Monday, November 24, 2008

Chicken From The Back

Gwen and I cashed in miles to fly first class on our honeymoon. It was a rare indulgence and of course in addition to the bigger seats we were looking forward to a better meal. The options were steak and pasta, and at that point we were still clinging to the low-carb diet we'd adopted in the months leading up to the wedding. That regimen was quickly shelved when we arrived at our destination and were told about the nightly dessert souffle, but I digress. On the plane, we were still vigilant.

So when the flight attendant came by we both asked for the steak, and she responded that - in our 12-seat section - they had already run out of steak. But we don't want pasta, we said, and plus we're sitting up here in first class, and it's costing us like a million miles or something, so isn't there anything you can do?

"Well," she said, standing there momentarily dumbfounded. "I guess I could bring you some chicken from the back."

We declined the invitation and consoled ourselves with additional drinks and a bonus portion of warm nuts, and in the end wound up with something much better than a seasoned piece of shoe leather at 30,000 feet - namely a world class expression that still makes us laugh and is always ready to be applied to any form of indignity or frustration, particularly those related to commercial aviation.

The line ran through my mind last week, when it became clear that one or all of the three auto industry CEOs who traveled to Washington in search of a Congressional bailout for their industry should really have thought ahead and made arrangements for some Chicken From The Back.

Whatever your personal take on the situation with U.S. carmakers and how we got here, whether these guys are well-intended executives struggling to do the right thing for many thousands of workers and shareholders, or pampered incompetents of the highest order, they're clearly pretty busy at the moment.

So it makes sense - on one level - that when they were planning to travel to Washington to make their case for public assistance, they defaulted to the kind of arrangements large companies make every day when key leaders and support staff are on the move. An itinerary comes together, timetables and passenger lists are set, and the group is transported to its destination, using the equipment that has been purchased or leased for this purpose. The fact that this equipment happens to be very nice is almost beside the point. Except when it becomes the point.

Given the purpose of this trip, and other recent events (Dow at 8000, personal 401k accounts on life support and deep-tissue Verbena massages for AIG's best and brightest come to mind), it seems even more amazing that no one up or down the chain at any of these companies was able to step outside the situation and say something along the lines of, "Um... I know it's not necessarily my call, but what does everyone think about flying commercial down there?"

Congress is like a high school. I know, I used to work there. And in addition to the brilliant and motivated valedictorians and honor students wandering the halls, there are plenty of C-level grunts who are just hoping to get through next Friday's physics exam. And there's nothing quite like giving one of these middle-of-the-pack, cheerleader-bereft individuals the chance to shake a paper up and down at a cowering witness and say "na, na, na-na-na" during a high-profile committee hearing to produce a moment that captivates the public. This dynamic is only intensified when the poor saps fanned out in front of the people up there on the elevated seats are asking for something taxpayers are ultimately going to have to pay for.

In light of the clear potential for some really unfortunate imagery, it seems like an obvious play for at least one of these CEOs to have shuffled himself and his crew to our nation's capital by way of a scheduled flight out of Detroit Metro. Let's start with the outbound leg, we can see how things go in DC and make a final determination on the return later on. In any event corporate travel did confirm the presence of a Cinnabon in the food court at Dulles, so we've got that going for us, which is nice.

And the potential PR bonanza unleashed by this Business Class indignity didn't even have to be left to chance. Call up a lobbyist in a position to make a friendly suggestion to one of the interrogators, maybe one who is particularly challenged to pass that physics class, and see if they might be willing to use some of their allotted time to ask those guys sitting behind the personalized table tents how they happened to get there that morning.

Imagine the result if one (or all) of the executives would have been able to say, "I came in last night on American, flight #1173." Might just have turned the whole thing around. At the very least it wouldn't have made it so easy to demonize the ask. And shouldn't avoiding that kind of pitfall be top of mind, if you're the one doing the asking?

4 Comments:

Anonymous seth godin said...

...or what if they had driven a hybrid all the way from detroit? using 10 gallons of gas...

9:32 AM  
Blogger Vanessa Shannon said...

seriously....what were they thinking? Great post.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Daisy Whitney said...

Yum, chicken from the back sounds great

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

Their thinking is exactly why the American auto industry is in this situation.

12:26 PM  

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