Employee Fired From American Airlines For Transparent Email

    November 17, 2009

What is it with airlines?

If they’re not breaking guitars, their pilots are missing airports, or they’re berating people that are trying to help them.

Well, we have one more reputation disaster to add to the list, courtesy of American Airlines.

You may recall the open letter web designer Dusting Curtis wrote to the airline. In it, Curtis suggested that AA was losing millions because of its poorly designed web site. He even went as far as suggesting a new design for the site.

Shortly after, one of AA’s designers took it upon himself to reply and explain the complexities of AA web site design decisions. His reply was open, honest…radically transparent.

American Airlines has allegedly fired him for it!

This may have happened back in May, but it’s only just come to light that the AA designer was apparently fired an hour after he wrote his reply.

AA searched their exchange database for the text I posted, found the guy, and fired Mr. X on the spot. From what I have learned, they also threatened him with legal action if he spoke to me again. Apparently he broke his non-disclosure agreement by discussing the design process at AA.

OK, so maybe he shouldn’t have broken his NDA with the airline. But, maybe AA shouldn’t have been so near-sighted and pedantic about its employee policies. Surely the airline is aware that it’s industry hardly has the best reputation for caring about its customers. Heck, even Jet Blue–the poster child of airline awesomeness–has screwed-up royally in the past.

In some ways, you can’t blame American Airlines. It is completely ignorant of how customers want to interact with the airline. We don’t want to hand flight attendants slips of paper that say “well done”–something AA encourages me to do as a frequent flier–we want to engage with the airline. We want it to do better, and we have ideas. Ideas about clean blankets, baggage fees, and yes, web site design. How does AA marry its apparent openness on Twitter, with this crackdown on a real employee that wants to help?

Yes, you should have guidelines in place, but those guidelines should be designed to encourage thoughtful customer interaction, not prevent it! If we hear that you’re firing employees because of their transparency, how are we supposed to take your official social networking efforts seriously? What, do we now assume that everything that is shared on Twitter or Facebook is nothing more than sterile, PR sanctioned, sound bites?

The airline industry may well be the very last to “get” the concept of Radically Transparent. When they do finally have that “aha!” moment, we’ll know that we’ve finally entered the age of open, honest, dialogs.

Andy Beal – AA Platinum Card Holder; Million Mile Flier.