After the debacle of the MD-80 groundings, American Airlines had to respond to the all the negative news stories and complaints from the hundreds of thousands of people that were inconvenienced by the decision to ground all 300 MD-80 aircraft at one time for maintenance.

The first thing it did was apologize. The airline sent an apology letter on April 11 to people who have AAdvantage accounts. I received the letter and would love to post it, but for some reason, American included a message at the bottom of the apology stating that it was copyrighted and any unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. Dumb move. The ideal solution was to state, in very bold print, “Please send our apology to everyone you know.” Instead, they put a copyright on it, prohibit reproduction of it, and don’t even post it on their website! Is there something secret in the apology that they don’t want anyone other than their customers to know? Perhaps American hired some people from the Communications department at Enron…

In the future, business schools may cite this as a way to NOT handle crisis communications. In fact, the Harvard Business School has already posted an article called Crisis Communications and American Airlines. In the article they point out some of the things American could have done better. For example, the apology came from Dan Garton, Executive Vice President of Marketing, rather than from CEO Gerard Arpey. A reasonable person would conclude that Arpey, as CEO, had a lot more to do with the decisions, right or wrong, of the previous week than Garton did. It should have been Arpey’s signature on the apology.

On the same day they sent the apology, American launched a new blog, American Airlines, AA Conversation. They must have been in quite a rush to get it online, it is not even on the AA.com domain. Instead, it is on blogger.com at http://aaconversation.blogspot.com/. They also used a standard blogger.com template, they don’t even have the AA logo on the site. Dumb. A multi-billion dollar corporation should have a blog that looks better than one created by a junior high school student. In the first week online there have been three messages, all from someone named Billy S.

Who is Billy S.? In what department does he work? What is his position? Is he a senior person in a position of authority or an intern from Southern Methodist University working 15 hours a week while getting class credit in communications? There is no way to tell. The only information he provides is that he has written some AA press releases. Dumb. Readers need to know if those messages originated in the board room or the mail room.

Again, a bad move by AA.

Finally, American came up with an offer for its AAdvantage members. They will give double-elite status qualifying miles on travel between April 16, 2008 and June 15, 2008. Note the dates: the offer is not retroactive to the week of the groundings. In other words, if you still believed in American Airlines and flew them during that crisis situation, they will not give you anything additional. But if you fly with them for the next two months, you will get a bonus.

What does double-elite status qualifying miles mean? Members of the AAdvantage program either have no status or have elite status (Gold, Platinum, Executive Platinum). Travelers earn elite status by building up Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) each year. Earn Gold status with 25K EQMs, Platinum status with 50K EQMs, or Executive Platinum with 100k EQMs. These are the miles we use to pay for our trips.

Under this bonus, people will get double miles, but the extra miles will not count for travel, they will only count towards earning elite status for the year.

Is this a good deal? Yes for some, no for others.

In my case, it’s not a great help. I have three trips scheduled during the award period: two mileage runs (MRs) to Seattle, and a vacation in Florida. I expected to be at 43K points for the year once those trips were over, leaving me in easy reach of the 50K I need to remain Platinum.

With the bonus, I will earn an additional 14K miles toward status, putting me at 57K miles for the year. So, I will reach Platinum status by the end of May. While that is good, there is no long term benefit. Whether I earn it in May or December, I will still be Platinum for the following year.

However, maybe this bonus will put Executive Platinum within reach. Perhaps I will find some good deals later in the year and do several MRs and be able to earn Exec Plat for next year, instead of Platinum. That would be excellent!

Will it happen? I don’t know, 43K miles is a lot, particularly for someone like me who does very little business travel. But I’ll be giving it a lot of thought as I plan my trips for the rest of the year.