For passengers, the photo in the March edition of American Way, American Airline's in-flight magazine, probably didn't raise eyebrows. In it, two Australian bros behind a Sydney-based mobile bar service caper around in pilot's uniforms, getting drunk. The business replicates the experience of getting a drink from an airline bar cart, but with bartenders in pilot's uniforms serving instead of flight attendants.
American Airline's pilots, however, had a huge problem with the image.
Late last week, after receiving complaints from the airline's pilots, American Airlines Vice President of Global Communication Ronald Defeo used the airline's employees-only message board to seek forgiveness. "A huge apology to our team and especially our coworkers who are pilots," he wrote. "We know that photo depicting pilots drinking in uniform is not appropriate. It is, in fact, appalling and disrespectful to the aviation profession. Even in jest, if that's what this is, our aviators put safety first and this is never an area where humor works. Full stop."
Tensions with unions typically run high at airlines, although American has done its best after merging with US Airways to keep relations friendly. Last year American's pilots received a new contract that boosted pay and morale, but that effort fell apart amid a bad reception for American's new uniforms (a program run by the same marketing team that outsourced the magazine's operation) and the better compensation offered by pilot contracts signed by Delta and Southwest airlines.
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Now, this very public misstep is becoming part of the backlash.
Sunday night, in an email to members, Allied Pilots Association Dan Carey said Defeo's apology wasn't good enough. "Most of you have probably seen the apology that management posted on Thursday noting that the magazine would be gone from our airplanes by today, to be replaced by the April edition," Carey said. "Yes, the offending photos were on display to our passengers for the entire month of March. The magazines may be gone, but the damage is certainly done. Management's apology is too little, too late."
In 2014, American Airlines stopped publishing American Way in house, transitioning the magazine's editorial operations to INK Global. The publishing company did not return a request for comment. It's the latest black eye for the publishers, who moved their operations from Dallas amid assurances to the airline that they would operate locally and faced national media scrutiny when the company fired an employee after she revealed her breast cancer diagnosis.
The magazine's publishing practices may be tightened in the aftermath of the photo, American Airlines said yesterday. According to the airline, all content published in the magazine is reviewed by American, although that review process will be looked at in the coming weeks, according to American Airlines' Matt Miller.