Mangled Message: Three Airlines and One Collective Message Fail

Our latest Mangled Message cannot be limited to a single organization. This time it’s a three-headed monster from the airline industry.

These three campaigns first came to our attention via Christopher Elliott, the consumer advocate and columnist for Money magazine. Christopher pointed out a number of issues with a new ad campaign from American Airlines’, “The World’s Greatest Flyers”—but also noted how the “Keep Climbing” ads from Delta Airlines and a new “Friendly Skies” campaign from United are just as clueless but in different ways.

The American Airlines message includes descriptors such as “They walk faster in airports than anywhere else.”


“…seems to blame ill-prepared travelers for the discomforts of flying,  “terribly tone-deaf.” I agree. But they aren’t alone.” 

When I speed-walk (or jog) through an airport, it’s typically because my connecting flight was late. And the airline typically bears some responsibility. Please, airline, don’t congratulate customers for dealing with messes that you helped create. 

Christopher called this message, which seems to blame ill-prepared travelers for the discomforts of flying,  “terribly tone-deaf.” I agree. But they aren’t alone. 

Delta’s message to “Keep Climbing” begs the question: Climbing higher than what? The airline industry has a dreadful customer-satisfaction track record. United dusted off the “Friendly Skies” language that worked when Eastern, TWA, and Pan Am were sharing the skies. Do you consider air travel a friendly experience these days?


There are five criteria that make for Mangled Messages:

  • Not authentic or believable
  • Detached from reality
  • Focused on the organization or sender, rather than the customer or receiver
  • Inconsistent, sending mixed signals across communication channels
  • Not conveyed skillfully, and perhaps by the wrong people for the situation


These three campaigns all fit the first three criteria. Collectively, the airlines talk about themselves in ways that say, “We don’t understand the reality of our own customers.”

Judging from reactions across social media, a lot of airline passengers find these ads laughable. I find them to be mangled.


Find a Mangled Message—and support a worthy cause

Your nomination for a Mangled Message could mean a donation to a worthy cause! All you have to do is submit your idea on the Contact page of my website Christopher allowed me to make the selection, so this month we again support Ambassadors of Compassion ( They are equipping thousands of at-risk youth with the resilience that will help them succeed in life.

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