A brazen new ad campaign from American Airlines was expected to launch this week with a curious message: The worst parts of flying can be better if travelers would be less terrible.
You read that right, folks. At a time when most airlines are shrinking seats, inflating fees, widening the chasms between seat classes, and shrugging shoulders at ridiculously long security queues, the new ads assert that a positive attitude is the only thing travelers need to make flying fun again.
One ad goes so far as to read: “Always upbeat, great fliers make the best of their situation [sic] no matter where they’re sitting.”
The new ads are aimed at “The World’s Greatest Fliers,” and they’re written as a call to action for better behavior. One praises travelers who cede armrests to the middle-seat passenger. Another praises those travelers who “love babies.” (Although the latter ad depicts business travelers decked out in fancy and expensive noise-canceling headphones, ostensibly to drown out potential cries from the aforementioned babies.)
According to an article in the New York Times, airline executives said they wanted to get away from fixating on features such as Wi-Fi speed or the size of the entertainment console. And in a story from AdWeek, one of the executives from the ad agency of record, CP + B Boulder, is quoted as saying that the campaign emphasizes “a slightly elevated sense of awareness for others.”
Yet even with these lofty goals, the new American campaign ignores some irrefutable facts about performance and customer service on the part of the airline industry.
Just this week, for instance, four airlines—including American, which was penalized more than any other—were fined by the Federal Aviation Administration for giving passengers inaccurate information about how much compensation they should get for being kicked off an overbooked flight or having their luggage lost or damaged
Furthermore, as we reported earlier this summer, recent data from the Department of Transportation indicated that flight delays were more likely to be the fault of an airline in 2015 than other factors such as bad weather, airport and air traffic control problems, or security bottlenecks.
(Also, travelers repeatedly have expressed frustration over paying for checked bags; these are policies airlines have instituted voluntarily and are policies airlines can repeal at any time.)
Don’t get us wrong here—a call for more civility among travelers is never a bad thing. Travelers have come to blows over reclining seats, family travelers still feel the need to dole out goody bags as pre-emptive apologies for misbehaving children, and the industry still is wracked by a mean-spirited effort that encourages travelers to take to social media and shame others who violate carry-on bag policies.
Still, putting on travelers the onus of improving the flying experience comes off as hypocritical, and when articles about the American ads quote executives as saying they didn’t want the campaign to be “didactic,” the whole thing just feels seriously out of touch.
One potential solution? Teamwork. At the very least, airlines and travelers can work *together* to achieve nirvana at 35,000 feet. Expect more kindness, but give us an inch or two more legroom; love more babies, but change policies to let families with young children board first so those babies aren’t agitated from the get-go.
The “Greatest Fliers” out there today come in all shapes and sizes, American. And behind every one of them is a great flight.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com