13 Ways To Fix Flying

Wrenches - Flickr - julia_manzerovaBefore you dive into this post, be sure and read Flying Is No Longer Fun. This will help set the stage for the suggestions below.

While I’m not overly confident (high hopes, low expectations), I do believe it’s possible to fix the airlines. As you’ll read in the final paragraph of my last post, I wanted to hear your suggestions of ways the process can be fixed.

The 3 suggestions below are mine, written before seeing what you wrote in the comments. Interestingly, many of the comments touched on a few of my thoughts as well.

My 3 Ways Airlines Can Fix The Broken Process (and make flying fun again)

1. Stop nickel and diming passengers. I understand that times are tight. I know that airlines are bleeding money. I get that. I can sympathize (kinda). However, charging for every single thing (bags, more legroom, snacks, schedule changes, standbys, etc) is not the answer. There has to be other ways to increase revenue. While some of the fees really add up – extra bags – others are just minor expenses (snacks). But it’s all perception. I’m annoyed every time I have to buy food. Compare that to Southwest Airlines who practically begs you take their peanuts, pretzels and cookies. Back to the bags for a second – reread what I wrote in the survey response to Delta. Charging for bags has created a snowball effect. People try and bring on as much stuff as they can so as not to be charged for bags. This results in the overhead space filling up quickly. In turn, passengers hover around the boarding area so they can get on board fast. Most are not in a rush to get to their seats; instead they want to ensure they have room for their bags so they are not gate-checked (or sent all the way through to baggage claim as mine was on the Delta flight). All of this results in passengers (and the flight crew) being a bit more on edge before the plane even takes off. You don’t see this same type of stress while boarding Southwest flights (remember, SWA does not charge for bags).

2. Put your most empathic employees in customer-facing positions. If you work in the airline business, please know my next statement is a generalization. Please. Most airline employees in customer-facing positions act like they could care less about passengers. Not only are they not empathic, they are not even sympathetic. I don’t know if it’s the stress of the job or the aggregation of rude passengers that weigh them down, but I’ve encountered so many gate agents and flight attendants who just don’t give a crap. Figure out who in your organization cares, those who are good with people, those who have patience, are cool under pressure, people with empathy – and put them on the front lines.

3. Do what Southwest Airlines does. For more details, read Love is in the Air: Southwest Airlines Rocks

Your 10 (Crowdsourced) Suggestions For Fixing Flying

In the last post, Flying Is No Longer Fun, I asked for your help in crowdsourcing the suggestions in this post. A few of you commented, but did not offer suggestions, until I pressed a bit.

Below are the 10 suggestions you came up with.

1. Start Caring. Several folks touched on this point including Josh Peters, who wrote

The best thing, IMHO, for all of them to do is a complete overhaul of how their companies work and the systems that are in place. The overhaul would start with “giving a crap” and then move on to daily procedures, operations, and even gate mapping so fewer people have to rush to their connecting flights.

Mic Johnson echoed the caring theme, but suggested airlines start caring about their employees. Additionally, Mic said he “can’t stand any business that takes [him] for granted as a customer. And there are A LOT of them.”

2. Hire The “Right” People. Josh Peters also had some thoughts about hiring. He said,

Absolutely it would require getting the right people. That’s probably the heart of the whole issue right now if you track it back far enough. They have the wrong people running the place. Look at how places like SWA and JetBlue run their business. Much different because it’s ran by much different people.

My father, Warren Waldow, also chimed in with his take on the importance of hiring the right people (“Hire for smiles and personality.”)

As you know, I fly round trip almost every week. All the different crews have to follow the same rules, and basically have the same training. Stop trying to “change’ the poorly performing personnel, and fire them….that is the ONLY solution. As an employer for over 40 years, I can tell you, I hire for smiles and personality……every other aspect of the job (no matter what job) you can ‘train’ the right person….and vice-versa, you can never train the wrong person.

Bobby Riggins said, “It all comes down to the people…don’t hire a square peg to force it into a round hole.”

3. Fly Another Airline. A few suggested simply flying other airlines. Megan Block-Brewer said to try “Virgin America, as their customer service as always been the best with me, and their on-board services are outstanding.” Scott Paley said that, “it’s about customer empathy, which costs little.” Scott also mentioned JetBlue.

