Monthly Archives: February 2012

PEOPLExpress and the 6 Precepts

It was reported this week that PEOPLExpress was being re-launched. When we heard the news we were like, “what?” Then, “how cool!” For those too young to remember PEOPLExpress was THE original low-fare airline. Come to think of it they were WAY AHEAD of their time.

PEOPLExpress 737

PEOPLExpress (PE) started service on April 30, 1981 as a direct byproduct of the deregulation of the airline industry. PE encompassed the idea that airline travel should be affordable to the masses, convenient, and pleasurable; that air travel is a commodity.

What made PE unique was its pioneering spirit. Many things we take for granted today originated with PE. Their basic business plan was that the customer paid for a seat; everything else was ‘extra’. So, you paid to check baggage. You paid for snacks. You paid for drinks (even coffee). Sounds familiar huh?

I remember flying PE twice while in college. The first trip was between JAX – EWR for Spring Break in NYC. The 2nd trip was from PBI – EWR to see my brother stationed at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. I was taken aback at paying for my ticket AFTER the plane took off! PE focused mainly on secondary airports. As its operation center, they used a nearly abandoned terminal at EWR. PE was able to tap into the NY market, however, they stayed clear of the legacy carriers at JFK and LGA. Keep in mind EWR was underutilized and not as congested as JFK and LGA at the time.

Donald Burr, a former Texas Air International executive, who had an unconventional leadership approach, founded the original PE. According to a Harvard Business School paper Burr is quoted as saying, “I guess the single predominant reason that I cared about starting a new company was to try and develop a better way for people to work together . . .that’s where the name People Express came from (as well as) the whole people focus and thrust . . .It drives everything else that we do.” Burr is also quoted as saying, “Most organizations believe that humans are generally bad and you have to control them and watch them and make sure they work. At People Express, people are trusted to do a good job until they prove they definitely won’t.”

Burr’s approach to running the airline is another element that made PE unique. What was the ‘right’ way to run an airline anyway? Burr and his team came up with 6 precepts on how to operate a business. According to Webster (and we don’t mean Emmanuel Lewis) a precept is: a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought. In other words, Burr wanted a company where guiding principles (precepts) were incorporated into every decision made.

The 6 Precepts were:

(1)  Service, commitment to growth of people

(2)  Best provider of air transportation

(3)  Highest quality of management

(4)  Role model for other airlines and other businesses

(5)  Simplicity

(6)  Maximization of profits

The idea that service, commitment, and people are all together in Precept number 1 is commendable. Far too many companies today place more emphasis on maximizing profits than recognizing and rewarding employees who are committed, dedicated, responsible, high performers. Notice we used the phrase “maximizing profits.” Don’t get us wrong, making a profit is what drives a business to exist; at least for-profit businesses. So, It begs the question: how much is enough? Especially if making above and beyond what is ‘needed’ is a detriment to the business and the people you’ve entrusted to deliver the goods and services of the business. Some companies get this basic tenet of doing business. Others should look at these precepts and adopt some or all.

These precepts are straightforward, smart, and novel (in today’s world). They were a great way to operate a business back then and a great way to operate a business today. Unfortunately PE quickly got away from the precepts and its business model. They grew too much, too fast. They began to enter major airports. They suffered overcapacity as well as intense competition from other carriers. Sounds familiar, huh? As a result PE went out of business on February 1, 1987.

There is a fascinating 5 part series from the Macneil/Lehrer News Hour on the rise and fall of PEOPLExpress:

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3Part 4. Part 5.

Let’s hope that the 6 Precepts will make their way to the new PEOPLExpress and with that another forward thinking, smart, customer- and employee-centric airline will be created. We’ll stay tuned to see if the new PEOPLExpress learned lessons from the original.

New PEOPLExpress logo


Years in the making: SWA lands in Atlanta

I remember reading about Southwest Airlines years ago when I entered the aviation industry. They didn’t fly down south (at least not the southeastern US) so no one really cared to notice them. Most of my aviation friends would say things like, “XYZ  Airlines (insert any old legacy airlines’ name) isn’t worried about them.” “They’re small.” “They fly point-to-point.” “They don’t fly internationally.” “They don’t even have first class!”

