How to Integrate an Airline: Addressing the Challenges Faced by American Airlines and US Airways

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American's new Flagship Suite

American’s new Flagship Suite

Frequent flyers are yet another topic of discussion for the team.  The highest-status members comprise a mere 1% of an airline’s frequent flyer program yet can represent as much as 25% of an airline’s revenue.  As United Airlines found out when some of its elites started to look for another airline in the past year, their benefits (and patience) shouldn’t be messed with.

And of course airplanes are yet another area.  The airline expects to receive hundreds of new aircraft in the next few years, thanks to a mammoth order placed by American two years ago.  That will give the combined airline the newest fleet on the planet and, with that, an opportunity to reinvent itself by providing a superior hard product in its planes, if the airline’s new Boeing 777-300ER is any indication of what is to come.  Still, the two airlines have much in common as US Airways is the world’s largest operator of the Airbus A320 family of aircraft and American’s new fleet order includes 260 of these.  Both airlines have Boeing 757s and 767s but only American flies the 777.  American also has over 40 Boeing 787 Dreamliners on order that will start to arrive in 2014 so management will have to decide what to do about the orders US Airways has for the new Airbus A350, which competes with the Dreamliner.

So if you are wondering what sort of things the team will be contemplating, a look at what United and Continental had to sort through a mere two years ago should be instructive.

The questions that came up included:

  • Should we use a red or a blue carpet for the elite passenger boarding line?  (Blue was chosen.)
  • Should passengers board starting with window to aisle seats (a process United called WILMA),  or from the back of the plane to the front? (Back to front was originally chosen but United has revised boarding procedures several times since then.)
  • Should two or three bowling balls be allowed in checked baggage? (A per bag weight limit was decided instead of counting bowling balls)
  • Should pets face backwards or forward on the conveyor belt when being loaded into the cargo hold? (Backwards was chosen.)

One thing United didn’t consider is something that Delta and Northwest gave thought to when they merged in 2008, how to slice a lime.  While Northwest had previously cut limes into 16 pieces, the airline ultimately went with Delta’s system of 10 slices.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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