Dear Airlines,

You have some work to do!

Signed, Captain Obvious

Over the weekend, I came across two articles which were focused on customer service in the airline industry.  As you probably would’ve guessed, the results were not good.

The first article comes from the New York Daily News in wake of the blizzard that hampered the northeast portion of the country last week and over the weekend. Travelers at New York’s JFK airport were met with delays, equipment malfunctions, and (as predicted) horrendous customer service experiences.

“We’ve been here since 8 a.m., and our flight keeps getting pushed back,” Leah Golubchick told the Daily News Saturday. “At first they said the baggage machine was frozen, so they were unable to take the bags off the plane. Now they said that the plane is snowed in at the hangar!”

“How is 6 inches of snow enough to block a hangar?” the 31-year-old Brooklyn resident asked. “The flight crew and pilots are all here. They’ve been joking about grabbing shovels to help dig the plane out.”

Leah, you are absolutely right. This is New York, not Miami. Snow falls during the winter months…every year.

Golubchick’s travel problems began Thursday, when the storm forced her original Delta Airlines flight to Denver to be cancelled.  She was ultimately put on Saturday’s flight — but the plane didn’t budge. 

“They’re not even announcing the delays anymore,” she said. “They’re just putting it up on the screen.”

Kenneth Watson, an Army vet and graduate student from St. Cloud, Minn., showed up early for his 10:30 a.m. Sun Country Airlines flight to Minneapolis. He left the airport seven hours later — but he wasn’t flying.

“I checked the board and it said it was going to be delayed, and then it was just canceled,” Watson, 38, said. “No one told us anything. There was so much chaos. There were probably tens of thousands of people.  It was like I was in a basketball arena.”

That’s nice. Let’s crowd the hallways with passengers looking for their flight status instead of simply continuing to announce delays. Makes sense. Can you say Misuse of Technology?

Ryan Harrison and his family were all set to return home to Johannesburg when their flight was unexpectedly canceled.

“The woman in the ticketing station just closed up,” he said. “She just refused to help us and put up a sign that said she would open up 10 a.m. tomorrow.

“When we asked her where we are going to sleep, she said, ‘On the floor. I don’t care.’ ”

How pleasant! So helpful! The way passengers are treated nowadays is truly disgusting.

If you can stomach it, here is the link to the full article. 

The second article I stumbled across was published in USA Today on January 7th. While it’s not nearly as gut wrenching, it certainly is eye opening. The article focuses on a Q and A between readers and an unidentified airline manager directly in charge of customer service. Below are a few snippets and my takeaways from the article.

Are your front-line agents really empowered to resolve a customer service problem?

Yes, and that’s what this meeting was all about. But it’s a balancing act. The delegates, for the most part, seemed to be on the customer’s side, but they have to weigh each request against their own set of internal rules. In other words, they can’t hand out first-class tickets anywhere the airline flies whenever they lose your luggage. But I had the feeling that some of the folks in the room would hand out first-class tickets if they could.

This is actually good to hear. Something we discuss quite a bit in my seminars is empowering your employees and giving them the freedom to make sound decisions without having to run every request up the flag pole.

If we’re extra polite when we have a request from an airline, are we more likely to get a “yes”?

No. The airline managers insisted all of their employees are highly trained professionals and evaluate your request based on the merits. Even if the rule is, “No waivers, no favors.” They’re quick to add that they appreciate your politeness, though.

Well, I’ll speak for my fellow passengers and say that we’d appreciate some politeness on your end as well. I’m looking at you lady in New York who told your customers to “sleep on the floor.”

In closing, airlines are always going to face challenges when it comes to customer service. There are always going to be weather delays or equipment that malfunctions. It’s how these airlines respond to these situations that will make or break their business.

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