The offices of American Airlines on New York City’s Park Avenue are modern and design-conscious.
I felt a little under-dressed while I was waiting in the stylish reception area on the 11th floor, contemplating the wall that illustrates all of the cities that are serviced by the One World aviation alliance, trying to work out how many of them I’d been to.
I was immediately put at ease by the arrival of George Carrancho - warm, friendly and engaging, Carrancho has recently returned from a visit to Manchester in the UK where he was hosting a delegation of journalists for Manchester Pride.
The New York and Chicago routes to Manchester are seen as a high priority for American Airlines and its an interesting example of how the company is combining its diversity and equality agenda with a strong business development perspective. This year the airline has also hosted similar press trips to London Pride and Barcelona Pride.
Originally from Texas, Carrancho has worked for the airline for 18 years and now holds the position of manager of diversity markets for American Airlines - part of the team that specializes in marketing and outreach for consumer segments including Hispanic, LGBT, African-American, Asian-American and people with disabilities.
‘We’re also not trying to be everything to everyone,' says Carrancho, 'We’ve moved from having about 100 partnerships to having a smaller number of key pillar partnerships.’
From an LGBT perspective, there are four key partnerships that Carrancho is leading on behalf of American Airlines:
These are partnerships that Carrancho passionately believes in: 'We started most of these partnerships in 1993 to 1994, so we have almost 10 years of investment and history with these organizations and have really established our reputation as the gay-friendly airline.
'We’ve seen enormous change take place during that period - for instance, there is now a majority of people in the US that believe that there should be marriage equality.'
Marriage equality is understandably a hot topic for Carrancho - while in Manchester for pride this year he asked his partner to marry him and plans for the wedding are under way.
Complementing this strong external and community focus is American Airlines’ LGBT Employee Resource Group. Established in 1992, the LGBT employee group was the airline’s first - there are now 17 different groups covering a range of interests including age, faith and gender. The initial focus of the LGBT employee group was to advocate for equality in employee benefit policies - as a result, it became the first US airline to implement domestic partner benefits for employees (including health and flight benefits).
American Airlines’ LGBT employee group now has around 400 members however, like many organizations around the world, membership fatigue is becoming a challenge. New initiatives that the group are working on include internal networking and mentoring, as well as community outreach and volunteer opportunities. Visibility of strong LGBT role models within management positions is also seen as key.
Supporting transgender employees is an area that the airline is feeling its way with.
‘We currently have a person in maintenance in Fort Worth who is beginning their transition’, explains Carrancho, ‘of course we have a zero tolerance policy in relation to any form of discrimination or harassment, but it’s important to explain the transition process to the colleagues of the trans person.’
Carrancho is particularly proud of American Airlines’ track record in the annual Corporate Equality Index (a survey produced by the Human Rights Campaign).
‘We are only one of nine companies that have maintained a score of 100% since the index began in 2002 - of course the requirements get tougher each year, so a good result in the index is really significant for us in terms of marketing value.
‘What’s really great is that at American Airlines there is total acceptance that good practice on diversity and equality is not only the right thing to do, but bottom line it’s a smart business thing to do.’
American Airlines is at an interesting point in its history. Two key trends in the aviation industry are airline 'alliances' or business partnerships to drive cost and resource synergies on an international scale; and also the continued tension between price versus product.
Emerging from their Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2011, American Airlines are investing heavily in product and focusing on making the passenger experience as seamless as possible.
American Airlines and its One World alliance partners now operate 15 flights per day between New York and London as well as daily flights between New York and Manchester.
I met with I met with Tim Ahern, the senior executive managing these high value routes, who confirmed that passengers on these flights will be among the first to benefit from new 'lie-flat' seats in first and business class as well as on-board wifi.
Self-service is also a feature of air travel that we are going to see more of. Ahern describes this as a key step towards ‘the airport of the future’ and is pleased to report a strong passenger response to self-service check-in, as well as a positive response to their early testing of self-tagging for baggage which the airline sees as the logical next step.
From Ahern’s perspective, what will really set American Airlines apart from its competitors is the cultural transformation that the company is now embarking on.
‘We need to consistently deliver what we say we’re going to deliver,’ he said.
With 10 years of community partnerships to build on, it’s clear that people like George Carrancho are going to continue to play in key role in building the organizational culture that American Airlines is looking to create.