They have consistently provided great service to me over many years now, to the point where I’m actually willing to pay a bit more to fly with them (not a huge amount more, but still…) Plus, it doesn’t suck to have live TV on a flight.

James McQuivey shares a bit more of the background on JetBlue in his comment (Very interesting! I didn’t know that about the CEO. Did you?).

Chris Penn talks about his recent, positive experience with Koren Airlines.

I had the most amazingly positive experience flying on Korean Airlines a couple of weeks ago. Incredibly courteous, well-mannered staff, great amenities even in economy (the meals were amazing!), timely flights, and instead of being nickled and dimed to death, every single thing that would be “extra” was included in the price.

Read more of Chris’s thoughts on Korean Airlines (and airline deregulation) here. Also, a day after my “Flying Is No Longer Fun” post, Chris wrote about his travels to Korea in Back from the road.

4. Communication & Honesty. Jerry says that, “We know there are security issues, logistical problems etc. but we can cope with the truth – we get it.” Read his full comments here.

5. Training & Empowerment. Jerry suggests that airlines “would do much better allowing their staff to offer some form of compensation at the point of issue.” Kris Spurley want airlines to “require all customer service agents and their managers/trainers to log XX hours of air travel time.”

Jim Storer of The Community Roundtable also talked about empowerment. He said,

Empower the people on the front lines. It sounds like Delta’s done that with the folks on Twitter, but $25 or 500 miles seems stingy. Give them something with teeth. If a gate agent knows there’s a problem give them the resources to keep folks happy. I was on a flight recently that was delayed for several reasons and they gave away food, alcohol and movies. It doesn’t work every time, but the bottom line is they need to give the folks in the trenches the tools to surprise and delight their customers.

Nigel agrees that empowerment is critical:

Empowering employees is very important to creating a great customer experience. I stayed at a fabulous hotel in Denver over the weekend and it was clear in the way I was treated that everyone, including the janitor was empowered.

Mick chimes in with a comment on the staff:

A higher rotation or staff? More staff per flight? Is it the staff, or the airlines that are setting this poor standard of service? I find it hard to believe rudeness will be abolished with a higher salary.

He adds,

I think airlines have to improve working environments. Having only the strip of walkway no more than 100 m long for 4 hours at a time can’t be that enjoyable to begin with. How can they help comfort in the work place. A change of uniform possibly? Encourage a semi formal attitude? Allow more personality into the workplace. What makes a flight attendant tick?

Bryan Howland, social media specialist at VPI (pet insurance <–love them!) suggests a reward system. He says,

How about implementing a system where employees are rewarded based on customer satisfaction surveys? Reach out to passengers after they fly and survey them on their experiences. This way gate and flight attendants are incentivized to provide a better customer experience. Gather up the information at the end of the year and pay the consistently high performers more and get rid of the low performers.

6. Surprised By An Act Of Kindness (my words). Speaking of empowering employees, how about giving them the ability to surprise passengers with acts of kindness? Jerry tells a story that touches on this point.

The best experiences I have had flying were when I was upgraded, or asked to do something and compensated immediately. For example: a few years ago I flew with American from London to Chicago, traveling alone. I was asked by a flight attendant if I would mind moving up about 5 rows, to a comparable seat, so a family could sit together. She disappeared to business class and brought me a bottle of Moet Champagne as a thank you for doing so. That is customer service and it makes you forgive a lot of little things. It shows empathy BUT IT HAS TO BE DONE ON THE SPOT. Offering you 500 miles to “go away” is, I agree, insulting.

Bobby Riggins added a few feel-good stories about USAirways:

I live in Charlotte and mainly fly US Airways…I was on a flight back from Baltimore in January and our flight attendant bought our row a round of drinks b/c she was finally heading home. I’m not sure why my row got so lucky, but I’m a US Airways fan :)

On my flight to Baltimore in January – it was during the east coast snow storms and the Charlotte airport was closed. So I had to rebook my flight for the following day…I was on hold w/ the airline for over an hour, but polite to the phone agent when I finally spoke to her…empathizing w/ her that she also had a long day – and she apologized to me for having a long day as well. I told her that the flights were all booked the following day according to the website…she said, “no sir, I can get you on the 9:00 AM flight.” I said “I have it right in front of me and there aren’t any seats available.” She said “I have you booked in 1st Class, would that be okay?” It all comes down to the people…don’t hire a square peg to force it into a round hole.

