American Airlines turns to a Hollywood connection

HOLLYWOOD — At a time when passenger airplanes are increasingly empty due to dropping demand, American Airlines has found a profitable way to fill its aircraft and executive lounges.

The carrier has opened its gates, cabins and cockpits to Hollywood.

George Clooney’s latest movie, “Up In The Air,” is the story of a corporate downsizing consultant — a hired executioner — who flies across the country, laying off workers in his own warm yet efficient way. In the process, he works to meet his self-imposed goal of collecting 10 million frequent flier miles.

The star of the film is clearly the silver-haired Clooney but he shares lots of screen time with American Airlines, the carrier featured prominently throughout the movie. In the film, Clooney flies American Airlines in his goal of accruing American “Advantage” points. Of course, the film depicts the folks at American as friendly. Plus the accommodations are seen as superb at the Admirals Club, the exclusive lounges where airline club members get complimentary drinks, showers, Wi-Fi and other cushy amenities.

Does this sound suspiciously like a big-screen American Airlines commercial?

In Hollywood, this is called a “marketing partnership” and it has already created dozens of movies with feature roles for soft drinks, fast food chains and cars, like the racy Aston Martin that appeared in the James Bond thriller “Quantum of Solace.”With airlines struggling to fill seats, it makes sense that American would jump into the act.

This is not the airline’s first foray into the movies. The carrier partnered with Twentieth Century Fox for the 1990 “Home Alone,” in which the family flies American Airlines from Chicago to Paris. More recently, American Airlines was one of several companies that cut deals to get product placements in the 2008 “Sex and the City” movie.

But American seems to play its biggest role in “Up In The Air.”

The partnership with American began when director Jason Reitman started writing the script and decided to use a real airline in the movie instead of creating a fictional carrier. The Walter Kirn book that Reitman based his script upon had Clooney’s character flying on the fictional “Great West Airlines.”

Reitman needed an airline that flew through the Midwest, where much of the story takes place. American, which is based in Texas, operates at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Another plus for American Airlines is that it is represented by Rogers & Cowan, Los Angeles’ giant public relations firm that manages some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and has worked closely with Paramount Pictures, which developed “Up In The Air.”

American Airlines doesn’t get a cut of the movie’s profits, according to airline officials. Instead, the airline gets its logo, its planes and its AAdvantage lounges flashed across the screen of a major motion picture, distributed across the globe.

Not only does the movie promote the airline but American promotes the movie. American has launched the “Find Yourself Up In The Air” auction and sweepstakes, in which AAdvantage club members use their bonus miles to bid for trips, gifts and other goodies.

In exchange for the product placement, the airline gave Reitman free filming access to its terminals, planes and the cushy Admirals Clubs.

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It makes smart business sense to revamp and refocus during slow economic times.

United Airlines is also going to “refashion” during tough times.

The Chicago-based carrier announced last week that it is hiring fashion designer Cynthia Rowley to design new uniforms for its flight attendants, pilots, customer service representatives and maintenance crew members.

To draw up ideas for the new look, Rowley plans to meet with United employees in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and London. The new uniforms will be on display on planes and the airport runways in mid 2011.

The current uniforms for the flight attendants are a loose-fitting navy blue outfit with a definite “Annie Hall” feel.

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Virgin Atlantic, the airline that likes to promote itself as an airborne innovator, has helped produce a Web site to pair up passengers to share a taxi ride after they get off the plane.

Under the concept, passengers can go to www.taxi.to and punch in the time their airplane lands and their final destination on the ground. The Web site matches up passengers to share a taxi. And you don’t have to fly Virgin Atlantic to use the site. It works for all carriers.

Passengers who use the service can print out a “Taxi2” sign from the site to identify each other at the airport. A video on the Web page shows how the process works.

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