It's rare that the CEOs of American, Delta, and United Airlines see eye to eye.

But this week, they teamed up in an incredible way for one purpose: to ask -- no, beg is more accurate -- for President Trump to take a specific action on their behalf.

We'll explore what they're asking for below. But honestly, the way they asked for it is probably more important.

Because whomever advised the airlines on how to push Trump's buttons like this has done one of two things:

  • Either they came came up with a truly brilliant strategy,
  • Or else, they were too cute by half, and they've risked creating exactly the kind of backlash the airlines don't want.

Here's what the airlines are asking for, the fascinating way they decided to ask--and frankly, the obvious thing that would make it all a lot better for them.

Open Skies

To summarize the whole issue in one sentence: The U.S. airlines want Trump to crack down on Air Italy, and stop it adding so many nonstop flights between the U.S. and Europe.

They're so focused on this because Air Italy is 49 percent owned by Qatar Airways, and they say that in turn means Qatar Airways is violating an agreement with the U.S. government dating back to last year.   

It gets a bit complex. But Gary Leff at View From the Wing, who has been covering this for years, says it comes down to U.S. airlines not wanting to compete any more than they have to with foreign airlines:

US airlines don't want to compete with Air Italy ... don't want to compete with anyone, and there's always a chance to go to the administration and complain about foreigners. Today the CEOs of Delta, United, and American took out a full page ad asking President Trump to do something that would limit choices consumers have and raise prices.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

'Dear President Trump'

In fact, the three airlines wrote a letter to President Trump, and then took out a full page ad in the New York Times and the New York Post to try to get it in front of him, signed by Doug Parker, Edward Bastian, and Oscar Munoz--the CEOs of American, Delta, and United, respectfully.

Just read the first few lines to understand why this is so brilliant:

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump,

Your administration was built on the enduring principle that the U.S. government will stand up for American workers against foreign governments that break their trade agreements with our country. The American people are grateful for that promise.

Today, America's airline workers are counting on you to step up on their behalf.

Stop hurting 'American workers'

Seriously, how on point is this? They're just 70 words into a short letter, and all they've done is flatter President Trump, and sound off a bunch of notes to the tune of "Make America Great Again."

It goes on from there, laying out their argument. We should point out that not every U.S. airline is upset about the situation. JetBlue and FedEx separately wrote in favor of it recently.

But the letter to Trump hits every chord:

  • It tells him that Qatar Airways is violating an "historic agreement" that the Trump administration negotiated;
  • It asks him to come to the rescue not of the airlines themselves, but to make Qatar Airways "stop hurting American workers;"
  • It says that the situation "represents a grave threat to American jobs and the health of the airline industry;"
  • It ends the whole thing with a coup de force: "We appreciate your resolute leadership in enforcing fair trade principles and ask that you continue to stand up for the more than 1.2 million U.S. workers whose jobs depend on a strong and vibrant passenger airline industry."

I don't know if this will work. I'm not sure President Trump even reads the New York Times (also known as an "enemy of the people," in a tweet within 24 hours after the airlines published the letter)?

Granted, they published in the New York Post, too. But if you wanted to make sure President Trump saw a message--wouldn't you skip the Times, and just run a whole bunch of ads on Fox News?

We'll soon know whether they way they decided to do it was insanely brilliant -- or else just plain insane.