A FEW MONTHS AGO, I wrote an article expressing my displeasure with American Airlines‘ hideous online presence. I also spent some time mocking up a redesigned version of their website. To my surprise, a user experience designer at AA.com sent 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.
AA searched their exchange database for the text I posted, found the guy, and fired Mr. X on the spot. From what I have learned, they also threatened him with legal action if he spoke to me again. Apparently he broke his non-disclosure agreement by discussing the design process at AA.
When I first learned about this, I was horrified. Mr. X is actually a good UX designer, and his email had me thinking there was hope for American Airlines. The guy clearly cared about his work and about the user experience at the company as a whole. But AA fired Mr. X because he cared. They fired him because he cared enough to reach out to a dissatisfied customer and help clear the company’s name in the best way he could.
Since May 18th, when I originally posted the article, American Airlines has lost more than half a billion dollars. It has done nothing to update its tarnished image. In fact, it has started bizarre initiatives targeting minorities that I have trouble describing as anything but insulting. They launched BlackAtlas.com, a site targeting African Americans; AA Rainbow, a site it calls “the only LGBT dedicated sales team in the industry,” and AA Women, which, for some reason, targets women. People from all these groups have emailed me about these sites, remarking that they are confused, insulted, and feel singled-out. "It feels like AA is perpetuating the 50's stereotype of a woman," one woman told me, "and targeting us by promoting vacations for the man of the house to purchase."
Last month, I spent a lot of time on JetBlue. The experience was, for the most part, superb; I was treated incredibly well as an economy passenger. On JetBlue, the company gets out of the way and the flight becomes an experience in itself. Customers are treated with respect (they say as few 'do nots' during the security briefing as possible). The AA experience has become a bloated policy-driven ordeal that marginalizes the customer's experience by focusing on seemingly arbitrary rules and the complexity of their ticketing system. The flying experience is similar to the online experience; it feels broken and dated.
When AA fires the people who care most about the experience it provides, I have to wonder if there is any hope for AMR Corporation. Its CEO is completely clueless and has done nothing to return the company to profitability.
PS Mr. X is looking for work as a freelance user experience architect. If you have a need for someone who has worked on user experiences in large projects, please contact me and I'll forward you to him.
You should follow me on twitter here.