Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy to Inform You That Airlines Are Not Always Right

Several years ago when I was still packin' an American Airlines credit card in my wallet, I had a dispute with the airline and I sat down and wrote a letter to someone, I don't know, pretty high up in the company. (This story is coming from memory, I'll get the gist of it right, but the details have long since taken a one-way flight out of my noggin.) Anyway, a few weeks after mailing the letter I got a reply from the airline which started out this way:

Dear Ms. Negroni,
We are happy to inform you that you are wrong...

A lot of yada, yada, yada later, the writer concluded the letter with this (and I paraphrase) Nope, we're not going to help you at all.

Not going to help me, well that I can understand. You can't always get what you want, as Mick Jagger would say. What I couldn't believe was that the American representative wasn't even going to try and hide his glee at telling me to shove off. He was happy to inform me that I was wrong.  So now you know why I no longer have the AA credit card.

Photo courtesy Delta Air Lines
So I was just floored, tickled, delighted to read Scott McCartney's Middle Seat column in today's Wall Street Journal revealing tada...that Delta Air Lines is sending 11,000 of its employees to charm school. After summarizing the terrible woes experienced by the airline industry over the past few years, Scott reported that Delta has come to realize its employees need to empathize with passengers even if they can't change the policies that are ticking air travelers off:  baggage fees, rebooking fees and flight cancellations come to mind.

"The customer-service classes, part of the airline's $2 billion improvement plan, is the first recurrent training devoted exclusively to customer service that Delta has done in a decade," a Delta spokesperson is quoted saying in the Journal article. 

Photo courtesy Delta Air Lines
10 years? Yep, its tempting to ask, "Delta, what took you so long?" but let's be realistic: Planes fly at 600 miles per hour and corporate wheels turn slowly. I'm giving credit to the airline for acknowledging what's been painfully obvious since the clock started counting down Kate Hanni's 15 minutes of fame, the communication disconnect between passengers and airlines rivals Men are from Mars Women are from Venus.

In this environment, any progress, even progress that's long overdue, deserves recognition. American, I'd be happy to send you the article if you would like to read it.


Jim Blaszczak said...

Today if you asked 100 airline employees the question, "What is your job?", the answers would probably be something like this; 40 Checking people in, 10 Loading baggage, 10 Flight Attendant, 10 Working on airplanes, 8 Flying airplanes, and the rest would say "managing the operation". I would bet a Grande Latte and a Blueberry Scone that not one would say, "Taking care of the customer.". Well, that may a bit harsh, but you get the point.

As a long time airline employee I can tell you this wasn't always the case, but today it's true.

With respect to customer service, there were two airline CEOs that got it right, Bob Six and Gordon Bethune. If you want to know what the customer wants, ask them. If you want to know how to please the customer, give them what they want. HELLO!!!

Grumpy said...

Let's not forget Herb Kelleher, whose hiring philosophy was "We hire for attitude; we can always teach aptitude." (Or words to that effect.)

Anonymous said...

I flew about nearly 200,000 miles last year and I have observed the rudeness and "don't care" "its not my job" attitude of many airlines. I get questionnaires from many of the airlines on my experience and I answer them...many with complaints including place, date, time and employee names. I have never received a response from any of them and wonder why they even bother.

The latest one was a delay of a 0700 flight from MIA to BNA that was delayed at 0645 with a target of 0730, then at 0715 put off till 0815, then at 0810 put off till 0845, then at 0840 put off till 0900 then for some reason at 0845 it was 0911. The reason---lack of crews...the problem is, the lack of crews should have been know the night before...all they do is keep putting the time off so passengers won't make other plans, oh well, "If you have time to spare, go by air."