7. Don’t Make Assumptions About Customers. In the words of Jim Storer, “Don’t assume your customers are assholes.” He continues,

On most flights I take these days it feel like the crew is adversarial from the beginning. They expect us to be rude and obnoxious. This is a lowest common denominator problem. We’re not all assholes and until they stop treating us like the few that are, we’ll probably look/talk/walk a lot like them. Every once in a while I catch an attendant or gate agent when they’re not on edge, when they don’t have the veneer in place. Most of the time they’re awesome people. But later in the flight, they’ve slipped back in the thick skin as they patrol the plane. They need to change how they’re trained.

Nigel adds, “The government has created this atmosphere in the airport where all passengers are criminals. We are treated nearly as badly in an airport as people being put into a jail.”

8. Remember: This Is A Service Business. Jim Storer suggests airline personnel “think like…community manager[s].” He continues,

Each flight is like a small, perishable community with a shared goal. Leave the gate on time, get to the destination on time and have an enjoyable experience. Flight attendants/gate agents may not have control over those first two, but they sure can impact the third one. Try to connect with each passenger as a person (vs a seat) and cater to them. Recognize large groups as a unit and treat them differently. Got a guy who’s drinking a lot of Diet Coke? Stop by with some extra ice. I think airlines have focused so much on efficiency lately they’ve lost sight of the fact they’re in the service business. A business that services people.

9. Allow An Easier Way To Provide Feedback. Mick says that “opinions have to be heard” and that airlines “make it hard to talk to them. They don’t offer clear ways to voice concerns. They need to allow travelers a clear way to communicate from the webpage, to the check in desk, to the cabin.”

Ami Chitwood adds,

Think about all the people who aren’t going through these acrobatics to try and contact customer service, complain on social networking sites…have they realized this and decided it isn’t worth the extraordinary efforts? I try and take an even mood on flying – I have such low expectations that I don’t hate it nearly as much as others. I expect to wait in long lines, be treated like cattle, battle for the overhead space, be shoved into seat, bite nails hoping to make connection, and get to do it all over again on my return.

10. Make Flying More Social. Matthew Glidden takes a very different approach to solving the flying problem. He says that, “airlines leave little latitude for flyers to act like humans, with our capacity for self-organizing and being considerate.” Matthew suggests:

How about boarding by name, for example, instead of seat assignment? What if people could self-identify as “chatty” and be seated near other people who want to talk? What about on-flight meetups for brainstorming or playing cards? There’s so little done to address this, especially by the companies themselves, who own all that contact info and the “gateway” to being on the plane.

Those social tools already exist, they’re just disjointed on the person-to-person level; airlines that integrated them would get my business.

I often choose JetBlue for its open TV and snack policies (and pay more for the same flight over another airline), but that’s kind of a weak connection, since I don’t identify with being a “TV watcher” or “snacker.” It’s just relative to other airlines. If an airline helped me find in-flight SCRABBLE game partners, I’d use them instead!

Note: This was not the first time Matthew had a great idea. See The Email Snooze Button (Jan 2010).

Other Ideas

Some others took a bit of a opposing view. Dave Stevenson suggested that “we (passengers) are somewhat to blame” as we have no brand loyalty and simply shop on price (paraphrasing). See his full comments here. Bobby Riggins agreed with Dave when he wrote, “…part of the blame should fall on the customers. Generally, if you are nice then good things usually happen. If you are a rude, obnoxious jerk, then that is when the gate agents, flight attendants, etc. go on the offensive. ”

Brian Westnedge pointed me to this post, Pretending You Are Luggage, by Brad Feld.

Mic Johnson said, “Lose the freaking baggage fees too. Pisses me off every single time and is one of many reasons why I choose Southwest as much as possible.”

Eric Hoffman doesn’t necessarily suggest a way to fix the airlines, but does offer a reason why they may be struggling (hint: $). Eric says,

I remember flying as a kid (yeah it was back in the 70s) and how excited I’d be to get the little pilot wings they’d give you and take you to the cockpit to say ‘hi’ – that hasn’t happened for my daughter yet, she’s been flying since she was an infant and is now 4. Anyway, I have to think that the problem is this. Based upon these financials, I’d say that until airlines can consistently make profits, they’ll continue to pare away at whatever they can, including the most basic and common sense customer services. It’s too bad, because as you noted, flying used to be fun, now it’s just a necessary step to cover longer distances, meh.

