Whatever Happened to the Friendly Skies?
I know the past few months have been bad on air travel weather-wise, but something else is happening. And it doesn’t bode well for the airline industry.
Check out these horror stories from Jill Stover (with comments, including mine) and Bob Hastings. Customer service continues to wane, while passengers are experiencing increasing hassles.
Jet Blue’s passenger bill of rights notwithstanding, customers are continually subject to poor customer service, not to mention the hassles of getting through airport security. Security issues continue to alter our air travel habits, resulting in changing carry-on policies and new fees.
I remember back around 1999-2000 when air traffic was at a peak and passengers were up in arms about poor service. The airlines responded by improving their customer service and the situation began improving … and then there was 9/11. Airport security changed, and little by little the “frills” (such as on-board meals, pillows, etc.) began to disappear.
It’s not too much to ask, is it?
Even with the changes, I wonder why airlines aren’t doing a better job with customer service. Yes, it’s becoming more of a hassle to travel these days, but there’s an opportunity for airline brands to stand out by recognizing these challenges and being more (not less) empathetic to customers:
- managing customer expectations through up-front & honest communications (check out Jill’s follow-up post for more on this)
- treating them courteously and, when appropriate, with a touch of humor
- ensuring airline staff are given the training and support they need to effectively work (and cope) with passengers.
This isn’t rocket surgery.
Summer vacation time is rapidly approaching. I’ve already heard from many friends & colleagues that they’re considering “drive-able” destinations to avoid flying anywhere. That works for leisure travel, but us business travelers don’t have that same flexibility.
The question is: will the skies ever be friendly again?
The first challenge is motivation of the troops on the front lines. Airline employees have been screwed over so badly by their employers, that there is very little trust, patience, positive morale and positive conditions to provide a foundation from which to build improved service. Most flight attendants have seen pay cuts up around 45-50% since 911. Many have seen a lifetime of work gone up in smoke because of bankruptcy filings, pension and 401k freezes, altered work rules, reduced headcount/passenger service, extended work hours etc. Maintenance and customer service employees have also suffered. Pilots have seen their salaries cut…most still do well but feel they are entitled to more. At the same time, many execs at Delta, AA, UAL have received bonuses, retention payments, early vesting etc. for cutting costs, cutting people’s hours, in many cases virtually ruining lives. Many employees in the business now can never imagine retiring because they CANNOT AFFORD IT! Then the public wants them to smile, be happy, provide good servic etc. Its a real challenge for them and any manager. While there will always be people whose personality is to always see the glass half full they are probably rare and at a premium…which they dont get in the industry. That all is a truth that the consumer/traveler doesnt want to hear.
Sybil, I’m convinced that the airlines have little reason to care about passengers. They have us at a disadvantage. Too many passengers, not enough flights and/or seats. So… what can we do? I think the answer is in your last paragraph – find “driveable” destinations. Or, fly JetBlue. So far, other than the recent issue (which they did address thoroughly and promptly) they’re friendly, funny, and seem to have the customer’s needs at the forefront.