Fast forward many years later. Southwest FINALLY arrives in Atlanta. February 12, 2012.

Today, however is February 11 and I’m at C20 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport awaiting the arrival of Southwest aircraft from Dallas. Streamers are being strung. Employees are hugging each other. There are agents with Pom Poms. The fire trucks are in place for a water cannon salute. Lots of excitement, cheers, and energy. You would think the arriving customers were celebs. In the world of Southwest, they are. Local media, aviation bloggers, and curious onlookers are out in full force. Cameras are flashing. Interviews are being conducted. Talk about making a grand entrance. Then again, when has Southwest ever done anything without a lot of energy? When the first plane arrives, it becomes a reality: Southwest has finally made it to Atlanta.



Later that evening we attended the “Atlanta At Last” celebration. In essence it was a “pub crawl” of 4 downtown restaurants/bars. Each restaurant offerered locally brewed Sweetwater beer and various appetizers ranging from sushi to pizza. We pub crawled to the 4 different pubs and crawled back again meeting employees, fellow aviation bloggers, and fans of the airlineguys. A very memorable meet up was with Tim, Holly, and Mark. I had met Tim and Mark earlier at the airport celebration. This was there 9th Southwest station opening; and they don’t even work for Southwest! Talk about the ultimate avgeeks! Mark, their young son (3-4 years old), has taken over 300 flights already!  Wished we could have stayed longer and met more Southwest employees but had to leave to be up and ready for 6am departure to Baltimore: the first Southwest flight to depart Atlanta.

SLy, Tim, Holly, Darin, and Mark

I arrived at the gate at 4:45am and there were 4 others waiting. All I could think about was how early a 6am departure felt to the body. Maybe it was the Sweetwater beers. Out of nowhere, and within a few minutes, there was a flurry of activity. Employees were showing up and tables were being set up. Things were kicking into gear. The gate area then became very busy. Coffee was brewed (thank goodness). Pastries were set out. And the gate agent began playing a trivia game with the customers. The agents working the flight were very kind to explain the open seating boarding process, and that we were on the first flight to depart Atlanta. Boarding was very orderly. We each received swag bags containing peanuts (of course), a luggage tag, beverage koozie, and a Southwest ball cap. One lucky customer got free roundtrip tickets in his swag bag. Surprisingly, the plane was pretty empty.


I mostly slept for the 1:40 minute flight. The crew was cordial. I believe we were all expecting some “crazy fun” or at least the “Rapping Flight Attendant”. This was THE first Southwest flight to depart Atlanta, remember? Still wondering why there wasn’t much fanfare. Anyway, the announcement upon arrival into BWI: “Like my mom told me when I was 18, get your bags and get out!” 😉

The BWI agents were rocking. Funny. Worked well as a team. Made upbeat and personable announcements. There was even a guy in the gate area who proposed to his girlfriend. By the way, she said yes.

The return flight was pretty full. Again the agents took the time to explain how things worked for those unfamiliar with open seating. I wasn’t sure if I’d like open seating boarding, and I’m still unsure, however we boarded on time and departed early. Open boarding worked well on this flight. Then again, I was in the A Group for both flights.

The return crew was young, smiled a lot, and were very professional. No jokes. No one-liners. Just lots of smiles and good eye contact. And they constantly checked on the passengers throughout the flight. All in all the flight was smooth and uneventful. We arrived back into Atlanta on time and to a gauntlet of cheers and high fives from the ground crew.

As I walked through the terminal I saw “9 Southwest station openings” Tim again! We chatted for a minute. He told me he had visited our website and had enjoyed the stories we had written thus far. As I walked away I thought, “How cool!”. Here’s someone so totally dedicated to Southwest that he and his family would come from Pennsylvania to Atlanta to attend the station opening. Southwest appears to have that effect on people, airports and communities around the US.

Atlanta’s a mature market though; and with anything that’s mature, accepting new experiences can be a challenge. We’ll continue to monitor Southwest’s progress as they grow their operation in Atlanta and will keep you posted.

Speaking of experiences we hope you enjoy our experiences as we see them. We invite you to visit our site soon and often to hear the latest.

Best wishes to Southwest!



In-flight Advertising: Opportunity or Nuisance?

