Airline personality disorder

Is it anthropomorphism when we relate to a branded organization as if it were human?

An airline is not an inanimate object or an animal, it’s a human construct, branded like crazy to spark our emotional brain – to make us feel loyalty and affection – so we are less rational when making purchasing decisions. So it is human, in a sense.

Some airlines do this brilliantly, notably Southwest (who I’ve never flown with), Virgin Atlantic, and Norwegian who are doing this brilliantly at the low-cost end of the market – and, although controversial, I think Iberia are getting much better that this.


The idea of making your brand mean something as a way to increase customer loyalty is not a groundbreaking game-changing disruptive idea. It is a trusty rock-solid foundation stone in the building of a service organization, yet so many airlines seem to aspire to have all the personality of the local bus service, thinking that having a plane and a bag of nuts is enough.

I remember being surprised when I first got on an Aer Lingus plane.

The Irish are a creative bunch, and I was looking forward to seeing how they’d given their national airline a touch of the emerald magic. I wasn’t expecting leprechauns dancing about the place, but I was at least thinking it might be green. I thought they would have had some top marketing bods working on how to create something classy, but uniquely Irish, to wow us passengers and make us look forward to our next flight.

They hadn’t.

It might as well have been Acme Planes, or the entirely bland Air Europa, or … I am exaggerating when I say this … TAP Air Portugal!

TAP Air Portugal exists to teach us all about the importance of organizational leadership.

They have the planes, the routes, the airport slots, the finance, the customer base … all that is missing is the soft stuff. As the great leadership guru Tom Peters says, the soft stuff is hard, because it’s about culture and behaviour, and that’s harder to get right than, say, painting a plane.

TAP, despite flying the flag for such a beautiful and interesting country as Portugal, doesn’t simply limit its shiteness to being culturally nondescript, it consistently scores careless operational own goals, as if conducting some bizarre experiment to find out just how much you can annoy your customers before they storm off in a huff.

On my most recent flight from Madrid to Accra (via Lisbon), I suffered a long-ish delay (with no explanation other than the entirely unhelpful “delayed because of the late arrival of the incoming flight” … OK, so why was the incoming flight late?), a flight cancellation (with no explanation), and on not one of the four legs of the journey was my seat reservation honoured. In fact, not only was it not honoured, the airline didn’t appear to be aware they even had a seat reservation option, despite charging for it.

I submitted my complaint on 30 June, today is 25 August – nearly two months later – and the complaint page still says “Recebemos com sucesso o seu contacto. Lamentamos ainda não ter sido possível contactá-lo(a)

How can I not anthropomorphize them?

For me, the entire airline is shrugging and saying “whatever”, like some ghastly teenager in a rare moment when they glance up from their phone in order to be disappointing.

I will let you know in the comments if I ever get a response.


3 thoughts on “Airline personality disorder

  1. I got a reply to my TAP complaint today, nearly four months after the initial email. It was a nice reply and they offered compensation, so because I love Portugal, I might calm down a bit about TAP … until the next time

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