American Airlines pinpoints fuel prices for raising bag fee

FORT WORTH, TX: American Airlines (AA), which recently said it will begin charging most customers $15 per checked bag, has focused its overall communications strategy on explaining to consumers the challenges the industry is facing, given increasing fuel prices.

FORT WORTH, TX: American Airlines (AA), which recently said it will begin charging most customers $15 per checked bag, has focused its overall communications strategy on explaining to consumers the challenges the industry is facing, given increasing fuel prices.

AA's "ongoing PR strategy will continue to highlight the impact of fuel and other factors dealing with our business," according to Mike Flanagan, SVP at Weber Shandwick, AA's AOR. "Specifically how we're balancing our needs to stay viable as an airline with our need to stay as fair as possible with our customers."

In addition to fuel prices, the company is communicating the impact of a soft economy and the increased competition from foreign airlines with the recent Open Skies agreement, effective March 30.

Roger Frizzell, AA's VP of corporate communications and advertising, added that a bag-check fee was a better move than adding charges to flight tickets.

"I think the consumer reaction has been as expected, pretty intense... A lot of customers are saying simply raise ticket prices, and [get rid of] bag fees," he said. "In reality, we're trying to do that as well, but if ticket prices are not competitive, customers have shown that they won't fly your airline."

Currently, in the midst of "stage one communications" for the fee, which goes into effect June 15, AA continues to respond to media requests on the issue, Flanagan said. A communications plan was not finalized until "a couple of days" before the announcement, as "there was still some discussions going on about which fees we would actually want to implement and what the timing would be; this was a very fluid situation," he added.

It is using its AAdvantage program, which has a database of more than 56 million members, to communicate updates on the issue, in addition to using its Web site and actively monitoring social media.

Internally, AA apprised employees of the situation the day of the announcement to prepare them for customer questions or concerns.

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