AAdvantage program decided to hold a social gathering last weekend they probably had no idea their meeting would spark fury amongst American’s 27,000 flight attendants.
But of course, that’s exactly what did happen after a video of one particular performance that depicted flight attendants as burlesque dancers surfaced on Twitter. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) described what happened quite succinctly:
“The video, which was posted on Twitter, captured a skit of individuals portrayed as Flight Attendants promoting sex appeal as an attraction to AA’s most prominent and lucrative passengers, those with premium Executive Platinum status.”
American was quick to distance itself from the charity event, the skit, the use of its logo and any involvement in what happened. In an internal memo, sent just hours after the video emerged online, American told its worldwide workforce that it was “as upset as you” over the video.
The Dallas-based airline told its staff that it had nothing to do with the event and that they had “reached out to this group of customers that hosted the event to express our displeasure with the content of the skit.”
However good that sentiment might be, flight attendants, don’t think that goes nearly far enough. Many suspect the rushed statement is simply a stunt to silence critics and calm tensions amongst its ranks – especially as flight attendants prepare to negotiate a new contract with American.
The reason? Because they suspect American is putting its frequent flyers ahead of their own employees.
It’s an interesting theory and one that’s worth investigating. After all, those present at last weekends event were so-called Executive Platinum members of American’s AAdvantage program – it’s top tier which requires at least 100,000 elite qualifying miles.
Make no mistake, airlines may well be devaluing their frequent flyer programs but they still make a ton of cash from them. And American leads the pack…
Last year, the carrier raked in $1.1 billion in marketing revenue from the AAdvantage program – not to be confused with pure profit but it’s a close proxy. Meanwhile, United Airlines made ‘just’ $962 million from its frequent flyer program, while Delta’s SkyMiles program brought a return of $805 million.
According to The Points Guy, achieving Executive Platinum status is worth as much as $6,935 for the customer – but it’s worth so much more for American. Not just in loyalty (which the AAdvantage program certainly drives) but also in revenue produced from co-branded credit cards.
In fact, some analysts are even so bold as to suggest loyalty programs make up the bulk of an airline’s profits. Why else did Air Canada recently decide to reacquire its Aeroplan loyalty program? Quite simply, flying people from A-B just doesn’t make money.
So here’s the difficult situation American finds itself in. Upset it’s own workers or potentially upset its most lucrative and loyal passengers?
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) is right to say that American’s attempt to simply distance itself from the event is not enough.
“Culture is set from the top. It is not enough to say this event “was not sanctioned by the airline.” American Airlines must take action to denounce a culture of harassment and objectification of Flight Attendants,” explained Sara Nelson – the president of AFA.
Some observers have described the video as just innocent fun. A slapstick portrayal of flight attendants that deserves a good giggle – unfortunately, it plays right into what too many passengers (and airlines) think is still acceptable.
Even today, I’ve witnessed pursers place young, ‘pretty’ female flight attendants in certain cabins in order to ‘please’ high-value business passengers – yes, this really is still happening. There is simply no excuse for this and yet aviation is one of the few industries where sex still sells.
Airlines, including American Airlines, need to take a proactive, robust and unwavering approach to denounce this behaviour. End of discussion
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.