Topic: Employee Experience


American Airlines: Recognition Unifies and Lifts Employees During Times of Uncertainty

American Airlines






recognition moments everyday

*American Airlines won the 2021 Influence Greatness Breakthrough Award for Commitment to Employees

American Airlines and its team’s purpose is caring for people on life’s journey. This includes caring for their 100,000 employees located all over the globe. The airline uses recognition to help employees stay connected and care for their passengers, especially through times of adversity and uncertainty.


American understands the power recognition has on team members and ultimately their customers. “The way we treat our team members is reflective of how they treat our customers,” explains Beril McManus, Senior Manager, Recognition and Engagement.  

The company had a variety of recognition programs but was looking to expand their recognition offerings and make recognition more accessible to all team members. They wanted to empower people to thank a coworker and better understand what and how much recognition was happening across the organization. They needed a partner and a system that could meet their growing needs and accommodate more types of recognition.

“As we went through the process it became very evident that O.C. Tanner really had the tools, the systems, the people, and the expertise that we were looking for. It was a good match to where we were on this journey. They would really bring best-in-class recognition to American,” says McManus.

After gathering feedback from team members across the airline, McManus and her team worked with O.C. Tanner to create an improved recognition platform that could recognize a variety of contributions and accomplishments.

“Having an easy and effective way to recognize our colleagues across the company is a crucial part of American’s culture. The more focus we put on appreciating great work and key milestones the better we’ll be as an organization.”
—Ron Defeo, Senior Vice President of Global Engagement


Nonstop Thanks launched in 2019 and is an easy-to-use platform that gives every team member the opportunity to recognize their peers. It includes a broader selection of awards to choose from and gave McManus and team flexibility to add recognition for additional types of achievements.

Leaders like Claire Madden enjoy the ease of use and the ability to recognize on the go with the mobile app. As the Senior Base Manager of the Flight Service Base Operations at Chicago O’Hare, she isn’t always able to see her team of flight attendants or the great work they regularly do on planes. Madden relies on customer letters or other team members to share stories of flight attendants going above and beyond and helping one another out. She is also able to recognize across functions when someone from another team helps out a member of hers.

“Recognition is telling them: thank you for showing up. Thank you for doing everything you can to make us successful. It lets team members know what’s valued, that they are valued, and we recognize the efforts and lengths they go to in order to take care of people. Because taking care of people is in our DNA,” says Madden.

“We want to recognize when a crew or flight attendant does something extraordinary: helping someone with their children, returning a lost item, pushing a wheelchair to their next gate… the kind of ownership that has built the great brand that we have.”
—Claire Madden, Senior Base Manager, Flight Service Base Operations (Chicago O’Hare)

The new recognition platform fit well into the culture of American Airlines—a culture of commitment to and caring for team members. “It’s a family here at American. You have each other’s back, you’re taking care of each other, you’re helping people in the good times and the bad,” says McManus.

Their culture was put to the test when the Covid pandemic took over the world in 2020. Fortunately for American, Nonstop Thanks launched just in time.

Only months after the introduction of Nonstop Thanks, American had to pivot to remote work and halt airline travel as the pandemic spread across the globe. But while other companies grappled with how to keep employees connected as everyone was suddenly apart, American knew they could use Nonstop Thanks to keep their people together.

The airline doubled down on recognition efforts during the pandemic so team members could take care of each other when it mattered most:

  • They encouraged leaders to send eCards to team members to stay connected.
  • Remote team members sent well wishes for those still working on the front lines.
  • Group deposits allowed the airline to easily recognize over 13,000 team members in the past year, as well as be the first airline to give recognition points for vaccinations to encourage team members to get the Covid vaccine.
  • When employees retired from the airline, they received Yearbooks with messages from peers and leaders to thank them for their years of service.
  • Team members who worked directly on getting the Payroll Support Program and PSP extension passed were given special recognition for their 24/7 behind-the-scenes efforts.

Because of these efforts, by the end of 2020, every single people leader had used the program to recognize team members at least once.

“Helping people feel appreciated gives them that spark to keep going. It lets them know they are on the right path, that they are being noticed, and people care. When times are tough, it’s even more important to do it.”
—Beril McManus, Senior Manager, Recognition and Engagement


Since the launch of Nonstop Thanks, 78% of employees have logged in to the platform, giving out over 423,000 recognitions. This translates into:

  • 4,700 moments each day
  • 196 moments per hour
  • 3 moments per minute

Ocean Nelson, Senior Coordinator, Recognition and Engagement, sees how successful the program has become based on the sheer volume of recognition. The number of eCards sent for events like Employee Appreciation Day and Random Acts of Kindness Day is breaking records. “At the end of the day, people want to be seen and heard. When you’re giving recognition, you’re seeing them as a person—how they bring their uniqueness to make our company better,” says Nelson.

“I’ve seen our team members do amazing things and overcome a variety of challenges in 2020. So, it wasn’t surprising to see these kinds of results,” adds Jennifer Hartzke, Senior Specialist, Recognition and Engagement. “Despite being faced with the impacts of the pandemic, our team members still put the needs of our customers and their colleagues first. I’m proud our platform is being used to recognize all of the valiant efforts.”

The airline has also seen stronger relationships developing between leaders and their teams, thanks in part to the increase in recognition. With almost 2,000 employees on her teams, Kip Hamilton, Managing Director of Customer Experience Reservations in Raleigh, uses Nonstop Thanks daily when team members receive customer compliments and to help new hires feel a sense of belonging at the airline. “We need to be recognizing our employees. They have a very difficult job. If you spend the time recognizing your people, they’ll want to do their best.” 

Sebastian Madarang agrees. As a Customer Service Manager in San Antonio, Madarang uses Nonstop Thanks to build team camaraderie, something crucial for him as a new leader in the middle of a pandemic. “When employees are recognized, they’ll go above and beyond to help you out. When we’re short staffed or short on manpower, team members will volunteer to stay and go the extra mile.” He also uses recognition to reinforce safe behaviors at work when his teams board, taxi in, and unload planes.

Nonstop Thanks helped American Airlines stay committed to their team members through the darkest days of the pandemic. Recognition will continue to play an important role in unifying employees and strengthening the company’s culture of caring.

Outcomes are everything
We’d love to share what we’ve helped American Airlines and thousands of other clients achieve. Reach out to us to start your employee recognition journey.

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