What began as some bad YouTube publicity for American Airlines is growing into an employee-led drive for change in brand positioning and corporate leadership at the legacy carrier.
It started when Gailen David, under the username SkySteward, began posting videos to YouTube starring himself, dressed in frumpy corporate drag, as “The Aluminum Lady,” an AA executive with a panache for cost-cutting and a disdain for flight attendants. In one video, “The Aluminum Lady” plays with Fisher-Price dolls dressed in blue uniforms, saying, “We can run each one of these aircraft with about three less flight attendants. It looks like it’s perfectly doable.”
An American spokesperson made a public statement against the videos and reportedly called David in for a disciplinary meeting that he did not attend.
“We all have tried to deliver such great customer service,” David said in an interview with NBC Dallas-Ft. Worth. “And in return, it feels like we keep getting kicked in the gut, so this was a time for me to do something to make us all laugh for a change and really say what needed to be said.” He added: “They may fire me for it, and that’s going to be OK.”
To say something like that in today’s economy, you have to just not care whether you have a job, or have a plan and a passion for what you are doing.
It turns out that for David, it is the latter. This week, he launched a “sAAve American Airlines” petition through Change.org, appealing to U.S. Bankruptcy Court for “…a new flight plan with a new leadership team made up of individuals with a proven track record of winning rather than years of compounded failures.”
David is no rookie in the social media world. He runs a website, DearSkySteward.com, about the airline industry with a special focus on in-flight etiquette, and currently has 22,825 followers on Twitter. The petition currently has close to 3,300 signatures, far from its target of 250,000.
We will leave it for someone else to judge how much and what kind of change is needed at American, which is in Chapter 11. But this developing story is an example of how social media can work for or against a company. Media-savvy David, often interviewed in the national press, could just as easily use his platform to make his employer look good—in fact, it seems like he still might, if he sees some of the changes he hopes for at the airline.