Bobby Riggins: “It’s easy, bring back smoking, paisley seats, flight attendants wearing silly hats and ugly uniforms. :)”

I’m not sure what to make of Mike Poynton’s comments, but they are worth a read.

Thanks everyone for reading the Flying Is No Longer Fun post … and for adding your thoughts, suggestions, and comments for how to fix flying. As is often the case, the comments were better than the original post!

Now, how to get the airlines to see this….?

Image: Flickr – julia_manzerova

DJ Waldow
@djwaldow

9 comments
Uncle Joe
Uncle Joe

Interesting blog....I'm actually reading Richard Branson's autobiography right now (Losing My Virginity - recommended btw) and he has some very interesting philosophies on how to run a succesful public corporation. 

Normally, companies aim to please the stockholders first, then
thier customers, then thier employees. In order words, record good profits, then make your customers happy, then do what you can to keep your employees happy.

RB has a totally different view on this. He believes in first making your employees happy, while insisting that Virgin employees provide the absolute best customer service. The happy employees are then more than happy to rise to this challenge, and in turn you have happy (and more importantly repeat) customers, and the profits willwork themselves out.

The last part is obviously a bit oversimplified, but in theory, I think he has proven that this philosophy works. 

Jscmith14
Jscmith14

this content was posted on ANOTHER website almost verbatim., almost a week ago. i suggest you stop hijacking other's hard work.

Dave Stevenson
Dave Stevenson

Great followup DJ! I tend to agree with most of your suggestions and the crowdsourced ones. The one that I don't necessary agree with is the "nickel and diming." Baggage fees aside (I hate them too - weight is weight if it's under the plane or in the bin!) I do like my options to pay for more legroom, a seat closer to the front, food, wifi, and movies if those save me money on my overall ticket price.

I think the airline business is starting to realize that they are in the service business, not the airplane business and you'll see continued progress by them and upstarts. I believe there is a lot of room for disruption still to come, and airlines like Virgin America are just the tip.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

First, love that you read this blog. Second, love that you sign it "Uncle Joe." Third, what a great title for Branson's book! I want to read it. May have to get it on the Nook as my next book. That dude is a genius. He's like Trump but not doing dumb things in politics.
LOVE his philosophy. I'm seeing that more and more with successful companies. Happy employees matter. I think about Wegmans, Zappos, Southwest, etc. All start with hiring smart people who love other people. Service. Service. Service.

Thanks for your comments, Uncle Joe. 

#28days starts tomorrow! 

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Interesting. Love to see the link to that website. This post was 100% original. Please send the link. I'll be here.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

By the way, who are you? You don't provide your real name or link to a profile. Maybe you are a bot. Hmmm.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Thanks Dave. The crowdsourced ones were really good, huh? Ha. So you don't like MINE. Too funny. I know what you mean though. I'm willing to pay for amenities as well, but that assumes that the ticket prices are going down ... which is not the case. Right?

I really hope you are right about the airline industry realizing that they are in the service business. As I say in the intro, I'm hopeful.

Thanks again for your comments. Much appreciated.

Dave Stevenson
Dave Stevenson

Oh no - in your next article you're going to quote me as saying I didn't like your ideas! :)

More thoughts - an airplane is an airplane. Whether Delta flies the 737 or Southwest does, it's the same. They all have pretty much the same cost basis as well, with a little variation due to different fuel hedging strategies and union contracts. But at the end of the day, you get a 18" wide seat, 31-32" of legroom, and fly at 600mph from point A to B whether you are on Delta or Southwest. But - what makes people like Southwest over Delta (or like me, I prefer Delta) is the service. And service is such a cheap thing to implement for a company. Having helpful employees that smile and care about you doesn't cost a dime!

Hopefully we get there sooner than later as we move into the "Thank You Economy"

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Ha. Maybe. (kidding).
Excellent point about an airplane being an airplane. Service & price are the 2 big differentiators. Well said!