It’s no secret around this place that I travel a little. You know, just a few thousand miles a year. Since I live in Dallas, I have two major choices for airlines—either Southwest or American Airlines. I have flown both, but my preferred carrier (by far) is American.

That's a biggun!

That’s a biggun!

In fact, my family has a great traveling legacy with American Airlines. I have flown on almost every single type of plane that American has had in their fleet since the 1980s, including several that are no longer in service (DC-10, Boeing 727, and Fokker 100). I can remember standing outside my dad’s office as a kid learning from him and others every kind of plane on approach to DFW runway 17C. My dad and grandfather flew on the inaugural Boeing 747SP flight which was the first non-stop flight American did from DFW to Tokyo. So you can imagine my excitement when I got an amazing opportunity to meet many of their staffers and have a tour of the facilities!

AA Flight Ops

AA Flight Ops

After touring the new DFW Airport experience in Terminal A (BTW, the parking over there is AMAZING. I told the DFW personnel that it is what I feel like we were promised with Terminal D), we got to head up to one of the airport ops towers (this one is in the center of the field between terminals A and C). Inside we got to learn how flight ops are done. These folks are the ones that ensure planes can safely reach active taxiways for quick departure, and ensure that when your plane lands there is a gate waiting for you.

There's a pretty plane!

There’s a pretty plane!

We learned why things go awry. If you have traveled before, you know there is nothing more frustrating than sitting on the ramp waiting for your gate when there are three empty gates nearby. Essentially, the entire day’s operations are planned out in advance, so one small delay or a change in gates can throw off the entire day. The operators have some amazing tools at their disposal from lightning detectors to ground radar to cameras covering every single gate. Then we headed up top to see what the flight ops look like from on top of the airport!

Sorting!

Sorting!

Then, we got to see how baggage is sorted at the airport. The tools at DFW Airport make baggage sorting and individual removal (say if you checked a bag but then decided not to fly) simple. We also learned that American Airlines has a better on-time baggage delivery system than FedEx does. While we’ve all had a story at one point where a bag was misplaced or misrouted, it’s happening less and less nowadays thanks to these sophisticated tracking systems. Terminal D’s stuff is completely automated with bag readers and routers carrying bags through the five miles of conveyers in that terminal alone!

Social Media AAngels (albeit, one was short timing as it was her last day)!

Social Media AAngels (albeit, one was short timing as it was her last day)!

After that, LUNCH! And while the fare at Cantina Laredo was quite tasty, the real treat was getting to spend time with some of the AA employees and candidly discuss our experiences. Just like us customers, employees have questions about the pending merger. Change can be scary, and there is a big change coming. But from the folks I spoke to, they were all optimistic. They saw cultural benefits at US Airways that will do well for American. But mostly, they were looking forward to all the legal approvals so they could get to work. Just like other M&A with a competitor, they can’t actually discuss post-merger stuff until its done. So while there may be an agreed-upon decision making process, nothing is being discussed or decided together. I can understand why they are ready to be done!

Don't get to see this angle much!

Don’t get to see this angle much!

After lunch, we got to walk around the active ramp at DFW! VERY exciting to put on that yellow vest and walk around the new 777-300ER plane. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to see the inside due to some scheduling issues, but we still got to walk around the ramp. It was very weird to see the airport from that angle, looking UP at passengers waiting for their livery.

Accelerate!!

Accelerate!!

From there, we got in our cars and headed over to the Flight Academy. We learned how pilots are trained and got to see the active simulators as pilots were inside demonstrating their skills. Each one of those things cost between eight and twelve MILLION dollars to procure. We also got to learn about the new simulator, the A320. Since American is taking delivery of their first Airbus order this month, they have been hard at work training folks. Even though American is not taking an A320, you get type-rated on the series (A318-A321), which is similar to how Boeing 757 and 767 type ratings work.

Flagship Knoxville

Flagship Knoxville

Finally, a private tour of the C. R. Smith Museum. I found a 64-key Wurlitzer piano that American put in the coach class of their original 747s in addition to this lovely plane.

The most impactful part of the process was getting to meet the people behind the brand. I’ve been a customer for so long and had great experiences that I naturally become a promoter of the brand—but I didn’t want to just see the brand (even if the new logo and look/feel is quite stunning). Connecting with the people behind the brand allowed me to learn how they work, see how the airline operates, and get a greater appreciation for the complexities involved in running a global airline. But mostly, I feel like I have advocates inside the airline if I ever run into trouble. In fact, I sent over some feedback yesterday via Twitter, and it was awesome to read who was behind the account at that time and put her face to the name (Thanks April!).

The New American

The New American

As a brand manager, you should look to American Airlines as THE example of how to do social media right in a big company. They respond to almost every actionable tweet (@AmericanAir) and sincerely want to help out their customers. Sure, every flight experience isn’t flawless, but their research shows that plenty of communication during bad events increases customer satisfaction. American’s social media team is doing their part to help provide a connection from inside the bubble to the customer, and what they are learning is invaluable.

A heart-felt thank you to American for such an amazing experience!

This post originally appeared on BrandenWilliams.com.