If you have traveled lately, and noticed, you’ll see a trend. And we’re not speaking of the oft-ridiculed trend of charging for baggage, food, exit rows and other fees. Like the aforementioned fees, this trend too helps airlines with their bottom lines. The trend we’re speaking of is in-flight advertising in commercial airliners. Over the past 5 years advertising onboard, and on the aircraft itself, has been gaining altitude with many of the worlds’ airlines.

For as long as we can remember advertising has been a critical part of the business of operating an airline. Of course there are the tie-ins from credit card companies. Rental car companies. Hotels. There is also advertising in inflight magazines and on cocktail napkins. As former cabin crew, we made our share of promotional PAs, placed numerous branded napkins (logo side up, please), and served countless celebrity chef created meals over the years. Lately, however, many other non-travel related business have been seeking ways of elevating their brands and getting the word out on what their companies have to offer. As to be expected, there are many opinions as to how advertisers and the traveling public feel about this. Some think it is intrusive (“Can’t I just get on board and be left alone?”) others see it as a necessary way of doing business and increasing revenue. According to Ray Neidl, an analyst with Calyon Securities, if the ads are done in an appropriate manner, “it may be a long-term trend to raise additional revenues.” For the frequent flyer, many see onboard advertising as inappropriate, overreaching, and a nuisance. Some even call for advertising to be restricted to inflight magazines.

From an advertisers point of view, think about it: You have a captive audience (we were going to say an audience being held hostage however decided against that word) who may spend anywhere from 30 minutes on regional jet, to over 14 hours on some ultra long-haul flights. So, if your target audience is a captive audience, why not advertise to them? Therein lies prime revenue potential and advertisers are willing to pay lots of money to be able to advertise to an audience that has no other place to go.

Airlines have long protected the real estate of the interior and exterior of their aircraft. A plane is like a canvas. Broad. Blank. Moving. Seen by many. Many airlines have special liveries for aircraft. Now defunct airline, Western Pacific, had over 10 aircraft with special liveries advertising casinos, rental car companies, and cartoons. Southwest Airlines currently has over 25 special livery aircraft, most notably Shamu promoting their relationship with Sea World. Where many airlines including American Airlines, British Airways, and Delta Air Lines have special livery aircraft, not many have ventured down the road of advertising inside the airplane.

Enter Ryanair. Founded in 1985, the Irish, Dublin-based, low-cost airline operating a fleet of over three hundred B737s is changing how advertising is viewed inside airliners. Twenty percent of Ryanair’s revenue is derived from ancillary revenue (sources other than the price of the ticket). Because profit margins are extremely thin and volatile in the aviation industry, Ryanair has taken the often unpopular stance of looking at all avenues to raise addition revenue.

According to the Ryanair website, “display advertising is one of the most effective media formats available. Three years of research shows that advertising brands are achieving not only recall but specific message recall in excess of 82% among passengers.” On Ryanair you can find advertising on tray tables, walls, and overhead lockers (overhead bins).

Another airline that is embracing this trend is USAirways. They are noted as the first USA-based airline to advertise on tray tables. According to a 2006 story from Marketplace American Public Media, USAirways received over $10 million from onboard advertising. By 2008 that number had grown to $20 million for all of its advertising methods.

Global Onboard Partners is positioned as one of the major players in in-flight advertising. This new global advertising and media company, based in Atlanta, has gained FAA certification and provisional patents for its unique advertising products. Global Onboard Partners currently works with both low-cost and legacy carriers in several regions across the world, including the Caribbean, Europe, India, the Middle East, Mexico, and the United States.

They first made use of this new technology in 2008 when Spirit Airlines partnered the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism to transform cabin interiors into a tropical scene complete with blue skies, sandy beaches, and turquoise waters. Reports indicate the purchased advertising space was well received by customers and crews for its beautiful calming effect. “Placing advertising on surfaces of the interior of an aircraft is a complicated and regulated process. We selected [Global Onboard Partners] due to their expertise and experience in this relatively new, but sure-to-be-seen-more-of medium,” said Michael Pewther the Senior Director – Sales, Spirit Airlines.

With ad dwell time averaging 2.5 hours and  recall rates up to 94%, according to Global Onboard Partners, we’re sure to see more of this type of advertising.

