It will come as no surprise to anyone that the most-important engagement driver in the airline category is "Safety." That's what passengers expect. And, because we have regulations, planes get grounded when they aren't considered safe enough to go up.

Last week, American Airlines, which has been bombarded with bankruptcy problems and breakdowns in talks with the pilots union, grounded dozens of airlines for another week for breakdowns of another sort – loose passenger seats. When we say "another week" we're referring to the fact that this had happened before, with American making two emergency landings after seats came loose on a number of flights.

The re-grounded airlines made up nearly half of American's fleet, which caused a high number of cancellations and delays they've experienced over the past few months (which are value components in another of the category's engagement and loyalty drivers) to surge, so kind of a double-whammy for the beleaguered airline and the brand.

American used to be #1 on our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, but that was quite a few years ago, and in the interest of full-disclosure, their slide down the list had nothing to do with safety. Current airline brand rankings look like this, so we can't be precisely sure how the newest disclosure about the brand has eroded equity any further:

  1. Delta
  2. JetBlue
  3. Southwest
  4. United
  5. US Airways
  6. American

Anyway, American acknowledged the problem and were – as legally-required – looking into it, although at the time they didn't provide details as to what caused the loose seat problem, then citing "a lot of contributing factors."

But last week, came the revelation. American told CBS that "a combination of wear, poor design, and even soda spilled into the seat tracks caused the pins to pop out of the grooves." No, seriously. According to American the seal lock plunger mechanism can "get gunked up over time with people spilling sodas, popcorn, coffee, or whatever and that can affect the locking mechanism on the ground that locks the seats to the floor." "Gunked up" is apparently the technical term, but don't worry because it's just a condition that's been identified on American's planes. Anyway, for those of you with non-refundable tickets on American, American is currently in the process of installing an FAA-approved locking mechanism, so you ought to be A-OK.

Oh, and there is no truth to the rumors that American is going to have additional passenger screening for neatness or is going to charge extra for a sippy cup!