United Airlines has taken a beating lately, and rightfully so. From me being thrown off a flight for snapping a picture of my seat to a flight diverting after parents questioned the appropriateness of an in-flight movie for children, recent news has not reflected well on the airline. And even stories that do not make national headlines–like my loud crew a few nights ago and Damian’s rude crew last month–point to an airline that is trapped in a downward spiral. And yet the solution is right under United’s nose.
Notice the commonality of the four recent issues I highlight above. The problem wasn’t the equipment or any safety issue. It wasn’t on-time performance or lost baggage. The problems have all centered around service. And on the flip-side, the small bit of positive press UA has received lately–for holding a flight so a man could see his dying mother–was about service as well.
It’s all about service.
Frequent flyers like me are not demanding perfection and are frankly willing to put up with a fair amount. Every airline and its corresponding loyalty program has pluses and minuses. United does not have wi-fi on most aircraft, unlike most of the domestic competition, and upgrades have become much harder even for top-tier elites. But I remain loyal to United because of the many happy memories, most of those memories involving great service, over the last decade. And that honestly is the truth.
Good customer service is priceless–a smile and a laugh is not something that can be bought.
And the strange thing is that United seems to understand this. Take a look at this recent video seen before the safety demo on flights:
What a beautiful message. It is exactly what the airline should be focusing on and the message is so salient in light of the recent, let’s face it, horror stories on United.
Changing the attitude of ground staff, FAs, and pilots is easier said than done and if I had a quick and viable solution, I would be consulting for United. Ultimately, the “co-workers” (as CEO Jeff Smisek likes to call them) will have to come together and have the resolve that the one gentleman in the video above has in stating, “I come to work because I love to come to work.”
I’ll end with a story. Last week I was flying from Newark to Los Angeles on a mid-morning flight (737-800 with an ex-Con crew). Miraculously, I received a complimentary upgrade to business class about 23 hours prior to the flight. The service onboard was amazing–the purser was smiling the entire time and extremely attentive. Passengers were addressed by name and orders taken by status. My favorite chicken dish was catered and seconds were offered on both nuts and ice cream.
We faced strong headwinds, pushing the flight time over six hours. Throughout that entire six hours, I don’t think the purser sat down once. She constantly monitored the cabin and kept every glass full, always with a smile. What a tremendous flight.
Service does matter, United seems aware of that, and now the airline must find a way to effectuate that culture of service that to this point has remained elusive to many. Many are waiting and our patience is growing thin.