At a time when passenger airplanes are increasingly empty because of falling 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 upcoming 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. In the film, Clooney's character flies the airline to accrue American Advantage points.
Of course, the folks at American are depicted as friendly. Plus the accommodations are seen as superb in the Admirals Clubs, exclusive lounges that offer members 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," which 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. It partnered with 20th Century Fox for the 1990 "Home Alone," in which the family flies American Airlines from Chicago to Paris. More recently, the carrier 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 began when director Jason Reitman started writing the script and decided to use a real airline in the movie. The Walter Kirn book that Reitman's script is based on had Clooney's character flying on a 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 Fort Worth, operates a hub in 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 was represented by Rogers & Cowan, and we've worked with them on many clients," said LeeAnne Stables, Paramount's executive vice president of worldwide marketing partnerships. "It was an easy call to propose the idea."
Stables, by the way, helped get Burger King, Mountain Dew and General Motors to be partners in the 2007 "Transformers" movie.
American Airlines doesn't get a cut of "Up in the Air's" profits, according to airline officials. Instead, the company gets its logo, planes and 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.
"They've been so cooperative," Stables said of the airline.
For good reason.
A new era, a new look for United
It makes smart business sense to revamp and refocus during slow economic times.
But United Airlines is also going to "refashion."
The Chicago carrier announced last week that it was 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.
The airline promises the new uniforms will be modern, functional and durable.
Find a taxi buddy and share a ride
Virgin Atlantic, the airline that likes to promote itself as an airborne innovator, has helped produce a website to pair up passengers who want to share a taxi ride after they get off the plane.
Under the concept, passengers can go to www.taxi.to "> www.taxi.to and punch in their landing times and final destinations. Then the website matches people up. You don't have to fly Virgin Atlantic to use the website; it works for all carriers.
Passengers who use the service can print out a "Taxi2" sign from the website to identify one another at the airport. A video on the website shows how the process works.
And women who want to avoid jumping in a taxi with a potential leering skirt-chaser have the option of pairing up with another female.