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American Airlines Replies

Editor’s note: Over the past few months Jim Harrington has written a series of columns critical of airline quality in general and American Airlines specifically. One of our readers forwarded one of Harrington’s columns along with some comments of his own to American Airlines Chairman and CEO Gerard Arpey. The reader suggested that American Airlines “go out of business” and “start all over again with concern about customer service.” The reader forwarded Arpey’s response to us, and American Airlines agreed to let us run it.

Thank you for your recent note and copy of Mr. Harrington’s article. We certainly agree that it was not a good example of service quality, but Emirates Airlines clearly bears some responsibility in the chain of service failure. Their inability to check-in customers (passengers they said they knew were arriving late) 45 minutes before departure was remarkable.

I notice the flag and “Support Our Troops—Remember Our Veterans” on your note paper. If we took your advice and went out of business, we would be unable to fulfill our national responsibility to move troops to and from overseas deployments. We are proud to participate in the Department of Defense’s Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, which exists for that purpose. And if we were defunct we could not donate millions of AAdvantage miles to help servicemen and servicewomen and their families. Nor could we sponsor an event like Skyball III, recently held inside our hangar at Alliance Fort Worth Airport, where we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help military families.

Do you really want all that—and more—to go away? We are the first to admit that we sometimes fail our customers. But articles like the one you sent greatly overstate the frequency of service failures. We carry about a quarter of a million people every day, and, inevitably, there will be mistakes that impact our customers. But we keep our promise to nearly all of them—a promise of safe, reliable, reasonably priced transportation.

Going out of business is not an option.

Thanks again for taking the time to write.

—Gerard J. Arpey
Chairman and CEO, American Airlines


Resuscitating Health Care

Another negative article written by an ISO consultant (“Taking the QMS Cure,” William A. Levinson, December 2005). Nine months ago I was diagnosed with cancer and just today received a positive prognosis; 10 years ago I would have been dead within six months!

Here’s a suggestion—start researching “appreciative inquiry.” It’s a mindset of highlighting and building upon the positives in an organization.

—John Glavey

I almost died in November 2004 due to 18 months of misdiagnoses. During my recovery for open-heart surgery and replacement of my aortic valve, I made the following observations.

I believe it is far more financially rewarding for physicians and hospitals to treat symptoms rather than root causes. Doctors are pressured to handle as many patients as possible to maximize revenue. The tendency to speculate and jump to conclusions without evidence becomes a problem.

—Bob Daniel


Chinese Revolution

Regarding “Report from Shanghai” (“Quality Curmudgeon,” Scott M. Paton, December 2005), China is competition and competition is good for all markets. It brings out the best in manufacturing and helps the consumer by keeping prices in check and ingenuity at its highest. For the most part the quality of products coming from China has been on the increase and will continue to get better through better understanding, technological advances, and partnerships with manufacturers and agents. The future for our relationship with China will continue to grow as both an outsource partner for American companies and a direct competition to American companies as China introduces more of its own brands.

—Gregory S. Painter

I’m not interested in dealing with an unethical manufacturing industry and a government which ignores human rights. Some Americans will do anything for the consulting dollar under the guise of “good lessons learned.”

—Ann Klodor


Future Tense

An eye-opening article (“The Future of Quality,” H. James Harrington and Frank Voehl, December 2005)! Practicing as an engineering student within my lean-oriented environment, I now see that the situation for future North American technology engineers looks grim. Am I right in assuming that North American engineers must step up to the networking and teamwork plate to survive? The future will surely bring about a revolution in product cycle lifetimes, as the demand rate of our customers and their competitors increases. This reduced product cycle will continually test manufacturing companies’ ability to self-improve. A huge emphasis will be put on prototyping early and getting a product to the customer as soon as possible, so as to accurately identify their needs. This ties in closely with the “sense-and-respond” movement. This was a riveting article. Thank you.

—Allen Funston


Online Feedback

Regarding “The Xbar & R Chart Says You’re in Control. Are You?” (Robert F. Hart and Marilyn K. Hart, www.qualitydigest.com/sixsigma): Outstanding article! Informative and very clear. It also addresses an area of control-chart analysis that is often overlooked—that compressing samples over time can lead to misinterpretation of data due to variation occurring at different times of the day.

I already knew that one should do an individuals or run chart in that situation, but the extreme value analysis and X-bar S charts were additional great suggestions .

—Jeff Jackson