Franco Tedeschi became the regional Vice President of American Airlines in 2010. He leads operations at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, the carrier’s second largest hub.
Mr. Tedeschi sat down with Jetting Around to talk about the ongoing integration with US Airways and what passengers can expect from ‘new American’ in the near future.
Could you give us an update on American Airlines’ merger with US Airways?
We continue to make really great progress. In the last 3-week period, we were able to successfully complete the integration of our frequent flier programs.
We also rebanked* our operations at Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago, so now we’ve got a lot more ability to increase the amount of connections offered to customers in those hubs. And on April 8th, the day that we actually targeted almost 17 months ago, we were granted our single-operating certificate by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Are there plans to introduce new planes and routes?
The excitement is that we are still very much on track to have the youngest fleet in the industry by 2017 as we take deliveries between both US Airways and American Airlines.
Those airplanes include some of our new long-haul fleet, for example the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. On May 7th we’ll commence service of that airplane between Dallas and Chicago. Later we’ll see the 787 deployed internationally – at first out of DFW, but there are plans to bring in into the O’Hare hub.
We’ll also be introducing the Airbus A321 into our domestic flying later in the summer.
Tell us about the combined loyalty program and its impact on customers.
The integration gives us almost a 100 million customer base. We’re excited that we’re able to offer those customers access to a network that is commensurate with the world’s largest airline – using our own network across domestic US, all of the international destinations we serve, along with partner airlines that form the Oneworld alliance.
Customers will get to earn miles on the American carrier, but equally on the affiliate airlines, and redeem them for travel on a much broader level.
As the ‘new American’ is being built, what improvements can passengers expect in terms of travel comfort?
Several months ago we announced a $2 billion product investment for the airline to ultimately improve the customer experience – the service that passengers will have in-flight and on the ground.
As we take delivery of new airplanes, that creates a lot of the environment that customers will get to enjoy: improved space in the cabin, more overhead bin storage, power ports that people now look for to support all the electronics they travel with, including what you and I take.
The merger has also been an opportunity for us to get to common ground as it relates to onboard food service and experience. We’ve got to ensure that we have transitioned to one service standard.
How does American Airlines plan to stay competitive with the rise of low-cost carriers?
Our focus is to deliver at the highest level, and customers will choose American for a number of different reasons. #1 because of the breadth and depth this carrier has in terms of network, schedule, and product offerings. Some people like to stay loyal to those, like to experience them when they’re flying.
I’ll also say that if customers do get on aa.com and look at our pricing in most markets, we’re very competitive, if not at times actually leading.
Competition is going to be forever present. Here in Chicago I get to experience that on a daily basis with this being a two-carrier hub, and then we’ve got a lot of new entrant carriers. We continue to work hard to not just retain the customers we have, but attract new ones.
What other initiatives can we expect from American Airlines this year?
We have a next merger milestone to complete and that’s the integration of our reservation systems. It would have a lot of customer impact if not done well, but we have done tremendous planning around that and will continue to do just that. There’s a level and knowledge at this moment at the airline that will help us succeed as we move forward.
We’re also focused on getting a little bit of a fresh look for our employees on the ground and in the air with new uniforms. That’s going to be key as we start bringing our employee groups together, so that they represent the new American.
The other thing that’s going to be really important is rebranding our airports. We’re going to display a lot more of the new livery and logo, and that is going to start somewhere as soon as this summer. We’ve initiated some of that work here at O’Hare – you can see new self-service kiosks and the back wall of the ticket counter.
The look is a component of our effort to create a seamless travel experience for the customer.
What is your favorite part of the job and working in Chicago?
Chicago and the people here are just tremendous. For all the work that we have undertaken, the team here is second to none. There’s such a level of commitment around that I could ask for no better place to be as we navigate through a lot of change at the airline.
In terms of the things I enjoy – I’m coming upon 25 years with American and I’m driven by the work that I get to do, which is certainly being close to airplanes. Also, being able to bring so many moving parts together on any given day, and no two days are the same.
If you could introduce one American Airlines route, which city or region would you choose?
That’s difficult, because I’m European and would probably want to go to Europe. [laughs]
When I think of market potential, we as an airline continue to evaluate a lot of different routes on a regular basis, because market conditions change. You have to pick your moment.
If it was without any challenge, I think that Spain is somewhere we’d probably look at. Brazil is terrific as well. In fact, almost two years ago we applied for an opportunity to service Brazil from Chicago. Timing is everything, so we’ll watch the economies. For now, we’ve got great service from Brazil to Miami.
*changing the flight schedule in order to group departures