Cranky Flier – Best of the Best Blogger Series

Next up in the 56th edition of our award-winning Best of the Best Blogger series, we’ve connected with Brett Snyder, CEO of

Brett has a really interesting story and a pretty remarkable career in the travel industry.  Brett is a self-described “airline dork” who was mysteriously bitten by the travel bug at a very young age.  So young in fact that he was a travel agent by the age of 12 (true story).

Interestingly enough, one of his favorite pastimes as a kid was cruising Los Angeles International Airport and helping himself to the airline timetables from the airport terminals.  Huh?   One year, for his birthday, his grandmother even took him to the airport (wait for it…) just so he could watch the airplanes land! Now, that’s a power airline dork if you ask me.

Some might argue that Brett’s airplane passion has a tinge of obsessive/compulsive disorder.  I would argue, however, that flying is a truly spiritual, transcendant experience for human beings, connecting us physically to the outlying universe in a way that we cannot experience merely hoofing it around on two legs.  And it beats riding the bus, right?

Brett’s career has pulled him head long through the airline industry, including stints at several of the world’s most recognizable airlines such as USAir, America West and United Airlines.  After working as the Director of Travel at for several years, he decided to dedicate himself full-time to the Cranky Flier and upstart sister company Cranky Concierge, an air travel assistance service.

Cranky FlierBrett is considered one of the preeminent experts on the airline and travel industries and has been quoted in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, CNN, Forbes, the Financial Times, and the Chicago Tribune (among others).

His expertise and knowledge of the business has afforded him the opportunity to build direct relationships with many of the industry’s top executives and corporate managers and earned him the respect of industry insiders alike.

We sat down with Brett recently to talk about customer expectations in the airline industry, pesky bag fees and turning his passion into a business.

Q:  As a self-described “airline dork”, you’ve talked about your obsession with airplanes, even going to an airplane hotel on your birthday as a young boy to watch all of the planes land one year.  How did your obsession with airplanes come about?

I really have no idea.  It sounds strange, but I had no family connection to the airline industry at all.   My parents didn’t work in the industry and neither did more distant relatives.  So something just grabbed me as a kid for some reason.  My family did a great job of recognizing the passion and helped me nurture it with things like stays at that airport hotel.

Q:  You’ve spent your entire career in the airline industry.   Now, you’re blogging full-time and consulting for travel-related companies.  How exactly did you go about turning your passion into a full-time business?

I should clarify that I do not consult for the airline industry.  I think it’s important for me to remain independent in my writing, and if I had airlines paying me to consult, then I wouldn’t maintain that voice.

I make a living somewhat through advertising but primarily through my Cranky Concierge air travel service.  I really did stumble into it.

My last “real” job was at starting their travel search site.  The company was sold, strategies changed, and I found myself laid off.  I had already started the blog, so I just decided to try to turn it into a full time job.  Fortunately, I was able to make that happen once I developed the concierge business.

Q:  In my eyes, traveling by plane these days has never been more miserable with airline employees and passengers alike more obnoxious and rude than ever.  As an airline industry insider, what do you think can be done to change the overall customer flying experience for the better?

I don’t agree that it’s miserable to travel by air, but you’re certainly not alone in your view.  I think the general economics of the airline industry should help to change that.  Airlines have had a miserable time since 2000 and it has meant massive financial losses, big job cuts, and wage decreases for people who have kept their jobs.  Because of that, airline employees have been through a very tough time, and so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that wear them down.

Cranky Flier's Brett SnyderBut the airlines are healthier now.  Thanks to consolidation, the industry in the US is more stable and jobs are more stable.  People are even starting to get raises.  With less uncertainty and more stable jobs, I would think service might improve naturally as well.

On the flip side, passengers have long had high expectations that often aren’t met.  People used to get bags for free, they used to get meals domestically.  But that’s different now as airlines have worked to unbundle their products.  It has taken some adjustment to this, and that has made the last few years tough.  But I think people now really understand that you really pay for what you want.  That should help set expectations and make it a more predictable experience for people going forward.

Q:  You’ve worked for a number of the largest airlines in the world including USAir, America West and United Airlines.  As someone with such passion for the industry, what position or employment experience did you derive the most fulfillment from?

Without question my time in the pricing department at America West was the best job I’ve had.  We had around 10,000 employees at the time.  That sounds like a lot of people, but it was still a small airline.  If you had good ideas, people were interested.  So I really enjoyed being able to interact with executives and see my work pay off.  I was lucky enough to work on big projects like the one where we re-launched as a low fare airline.   It was really exciting to be a part of that and to see it work.  And I’m now excited to see that same team I worked for now on the cusp of running the largest airline in the world with American.

Q:  What’s the single greatest gift that you’re experience with Cranky Flier and Cranky Concierge has given you?

I’d say the greatest gift for me has been the access that it has afforded me to leaders in the industry.  I love this industry and really enjoy talking strategy.  Being able to talk to CEOs of airlines large and small has only helped fuel my passion further.

Q:  How do you feel about the use of travel rewards credit cards?  Good, bad or somewhere in between?

I consider myself mileage agnostic, so I never make air travel decisions based on miles.  That being said, I always earn miles when I fly.  No reason to give that up, right?  When it comes to credit cards, I do have a couple that I use, primarily because they give me flexibility to use points on a variety of partners.

My favorite is the SPG Amex card.  I can use points for hotel stays but I can also transfer to a bunch of different airlines which gives me great flexibility.  I also have an Alaska Airlines Visa.  I like Alaska’s program because it lets me earn and use miles on a number of oneworld partners (including American) and SkyTeam partners (including Delta).  So those two cards help me be more flexible.

I’d like to thank Brett one more time for his time and consideration, and a one-liner from a wise man who once said about the airline industry, “Flying is a hard way to earn an easy living.” Thanks again Brett.

One comment

  1. As a kid on Long Island, New York, it was a big deal on Sunday afternoon to drive to the pier at Port Washington on the North Shore to watch the weekly arrival of the Pan American Clipper. That was before the Marine Air Terminal was built at LGA. There was also the weekly Zeppelin flight from Europe which flew over our house on the way to Lakehurst, New Jersey. E.L.Doctorow shares the same excitement in his book "Worlds Fair." So, I can identify with Brett's youthful enthusiasm for the excitement of air an early age.

    Since then, I have flown thousands of miles to all continents, and even trained as a private pilot. Unfortunately, as I have aged, my body has not shrunk enough to fit into the space for knees on the current coach seats.

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