Executive Conversations: Building Resiliency with Alison Taylor, Chief Customer Officer, American Airlines
Alison Taylor, Chief Customer Officer of American Airlines, joins Sekhar Mallipeddi, WW Technical Leader for AWS Travel and Hospitality, for a broad-ranging discussion about the recent disruption faced by travel and hospitality companies – and her company’s response to that disruption. American’s purpose is to care for people on life’s journey. Shares of American Airlines Group Inc. trade on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol AAL and the company’s stock is included in the S&P 500. This Executive Conversation is one of a series of discussions held with industry leaders, where we seek to learn more about their resiliency, tenacity, and capacity for innovation.
The series follows the publication of the AWS Travel and Hospitality E-book: “Building Resilience For The Long Run .” Filled with strategic observations, hints, and tips, the E-book provides guidance for building a more resilient organization, potentially serving as a useful resource as travel and hospitality companies address both current challenges and those yet to come.
Sekhar Mallipeddi: While your business is recognized publicly by many, what’s one unique characteristic or feature that is either lesser known or understood about your company?
Alison Taylor: Our mission for caring for people on life’s journey informs everything we do. This focus on care is for both our team members and our customers. As we navigated the last year, we depended on other lesser known parts of our business to be able to continue to serve our customers and team members. In addition to transporting passengers, for more than 75 years, cargo flights have played a significant role in the history of American Airlines. And now in the face of a global pandemic, cargo flights are once again placing cargo in the history books for American. Cargo-only fights have allowed us to transport medical equipment, communications and technology tools, pharmaceuticals and food supplies. On top of the temperature-controlled containers and refrigeration facilities we have throughout our network, our team actively monitors flight times and temperatures along the way to make sure perishable shipments like seafood, fruit, flowers and berries get delivered fresh off the plane. We also have an incredible privilege to be part of history by transporting COVID-19 vaccines.
SM: Many companies across travel and hospitality have been managing through a period of unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced during this recent period and how have you managed through them?
AT: One of the biggest challenges we have faced is building confidence in health and safety while traveling. We built strong partnerships with organizations such as the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which has advised us as we’ve developed and implemented programs and procedures to keep customers and team members safe. This includes our very strict face covering policy and cleaning regime. We have also become more nimble and get to solutions faster. We have managed through this with communication, sharing industry-led research, and hosting many customer virtual calls.
SM: As we all prepare for the next phase of traveler or guest demand, what are some of the changes your company has taken (or plans on taking) to adjust to the current operating environment?
AT: As part of building confidence and giving travelers peace of mind to travel, we implemented many changes. Our planes receive electrostatic spraying once a week with an EPA-approved disinfectant that provides enhanced protection by sustained killing of 99.9% of viruses, including coronaviruses, on surfaces. We’ve rolled out the treatment across our fleet. High-touch and public areas like tray tables, seatbelt buckles, armrests, window shades, seatback screens, doors and overhead bin handles continue to be cleaned before every flight. We also provide PURELL® Advanced Hand Sanitizer in our lounges and hub airports across the U.S. and work with Vanderbilt University Medical Center for guidance on health matters and our cleaning procedures.
SM: In the face of the current disruption to the travel and hospitality industry, we’ve observed incredible innovations coming from across the industry. How has your company innovated through these challenging times and what are you most proud of?
AT: We continue to work on building a touchless experience throughout the travel journey. For example, although we sanitize our kiosks often, travelers can check their bags in a hands-free experience at most U.S. airports. Customers need to check in before their trip, select checked bags and get their mobile or printed boarding pass. At the airport they’ll scan their boarding pass at a kiosk to automatically print their bag tag, then attach it for drop-off at bag drop. Customers can also test the latest mobile ID technology by using our biometric bag drop at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
SM: The travel and hospitality industry is incredibly resilient. As you look toward recovery, what role does technology play for your company moving forward? How do you see technology enhancing the customer experience and improving operational efficiency?
AT: Just as we do today, we’ll continue to develop technologies to streamline the customer travel journey from the time they start thinking about a trip to arriving at their destination. For example, we’ve introduced several conveniences for customers over the last year including the ability to use a live chat 24/7 through the American app for all a traveler’s questions, and creating contactless experiences for things like checking in at an airport kiosk through QR code, printing bag tags and more. Additionally, we are trialing contactless biometric technology that will enable customers to move through the airport more quickly without having to present a boarding pass or show ID. By giving our customers’ more ability to self-service when they want to, we’re freeing up our team members’ to be able to provide more dedicated attention to customers as they need it. We’ll continue to adapt and develop new capabilities to support our mission to care for people on life’s journey.
SM: There’s much talk at the moment about how the travel experience has changed and there will be a “new normal” going forward. What does this “new normal” look like to you and how do you think the travel experience will look 3 years from now?
PH: I believe the travel experience will continue to expand with more self-service and contactless experiences for the customer, putting them in control of their travel journey. Health and well-being will continue to be part of our decision making process when it comes to services we offer in our lounges and our planes. One example of this is the mobile health wallet, VeriFLY. We continue to make it easier for customers to travel to and from international destinations by expanding our acceptance of VeriFLY, which simplifies testing verification requirements. Using the VeriFLY app, customers can upload documents to meet travel requirements, and we will accept the verification for flights operated from U.S. airports we operate from to eight countries currently. With more partners like British Airways, Alaska Airlines, and others across the industry expanding their acceptance of VeriFLY, we can further our common goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19 and ensure compliance with local regulations that have been put in place to protect our customers and team members.
SM: What makes you excited for the future of travel and hospitality? As a traveler or guest, where are you looking forward to visiting next?
We are a resilient industry and have faced and overcome many challenges working with our travel agency partners, Alliance and Joint Business Partners, and the travel industry on the recovery. As I haven’t been able to see my adult son, who is in Australia, in over a year, my first trip would be to reunite with him.
Learn more about the new Travel and Hospitality E-book: “Building Resilience For The Long Run.”
See more Executive Conversations and industry insights on the AWS Travel and Hospitality Blog.
As Chief Customer Officer, Alison works to create a welcoming environment for the airline’s customers on every step of their journey. She is responsible for the American Airlines Vacations, Customer Experience and Reservations, Global Sales and Distribution, and Marketing and Digital Customer Experience teams.
She has served in many leadership roles in two of the world’s top travel organizations. Before joining American in September 2016, she led the Sales team at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide as Senior Vice President of Global Sales, based in New York. Her prior roles at Starwood include Senior Vice President of Sales and Revenue Management and Vice President of Sales, Revenue Management and Digital Marketing. She has lived and worked in eight countries, including more than 20 years in Asia.