My plan for American Airlines – a solution to many problems, including Mr Trump
Last week I put my heart and soul into trying to persuade America to step away from Donald Trump. Obviously Trump isn’t going anywhere – at least, not yet – so I’m done with pretty please.
It’s time to say a few words about America’s leading airline. Notice that I didn’t say favourite. British Airways adopted that accolade for themselves, and, in a singularly un-British act of immodesty, applied it to the world. They never were and probably never will be the world’s favourite. But at least they’re trying. Which, sadly, is more than can be said about American Airlines.
Usually, when I fly to America, I travel with BA. I’m the proud owner of a frequent flyer card that lets me use the business check-in even when I’m in economy. I also get to enjoy the bacon rolls and fresh fruit for breakfast in their Galleries lounge. Just occasionally I might get an upgrade without paying a fortune in air miles for it. And best of all, I get to use Heathrow’s wonderful Terminal Five, which is only a few minutes away from home and has seriously got its act together after its initial teething problems.
Unfortunately, not all routes to the USA are operated by BA. Some are the exclusive preserve of American, BA’s OneWorld partner. “Exclusive preserve” is obviously a phrase beloved of Mr Trump, who would like to turn his country into one. Anyway, more of him later.
So yesterday, I was obliged to fly out of Terminal Three, which is where American has its perch. I showed up at the AA Premium check-in, an enclave to the side of the terminal that is reserved for First and Business passengers. I kind of assumed that my BA card would allow me to check in there. It was packed. There were two people serving around twenty high-status passengers, and each passenger was taking at least five minutes to get their boarding cards. When you fly to America, you get asked all sort of questions, such as why are you flying? Business, pleasure, nefarious activity? Where are you staying? Your grandfather’s inside leg measurement?
So I did the math. Twenty divided by two times five equals a wait of at least fifty minutes. I checked with the guy standing beside the line and discovered that my card didn’t enable me to check in there anyway. He suggested I join the economy line. To hell with that, I thought, and toddled off to the “Priority” line just inside the main terminal. There I found a line with ten people and two check-in agents. And twenty minutes later I was done, wondering at AA’s strange world, in which those who are First will be last. Then I saw the seething masses up at economy in a snaking line that wouldn’t have been out of place in Ellis Island circa 1910. And then I thanked the deity of aviation, or rather my wife, who is so good at sorting these things, for my little silver card.
After a pleasant hour with bacon rolls and raisin swirls, I boarded the plane. That was when I received the first and only smile from a member of the cabin crew in the whole flight.
Now one of the things you notice in many of the established airlines in the West, BA included, is the relative, shall we say, maturity, of the crew. This is fine on one level, because in an emergency you don’t want to be in the hands of a flock of twentysomethings running around like headless chickens. On the other hand, you don’t want your exit blocked by a sumo wrestler. Yes, that’s an exaggeration, and I’m not suggesting that all the crew were a tad large. But several of them were not small. And most probably not exactly fleet of foot.
Which again is fine. I know several ladies of a certain age who would make excellent cabin crew. They’re motherly, jolly, sometimes a little rotund, caring and excellent communicators. Rather like the average BA crew member.
Not this lot. It grieves me to say this, but I’ve rarely encountered a more stone-faced bunch of attendants on any light – admitting at this stage that I’ve never flown with Aeroflot. From the evidence before me, I would say that American Airlines has a serious staff morale problem.
Fundamentally, these ladies (there were no men to be seen – presumably they were hiding behind their female colleagues) didn’t appear to enjoy what they did, and made no effort to disguise the fact. We, the passengers, were clearly an inconvenience. And they seemed to have been trained in the Trump school of monosyllabics. As witness this conversation, which took place more than once after a strenuous effort to establish eye contact with the owner of a passing trolley:
Her: “Any drinks?”
Me: “Yes please, coffee.”
Her: “Milk and sugar?”
Me: “Yes please.”
(Coffee duly deposited)
Me: “Thank you.”
Her: “Uh huh.”
The final acknowledgement of my thanks was delivered with that characteristic upward inflection that sounds like a question but comes over as a sneer. And that was that. No smile, no conversational grace notes. No grace. And it wasn’t as if they were exceptionally busy. The flight was two-thirds full.
