It’s never been a better time to be a traveler. Or a worse time. Competition is fierce, always an advantage to consumers cautious about their bottom line. Amenities and standards, however, are dismal at best. As my frequent flier miles will attest, I’ve seen it all. Why not listen to what I have to say?
I’ve flown more times in the past 18 months than I have in the first 18 years of my life. My job is partly to blame, but heck, getting the chance to travel cross-country was one of the reasons I chose it in the first place! Not every flight was bad, but none stands out as being exceptionally amazing either. Domestically speaking, that is. My go-to-airline for any destination outside These United States is Turkish Airlines. Maybe I’ll write about how amazing a job they’re doing in another post one day.
“Exceptional customer service” is the cliché tagline of every company – American airliners included. But I’d be interested to see how much attention they’re really devoting to their customer base. Instead of accommodating their passengers, many airliners seem to be doing nothing to change the fact that flying remains a dreaded necessity for thousands of people each year. I can point to two major areas as sticking points for me and many travelers I know:
It’s not all bad, though, I do have some good things to share too:
Areas for Improvement
1. Instead of acting like nothing is wrong, take some initiative to find out what’s happening – you are accountable to your passengers.
My favorite was a flight out of Binghamton, NY to Detroit one chilly January morning. All of the passengers found their seats and settled in, after which the pilot delivered his standard briefing. We were told everything was in order and that we would soon be off the ground for the quick “hop” over to the Wolverine State. I noticed that there was not a cloud in the sky, even though it was well below freezing temperature-wise (typical of Upstate New York in the winter).
The heat was supposedly on, but after a few passengers complained of how cold the cabin interior had become, the flight attendant decided to check-in with the captain. Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Before hypothermia actually kicked in, we were told that the heat was at the time the least of the flight deck’s worries. One of the engines had been refusing to start ever since the pilot began his pre-flight checklist before any of us had even boarded. The solution: deplane and wait for six and a half hours for the off-duty mechanic to activate to “on-duty” status and save our blighted turboprop.
Ready for another one?
The only reason this story is my second-favorite is because of the level of agony I had to go through compared to the first scenario I discussed above. I’ll spare you the lion’s share of what I went through, but will tell you that the regional jet I was in happened to land safely at O’Hare airport, only to wait two and a half hours on the tarmac to find a suitable gate to taxi into.
The official reason: weather issues. It was a sunny day in Chicago – planes were taking off and landing. I saw them do so – it’s amazing how much you can focus on for 150 minutes if you have nothing else to worry about. Besides the fact that my connecting flight to Madison had left, as well as the one after that (the last flight out that night). The solution: take a bus from Chi-town back home, take a taxi to the airport, pick up my car, drive home. I got into bed at 4:30 AM the next morning. Thank God it was a Saturday.
2. If you want to keep your passengers happy, you have to give them something to do during the time they’re stuck in the seat.
Which brings me to my next point. You might’ve noticed that both flights I chose to mention thus far were regional flights. Studies show that these flights have grown exponentially over the past few years – connecting many rural and suburban communities with major hubs as well as making flying between major hubs a possibility for many travelers. Nothing wrong with that – I’ll praise this practice in a bit. What is pathetic, however, is the bare-bones lineup of amenities on these quick hop connections. Some commentators have likened them to “buses in the sky” for their no-frills, no-nonsense business model. I don’t quite agree.
Buses, I think, have already gotten this memo. Yeah sure, they don’t fly – so you can use electronic devices whenever. That’s not my point. Has anyone heard of wi-fi on buses? I sure have. How about wi-fi on planes? With the exception of Delta, I have yet to see this being offered standard on any other carrier, even at a cost.
I think it’s a no-brainer. Equip all aircraft with wi-fi capabilities. For businesspeople and consultants like myself, a few minutes of internet access can be the difference between arriving prepared to deal with a client’s concern as opposed to not knowing where to start.
Come on, folks, the in-flight magazine just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Good So Far, Let’s Make Them Great
I’ll admit it – I cheated a bit by already mentioning how much I like the fact that there are lots of regional flights available nowadays. I think it’s done a lot to connect communities and give a much-needed confidence boost to the airline industry in Middle America. If it wasn’t for Delta, I would have to be stuck with United for all major flights departing my home airport (an emerging hub for regional airlines). With half a dozen airliners flying in daily from all across the country, prices remain competitive and passengers enjoy greater flying freedom. That’s the way things should be.
What can we do to make things even better? Here are a few ideas specific to Madison:
Airlines have done a great job in embracing mobile apps as a part of their business strategy. Convenience is key – I never check-in at the counter anymore – I only drop off my bags. Pretty soon the flight boards may become a thing of the past as well – it’s so much easier to tap my phone and get the latest updates on delays and cancellations. That being said, there’s always room for improvement:
Take heed, especially you “buses in the sky,” – you’re here to stay, so help people like me help you get to where you want to be.