As with most points of view, balance is key. As airlines continue to experience the ebb and flow of market forces, they’ll need to consider other forms of revenue. In-flight advertising is a sure, and proven way, to bridge the revenue gap. On the other hand, airlines must be mindful as to how they approach in-flight advertising as not to alienate the very core of their business: the passenger.

airlineguys™ are Sylvester Pittman and Darin Topham. Aviation enthusiasts. 30+ (and counting) combined years of airline operation/leadership/PR experience. Former cabin crew. Discerners of great customer service.

6 Tips To Becoming A Flight Attendant

So, you want be a flight attendant, huh? Despite the many challenges (long hours, unruly passengers, pay cuts, mergers, bankruptcies) facing flight attendants today, it’s still a good job that many have turned into a satisfying and rewarding career.

Whether you’ve always dreamed of being a flight attendant, or are thinking of changing careers and shaking things up a bit, here are some valuable tips to helping you secure a position.

#1. Be Prepared – do your homework. Learn as much as you can about the airline you’ll be interviewing with: its routes, its aircraft, its financial situation, current news, and its people. Another part of being prepared is knowing the location of the interview in advance. If you’re driving to your interview, check traffic. If you’re flying to your interview, check for weather and ATC delays. Arrive early!

#2. Look The Part – each airline is different. And with this difference comes a unique and diverse culture. Many overlook the importance and the influence of culture, and how aligning yourself with the culture of the airline increases your chances of being hired. Know that an interview for Southwest will be different than one for say, American. We recall interviewing for Song Airlines, Delta’s low-fare subsidiary, which had a unique and distinct culture. Song was about self expression. And the concept of self expression was the voice of Song; interwoven throughout every aspect of the airline. The atmosphere was a mix of excitement and energy. For the interview one of the potential candidates wore a suit and power tie (think Gordon Gekko from the film Wall Street). Although he was professionally dressed, he didn’t look the part of someone who was energetic, friendly, and personable. This guy looked like a bean counter and carried himself as such the whole interview. Needless to say, he didn’t get the culture of Song, and he didn’t get an offer. Know the culture. Because culture really does matter.

#3. Don’t Be A Wallflower – most interviews for flight attendant consists of a group meeting, followed by an exchange of information, followed by individual introductions in front of the group, and if you’re fortunate, a one-on-one interview. Know that when you arrive you’re being observed and assessed. It’s very important that you mingle, be approachable, enthusiastic, confident, give eye contact (with both eyes…think Mike Meyers’ character from the film View From the Top), SMILE, and most importantly be genuine. Many, if not most of the recruiters are flight attendants, so they know what to look for. Always remember: first impressions are lasting ones. Make it count.

#4. Be Yourself – because you’re being observed, and possibly interviewed by flight attendants, it’s very important that you be yourself. Flight attendants tend to be sensitive to the ways of others; a trait that is needed and sought after. Possessing this skill will serve you well in your career as a flight attendant. Those interviewing you can tell if you’re being phonier than Milli Vanilli. They’ve seen and heard it all.

#5. Have Scenarios Queued and Ready – if you’re not familiar with the STAR method of interviewing now’s the time to find out. This type of interviewing requires you to answer a series of questions based on experiences you’ve had. When answering these types of questions be specific when you answer. Refrain from answering questions in general terms. Remember: be genuine in your responses.

#6. Persevere – if this is a career you really want, don’t give up. You must keep calm and carry on. Many of our friends, including both of us, weren’t hired the first time we interviewed to be flight attendants. Not giving up, but using each interview as a learning opportunity served us well. Keep in mind that you must put your best foot forward. Do the best that you can. Learn something new each step of the way. Don’t take rejection personally.

Even though there have been many cutbacks in service, airlines will continue to hire on a regular basis. Check each airlines’ career page on a consistent basis for openings. Once you have applied, completed your online assessment, and received an interview, be sure to go over the tips outlined above for the added comfort of knowing what to expect as you pursue your dream job.

Good luck!

airlineguys™ are Sylvester Pittman and Darin Topham. Aviation enthusiasts. 30+ (and counting) combined years of airline operation/leadership/PR experience. Former cabin crew. Discerners of great customer service.