As for the aircraft, it must have been more than twenty years old. A Boeing 767 with overhead video screens, showing apologies for movies that everyone around me watched with vacant expressions.
The seats, on the other hand, seemed relatively new. They were different to those I’ve encountered on AA before. And yes, you guessed it, different doesn’t mean better. It means smaller. Time was when a redeeming feature of an American Airways flight was that even in economy, the seat pitch and width easily accommodated those with a more ample frame and longer legs than the average human. Sadly, not any more.
The food was OK, though miles behind BA’s offerings and light years behind the kind of stuff you get on the newer airlines like Emirates and Qatar. I did enjoy the mid-flight chocolate ice cream, even though it came frozen close to absolute zero, and took a good twenty minutes to consume. In its initial form it would have made a very effective offensive weapon.
No matter. The flight arrived on time. I managed to avoid all but snippets of the in-flight movies – a ghastly rom-com and a cheesy pre-teen kung fu love story – by sleeping through much of the journey.
As I stepped out of the aircraft past the grunting cabin crew, I reflected on the experience. Was I being unkind? After all, it was a bit of a miracle that American was still around after its bankruptcy. And who was I to complain when coming to a country that has always regarded air travel as akin to travelling on a bus?
But then I remembered that one of many things America has taught the world is the art of customer service. While it’s true that in a restaurant the cheery demeanour you usually encounter is specifically engineered to extract the maximum tip, it’s still more pleasant to be greeted by service with a smile rather than a scowl.
Of course, cabin crew on airlines don’t get tips. But neither do hotel receptionists and shop assistants, and they still manage to put on a good show. Like the cheery assistant in North Carolina who once asked me “whereabouts in England is Paris?”.
And finally it occurred to me. The answer to a number of problems.
Should Donald Trump fall at the final hurdle, perhaps he should expend his titanic energy on an equally worthy project. A project almost as tough as running America. He should spend his billions on buying American Airlines.
No doubt he would rename it TrumpAir. But a resurgent airline rebuilt in his image would surely be a wonder to behold.
No Mexicans running around the cabin imposing a mile-high experience on unwilling passengers. No expulsion of people speaking strange languages to their relatives in Baghdad before take-off. No need for cabin crew to have to tell the difference between written Arabic and an algebraic formula. No flights to and from South America, China and the Middle East. In fact, no Mexicans, Chinese and Muslims allowed on Trumpair flights in the first place, so no need for those tedious interrogations at check-in.
The cabin crew could wear their surliness as a badge of honour. Every so often, The Donald – like Richard Branson on steroids – could appear on one of his flights (emerging from Seat 1A, naturally) and progress down the aisle to rapturous applause from the exclusively Caucasian passengers heading for one of his resorts. Wearing latex gloves, of course, and accompanied by his uniformed posse of sky marshals armed with chocolate ice cream grenades.
Just as the average male North Korean expresses his admiration of Kim Jong Un by sporting The Leader’s distinctive short-back-and-sides with soaring bouffant, the TrumpAir staff could stand out from the crowd with orange make-up and comb-overs that wouldn’t look out of place on a stadium roof designed by Zara Hadid.
The in-flight entertainment would consist of the entire back-catalogue of The Apprentice, all the super-hero movies and endless re-runs of American Sniper. And before landing, a video of The Donald would appear, asking the passengers to vote on which member of the cabin crew they would like to fire.
Oh, and I almost forgot. A wall between business and economy, and electronic slots on the back of very seat.
Thus Trump’s disappointed followers would at least have a Donald experience now and again without the rest of us having to put up with him.
TrumpAir would also do us a great service by taking care of the fearful and the ignorant. Then, perhaps, a person who can tell the difference between Arabic and algebra could – without fear of being chucked off the flight – let the nervous person sitting next to them know that actually algebra is derived from an Arabic word.
They might also be able to point out that the algorithm – without which our IPads, the aircraft’s flight management system, the internet and virtually every other modern convenience on which our world depends – was named after a ninth century mathematician by the name of Al-Khwarizmi. Who happened to be an Arab and a Muslim.
Well, perhaps that would be too much to hope for. But giving the great man’s admirers their very own airline would surely be a start.
In fact, why wait for the elections? Shareholders of American Airlines, do the right thing, and sell out to The Donald before it’s too late. Give him something else to do before he brings America down, and you with it.