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You Want to Talk About Our Infighting and Politics? You're Fired... (A Cautionary Tale)

You can't write them better than this.  A disgruntled customer of American Airlines writes up a hard blog post on what's wrong with the AA website.  Even goes so far as to draw up a new design for AA.  Posts that on blog for the world to see.  Interesting from a social media perspective, right?  More from the guy in question at

"A few months ago, I wrote an article expressing my displeasure with American Airlines‘ hideousAmerican_airlines_logo online presence. I also spent some time mocking up a redesigned version of their website. To my surprise, a user experience designer at emailed me an amazing response describing some of the design problems faced in large corporations. You should read my original article here and the response from Mr. X here."

Go read Dustin's original post - it's a good read.  Then, take a look at Mr. X.  It's an actual employee who comes in to talk about the issues, but also to give Dustin some perspective on how difficult it is to turn a big ole' battleship like American Airlines from a design perspective, basically talking about all the layers, the silos, etc.  - and how hard it is to get things that make sense done in that environment.  Here's part of the reply from Mr X:

"I saw your blog post titled “Dear AmericanAirlines,” and I thought I’d drop a line. Sorry for the length of this email, but let me sum up the gist of what I’ve written below: You’re right. You’re so very right. And yet…

First, an introduction. I’m Mr X, and I work here at I’ve been doing UX design and development for about 10 years with a variety of companies in a variety of industries, and I work with a team of other UX specialists on I like to think I’m decent at what I do, and I know the others I work with here are all pretty good. The problem with the design of, however, lies less in our competency (or lack thereof, as you pointed out in your post) and more with the culture and processes employed here at American Airlines.

But—and I guess here’s the thing I most wanted to get across—simply doing a home page redesign is a piece of cake. You want a redesign? I’ve got six of them in my archives. It only takes a few hours to put together a really good-looking one, as you demonstrated in your post. But doing the design isn’t the hard part, and I think that’s what a lot of outsiders don’t really get, probably because many of them actually do belong to small, just-get-it-done organizations. But those of us who work in enterprise-level situations realize the momentum even a simple redesign must overcome, and not many, I’ll bet, are jumping on this same bandwagon. They know what it’s like.

OK, so it’s not all bad. The good news is that we have a lot of UX improvements coming down the line, most of which we’ll incorporate over the next 12 – 18 months as new projects go live. Some of our slated efforts include improved navigation; 16 column grid-based layouts; a lighter, more airy visual design; improved user interactions; and an increased transparency to fares and sales policies across the board. We’ll work it all in organically, as the site evolves to include new features. But it won’t be done via an explicit, massive redesign. Can’t be.

So, since it won’t all get done overnight, don’t give us a bad grade if you don’t see it happening fast enough for your taste. Even a large organization can effect change; it just takes a different approach than the methods found in smaller shops. But it’ll happen because it has to, and we know that. And we’ll keep on keepin’ on, even if most of us really and truly would prefer to throw it all away and start over."

Read the full note from Mr X. at  Guess what happened to Mr. X?  American Airlines did a text search off the Microsoft Outlook Exchange Server to identify Mr. X and promptly fired him in the same day.

So the question regarding social media and transparency is this - can you handle the Mr X's of the world engaging dissatisfied customers on behalf of your company?  I look at the note provided by Mr. X and think, wow, that's so much more effective in terms of engaging Dustin Curtis than the PR shop would have been.  My first reaction would be that he needs his own blog on behalf of American Airlines.

But I'm an outlier with social media usage.  What about you?  Good firing, bad firing, or somewhere in between?

Its' a brave new world out there for companies trying to control the message rather than honestly engaging customers.

Hat tip to Capitalist reader JC...


Bonita Martin

Wow. Fired for that response. I thought that it was thoughtful, engaging, honest and great customer service.
However, Mr.X seems very aware of the culture and should have known that a published response would be outside of the acceptable norms. I'll bet that AA blocks social media sites (red flag). If your company is worried about transparancy, you take the risk of adverse actions if you are publicly transparent.


This was a bad fire on the part of American Airlines. The employee attempted to engage a customer, who was actually more than willing (and capable)of helping this large company improve the UX.

The issue has generated more bad press than American needed, or wanted. And in true "big ship" fashion, they did not think before they acted.

Any user knows its a bad experience, now we also know that AA doesn't want to do anything about it.


I think the message here is to avoid ANY H.R. anywhere, at any time. Seriously though, AA pays a team of people millions to handle media relations. So, in the eyes of the brass, when a digit monkey looks up from the typewriter to enhance company status the company loses. I'm sure MR. X could have spent his time more frugally around the water cooler.


That was a bad fire! Looks like AA is as crappy a place to work as it's website is to use.


Please keep in mind that we do not know the reason for the termination. Perhaps this employee had been warned numerous times about not engaging in personal business during work time. Perhaps it has nothing to do about the content at all.

David Kinnear

This kind of Neanderthal thinking is not limited to large public companies. Many small companies with Owner/CEOs who are of the "old school" command and control mentality make the same mistakes as described here.

Anachronistic management must finally come to grips with the fact that they really never have been in control of the message and certainly aren't in control of the message now. If boneheaded moves like this continue, we can expect to see SoX like "No Retribution" regulations to protect employees who simply speak the truth about corporate culture as they see it. It's time for management to come to grips with the new information era. We cannot afford to shoot the messenger!

Dave Kinnear
Management Consultant
Executive Leader Coach


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