Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Flight Steward was Crying

The Thin Blue Line of Customer Service

Update 2014
It has been 6 Years since I published this particular blog post. And, in the intervening years nearly all of the major airlines have merged, merged and re-merged. We've said goodbye to Northwest, Continental, and America West and hello to higher fares and fees, fees, fees. Soon we will say goodbye to US Airways too. So in 2014 airline seats are all full and the space in planes is so tight outbursts of customer rage are common.

As for US Airways, after years of steady declines in service (the latest cut - no pillows in First Class) and skyrocketing increases to every conceivable fee, it is now profitable. Its employees are still underpaid, yet its CEO compensation just keeps climbing.

Also, with the lessons it learned from its two prior failed attempts to merge (Delta and later United), US Airways successfully pitted unions and shareholders against American's Board of Directors and won a merger with the last legacy carrier out there (American).

The SEC initially objected to the merger (talk about closing the barn door after the horse left), but then allowed it which resulted in US Airways conceding gates at DC's National airport and a short term commitment to retain PHX as a hub. But, as the taxpayers of Pittsburgh well know, US Airways commitments to retaining a hub is pretty worthless.  Since the airline's CEO has relocated to Texas, and since the airline recently announced it will no longer pay for naming rights on Phoenix's downtown Basketball Arena, it is pretty safe bet that as soon as the SEC requirement expires Phoenix flyers will be the ones who lose out on this deal. 

BTW It is a foregone conclusion that the "New American" will soon join United and Delta and change its frequent flier system to simply reflect money spent on airfare, rather than miles flown. Hence, Roadboy suggests you consider switching your frequent flier loyalty to the mileage based British Air Avios system. 

Herewith the original bog post.... 

The other day I was flying to Chicago and was impressed by the service by the flight steward. Because I live so much of my life in planes they upgrade me on most of my flights.  Yeah I'm the "million miler" guy you disdain in row 1.

The view from Row 1 can be telling.  We routinely hear discussions about flight delays before the pilot makes a PA and we see exactly what is going on as the flight attendants chat.

In this morning's Sunday AZ Republic I read an article with the CEO of the airline I fly the most (US Airways) telling me, his customer, to "get used to more and more declines in service and as many new charges as his bean counters can dream up".  

This guy is very well paid. 

It made me think about the airline's front line people. The ones I see every day. The people that can't hide behind desks in gleaming towers gazing out over a fake lake.

It made me think about my flight steward to Chicago. 

He was pretty amazing. He delivered snacks to us with a little smoking cup filled with dry ice. He checked on us a lot.  He demonstrated the kind of care and affection for his passengers that let us know his concern was real.  At the end of the flight he personally wrote us a note thanking us for flying that day with US Airways.  He was no kid.  He was a pro.

What was unsettling was my view from Row 1.  From my vantage in the middle of the flight, during that time when things are finally quiet enough that the cabin crew can actually sit down, I happened to notice he was crying.  It was his moment, I tried to look away, but from Row 1 I could not help but invade his privacy.  

You know we make so many demands on these people that we tend to forget they are humans too. What is worse, now that the airlines are making drastic cutbacks, these folks have to listen to us grouse every day about the airline's MBA bred indifference to its customer's needs and feelings. 

You see it was just after that flight I read about US Airway's announcement to join American in imposing all sorts of new charges, cutbacks in service, and a big lay-off.

I kept thinking about my steward. A guy with a mortgage. The one who said hello and thanked us personally. I wondered if he was contemplating his own lay off. Wondering about how he would pay his bills.

This guy is one of the real heros for his airline. An airline whose rich CEO reminded us again this morning in the business page that the airline business is dog eat dog and we should "stop sniveling and suck it up".

Roadboy's Travels © 2008
Updated 2014

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