This commercial may be coming soon to a TV near you: A man in a business suit boards an American Airlines flight and sits down in his coach seat. He lifts his left ankle onto his right knee and stares at his own foot. A voice-over proclaims that American's expanded coach seating allows you to do more - "like, cross your legs." The camera pans from the guy's foot to his face. He's shedding a tear.
The idea that the airline service pendulum might be swinging back from cattle-herding to comfort may indeed make some frequent fliers weep. Could it be that the airlines are starting to focus on travelers' needs?
That's certainly the message from American, which is in the midst of removing 7,200 seats from its fleet of aircraft in order to give you just enough room to cross your legs. And that's the great thing about the campaign: American isn't acting as if the coach cabin is now luxurious. Just reasonable. And believe me, you notice! And so will your qualifiers, whose first and last impressions of your incentive trips are their airline flights. If other airlines follow American's lead, those impressions will start working for you instead of against you.
American also is adding adjustable headrests (no more snoozing passengers dropping onto their neighbors' shoulders), power ports, lumbar supports, and footrests. Yes, all in coach. Half of the fleet has been redone so far: You can keep tabs on the progress at www.aa.com/moreroom.
Meanwhile, out on the tarmac things are going from bad to worse. Nearly every colleague of mine who has gone off on a business trip this summer has returned with a flight-delay horror story. In late August, U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater convened a summit meeting with the FAA, heads of the major airlines, and others to discuss reducing traffic jams, especially in the East. Consumer advocates complained that they weren't invited, but three task forces were formed at the summit and Slater emphasized that their focus is on customer service. We'll see.
Red Carpet Treatment The red carpet on the cover of this issue travels through illustrations of five knockout incentive itineraries. The most common request from readers is for new incentive ideas, so Executive Editor Regina Baraban hunted down a handful of trips with real motivational pull, and describes them in our cover story. On a smaller scale, certificate programs available from airlines and hotel companies may help you keep motivation high during a long qualification period. See page 51 for a directory of those programs and ideas on how to use them.