What does it mean to be a global citizen? I’ve pondered this question a lot lately. With everything happening in the world today, it’s natural to want to think about what connects us as humans.
This is why my conversation with Alison Taylor, Chief Customer Officer at American Airlines, came at the perfect time. She was born in Australia, spent time in her youth in Saudi Arabia, and has cheered on rugby matches in Fiji. She’s also lived and worked in nine countries during her incredible travel industry career, which included more than 25 years with Starwood Hotels and Resorts. If anyone knows what it really means to be a global citizen, it’s Alison.
Portrait of a traveler—then and now
Like so many of us in this industry, Alison is a traveler at heart. Not surprisingly, her travel styles have changed over the years. As she tells it, thirty years ago she was an intrepid backpacker, exploring parts of India, Africa and Europe. She once slept on a rooftop in Santorini overlooking the Aegean Sea, which sounds magical.
With my fabulous global team members in the Greek Islands – Sailing off Santorini Island
Flash forward to today, and you’ll find that Alison hasn’t lost her spirit of adventure. Not at all. However, she does like a few more creature comforts—even a little luxury—with her adventures.
Because empathy comes from experience
While Alison has learned a lot about herself as a traveler over the years, she thinks travel’s most powerful lesson is what it teaches us about other people. “Travel helps us develop deep knowledge, empathy and understanding of others,” she says.
Her exposure to different cultures, religions, traditions and ways of life informs Alison’s world view. As she so beautifully explains, global citizens care about people. It’s a simple but powerful notion, isn’t it? As a leader, she leans into caring. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
With my fabulous global team members in Fiji – Treasure Island
Where the power of caring takes flight
Alison landed in the right place when she joined American Airlines five years ago. After all, the company’s purpose is to care for people on life’s journey. This spirit underpins the airline’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, which Alison champions in her role with the kind of care only a true global citizen can.
The company makes it a priority to reflect the diversity of its customer base by creating inclusive travel experiences. This is put into practice every day—across food and beverage and in-flight entertainment selections, the interior design of new aircraft, accessibility for travelers with disabilities and more. “We’re also working to ensure that our officers reflect the wonderful diversity of our customers.”
With my fabulous global team members in Australia – Mt Isa
Working with the community to create community
While inclusion and diversity has always been a priority at American Airlines, Alison says that the pandemic amplified the focus. During this unprecedented period, the executive team reflected on its goals and redoubled efforts after the death of George Floyd. “That was a tipping point for us.”
As part of this, the airline formed the Community Council last year, which is made up of Black community leaders from across industries who act as strategic advisors. They provide invaluable insights into the Black experience to help American Airlines strengthen relationships with Black customers. “Any improvements we make have to be rooted in understanding,” says Alison. “It’s an ongoing process that I’m passionate about.”
With my fabulous global team members in Peru – Machu Picchu
Get out there and understand the world
Alison’s caring doesn’t end with her customers. It’s key to her leadership style as well. Having been in the industry since the days when hotel general managers openly told female employees how to dress with zero consequences, she has a lot of wisdom to impart to women in travel.
She reminds them to do their best without getting tangled in the chase for perfection. She encourages them never to back down from advocating for themselves and their goals. In fact, Alison thinks everyone in the industry should be tolerant and informed. “That’s how they can stay relevant in our society,” she explains.
One of Alison’s favorite things to see at the office on a Friday afternoon is a suitcase tucked under a desk waiting for a weekend trip to some far-flung location. “I love it when people make use of our great flight privileges, so they can go out and understand the world.”
I couldn’t agree more. Travel helps turn people into global citizens like Alison Taylor. People who truly care about others. We need as many of them as we can get right now. Thanks to Alison for being such an inspiration.
With my fabulous global team members in Fiji – Viti Levu Island