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The X Files
Xavier Hermosillo is the President of, a national Crisis Communications, Marketing, and Management firm he founded 23 years ago. He is a former political chief of staff, an award-winning reporter and photographer, and a former radio talk show host and TV commentator in Los Angeles. He has co-founded two publicly-traded companies where he served as a member of the Board of Directors and as the Senior Vice President of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications. He has also served as a Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission on police officer discipline cases, and holds degrees in Administration of Justice and Business and Communications. He can be reached at

We often hear people use the term "culture" and it usually is in reference to someone's ethnic background or the difference between THOSE people and Americans.

But the term also refers to how we operate in our personal and work environments. The dictionary defines the word culture as "the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought." It also characterizes culture as "the predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization."

It is in this context of organizational character that I want to tell you how each of us, sometimes unwittingly, can impact the culture of others.

In our ever-shrinking world of business, mergers have become commonplace. We sometimes bemoan the results of those mergers, as when fewer and fewer oil companies lead to higher prices that seem to increase more rapidly than ever, or when it seems newspaper and electronic media ownership is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

I want to share with you a merger in progress that I have been watching evolve, ever so slowly, and realizing how much we, as consumers, actually influence the development and finalization of these business marriages.

My business travels have forced me to focus on less-than-a-handful of airlines in order to maximize my effectiveness in getting where I need to go and ensuring the ensuing mileage rewards that will lead to some benefits for being on the road so much. Cost is always a factor so I have decided on using Southwest Airlines (a long-time favorite), Alaska Airlines (mostly for north-south travels in the Western U.S.), and America West Airlines, which is currently merging with U.S. Airways.

The merger of AW and U.S. Air has gotten to the point where if one airline can't get you somewhere, its online reservations program automatically tells you if its pending marriage partner can. Therefore, I may end up heading east on America West and return on U.S. Airways, or vice versa.

And it's been during these "partner" trips that I have learned that there's a culture war of sorts going on between crews of both airlines. They are fighting not only for their individual survival, but they are also trying to protect many things that have great meaning to us as passengers.

I first noticed signs of this war when I overheard two flight attendants in First Class discussing their objections to trading in their more formal uniforms of dress shirts/blouses, jacket and slacks or skirt for the more Southwest-like polo shirts and shorts of their new "partner".. The discussion was heavy and the objections strong to America West crews having to "lower" their standards to U.S. Airways plans. There was also talk of what would happen to the seniority system on e airline favors.

On my return flight, another similar discussion involved the war over what kind of soda, coffee, and juices would survive the merger talks, the type of menu we passengers would get, and whether long-established crews and the accompanying chemistry and trust relationships would be broken up by the merger.

I always thought the choice of beverages was simply an economics choice among purchasing agents. But I found out the longer-established U.S. Airways wanted to control the decision-making on food service because they had already lost some of the bigger battles in the merger war. The flight attendants were bemoaning the fact that regular U.S. Airways passengers flying on America West were showing displeasure that the product lines they were accustomed to on "their" airline were not being served on America West.

Those of us who heard the discussion were warned that OUR favorite drink might get replaced as a concession to giving the U.S. Airways folks a consolation prize of sorts in the merger. Why, I wondered, do the U.S. Airways folks need a consolation prize? I was told that the decision had already been made that the new merged airline, which will retain the U.S. Airways name, will be led by Doug Parker, who currently heads America West, and NOT the current U.S. Airways CEO, David Siegel.

I got confirmation of that when I switched planes in Phoenix and saw luggage tags on several U.S. Airways crew bags that read, "Save Dave", an obvious reference to keeping their old boss in the captain's chair. Suddenly, I began to wonder if this merger war could impact not only service levels and what we're fed onboard, but also the focus of he pilots in the cockpit.

I was assured by a pilot I approached about the subject that the support for Dave was a way of the crews expressing concern about a change in their "culture". When I asked about changes to sodas and food, things that impact passengers, I got a shrug that told me THAT was NOT anyone's priority in the very front end of the aircraft. And, I was told, safety would never be compromised by the merger.

Yet I knew that where it really matters, in the galleys manned by the flight attendants, the merger wars for our hearts, minds, and stomachs, is wildly churning, just like the wardrobe battles of polo shirts versus skirts and jackets. Then I wondered, "What are the mechanics talking about and what angers them?" Could ground-based safety personnel issues be a hidden danger here?

It's a bit comical to see the difference in the discussions involving the billions of dollars that a merger creates. As a senior executive, director and officer of a publicly-traded company, I know merger discussions tend to focus on planning for long-term successes, limiting liability issues, and making sure everything works well. On the front lines, however, in the trenches of the airline wars, the focus seems to be on more simple issues like food, uniforms, and who will win the war for controlling the executive suite. I wonder who will win THIS culture war.