Acquisition is a poor substitute for strategy

Ammmmer
The romantically-timed Valentine's Day announcement that American Airlines will merge with US Airways to form the world's largest air carrier may be good news for a few senior executives and even fewer institutional investors, but it's a total disaster for the flying public.

I know of what I speak, having endured the last two years of the United/Continental merger which, at the time, also created the world's largest air carrier. Back then, United ran ads everywhere trumpeting the merger, and declaring:

'It's not who's merging that counts. It's what about to emerge that does.'

I can tell you that, based upon my personal experiences of the two past two years, what did emerge was a living hell for passengers (especially those of us who had been loyal, long-standing Continental passengers).

Post-merger, our Continental Gold and Platinum Elite status and points were put in the bottom of the barrel of what United calls 'Premier Access.' Talk about an oxymoron. There were no more first class upgrades, no more free passes to the President's Club and no more early boarding. We were all treated like cows being herded towards the final round-up.

To make matters worse, it seemed that every United plane suffered massive delays of one sort or another. Reservations were lost. And, the surviving employees of both airlines took very public potshots at one another. I recall sitting next to a deadheading Continental pilot on one delayed flight who sighed, and said, “This airline has gone to hell in a hand basket.”

Another pilot announced over the loudspeaker, “This delay really isn't my fault. United simply cannot get its act together." Great brand ambassadors, no?

And, the United flight attendants made Charlie Sheen seem like a teddy bear in comparison. They'd routinely scream at unsuspecting passengers for the least, little infraction.

Just yesterday, for example, I saw a United flight attendant rip one passenger a new oral orifice because he kept attempting to jam an obviously oversized piece of luggage into an overhead bin. Exasperated, she screamed, “Look people. It's real simple. If you don't give me those bags for gate-checking and find a seat, we don't take off. The ball's in your court!"

Which led me to create yet another suggested tagline for the 'new' United: ‘Just sit the f*ck down and shut up!'

The ultimate coup de grace, though, came the other day when United celebrated its best, monthly on-time performance in a decade by rewarding all 17,000 employees with a $100 bonus. That's just plain wrong. They don't deserve the bonus. Long-suffering passengers should get the loot. And, it's yet another example of isolated fat cats in the corner office thinking top-down and inside out (and forgetting all about what it's like to experience their brand).

So, best wishes to those of you who will be flying the new American/US Airways combination.

As business strategist, Gary Hamel, is fond of saying, “Acquisition is a poor substitute for strategy.” Obviously, neither American nor United has a strategy except growth for the sake of growth.

And a tip o’ RepMan’s cap to Catharine Cody for suggesting this post.

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