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Airlines Teach Us NOT to Do These 4 Things

We have all seen the videos.  We have all cringed as we see the airlines continue to misbehave.

We have seen folks removed from planes, families disrespected, and bargain airlines take pride in their lack of Customer service.

Now let’s begin by clearing the air.  Guests aren’t always right.  In fact, they are wrong a lot.  But at they end of the day, they are still our Guests.

There is a lot of bad behavior from business travelers and sometimes even worse from entitled families that believe their vacation is more important than everyone else’s travel plans.

We see these folks make it hard on the gate agents and flight attendants – and often on those of us unlucky enough to be traveling with them.

That said, let’s start by saying that life is hard enough, so try not to be terrible Customers.

Now with that out of the way, let’s talk about what we can learn from the airlines that are working so hard to put themselves in the cross hairs of public opinion.  They are absolutely conducting a master class in the art of alienating Guests and making everyone want to actively avoid certain brands.  Which is sad, because it is clear that they have good intentions for the most part.

It is also important to note that this doesn’t single out any one airline in particular and is all in the interest of illustration.  No example is intended to reflect any specific business, but rather to draw general motifs from which we can learn.

So what is going wrong?  

Let’s cut to the core of the issue and examine the 4 things that Airlines are doing that you should never repeat:

They Have Forgotten That They Are in the People Business There is a disease in airline travel that has them believing that that they are in the business of flying airplanes.  To a point, they are right.  But first and foremost they are in the Customer service business.  They have lost site that those suitcases belong to real live people who have a reason they need to travel.  They could be heading to visit family, take a vacation, close a business deal, attend a funeral, or any number of things.  They could be flying back after blowing that big presentation or to meet with new granddaughter.  There are events, good and bad – great and small – which are necessitating the travel of each passenger.  When any of us lose site of the larger mission of our Guests, then we begin to devalue them as people and as Customers.

They Are Letting Financial Considerations Dictate Policy There is more than the bottom line at stake every day.  It is true that without a healthy bottom line nothing else really matters since you’ll go out of business.  But Airlines have reached a near zen approach to watching the budget.  Just last week one airline said they are looking to reduce leg room by 3 inches.  That is a big swing, since most of us already find our knees crowded into the seat in front of us – and if the person in that seat reclines it at all, that is a bad travel day to be sure.  When you look at the addition of charges for checked baggage, charges for exit row seats, and even charges to sit nearer the front of the plane, it is clear that airlines are trying to ensure their financial viability at any cost.  When financial considerations outweigh everything else, you will find that your business model is in need of a reset.  It is great to make a profit, but don’t be too emboldened to the point that you nickle and dime (or quarter and dollar) your Guests into leaving you.

They Value Rules Over Service Sure, flying is a dangerous business.  We have been through a lot over the years and there is a true need for safety and policy.  But there really are a lot of rules – from when you can use which electronic, how you pay for onboard purchases, what size your carry on will be, what you have to pay for – it is not only confusing, it is unnecessarily complex.  And that is just for the flight itself.  Have you ever tried to rebook a flight after one has been canceled or change a trip?  Just a few weeks ago an airline said they would have to charge me a $200 change fee to move my $185 flight.  That was a real conversation.  Or upgrading to first class once you have selected coach.  Or having a bag over 50 pounds (or 40 for some carriers).  Is it a wonder that we are all exhausted by the time we get off of the plane?

I think the corollary here is clear.  Don’t let rules ruin your organization – sure, you have to have them.  But be sure that every rule has a very good reason.  Is it to make life better for your Guests or for you?  If it doesn’t protect safety or support an absolute business need, then throw it out.

Some Bargain Carriers Couldn’t Care Less About the Experience Now, there are some bargain carriers that take lack of service to a whole new level.  They bunch up their flights to take advantage of labor efficiencies – which causes check in to take hours.  They charge extra for carry on luggage, selecting your seats, sitting next to your spouse, and don’t staff their social media accounts.  If you take exception with any of their shenanigans, then they proudly remind you that they are a no frills airline that keeps it affordable.  Well, when you do the math, saving $25 isn’t worth it by the time that $59 flight becomes $200 with bags, drinks, seats, and taxes.

Now I have nothing against bargain outlets of any kind – they are necessary in any free market as they balance cost against experience.

Just remember to be honest about the final price and don’t be proud of providing lackluster service.

In time, the airline industry will need to re-calibrate its approach.  There are three airlines out there delivering great service every day – and one plays in the bargain space.  Sure they each have their hiccups as well, but overall they really do deliver great experiences.

The airline gig is hard – and it comes with the high stakes of providing safe passage for Guests.  But as the media airs each and every miscue, it is apparent that there are cultural problems in this industry that need to be solved for the good of the Guest.  Most of these airlines are led by smart people with good intentions – and it will take every bit of their willpower to guide these businesses in for a safe landing (metaphorically speaking).

Until next time – be sure to treat your Guests like cherished friends.  You attitude will determine your altitude (yeah, I couldn’t resist).


Tony Johnson -Guest Experience Leader-

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