Showing posts with label US Airways. Show all posts
Showing posts with label US Airways. Show all posts

Friday, July 10

Breaking Guitars: United Airlines

United Airlines might have already contacted singer/songwriter Dave Carroll to "make things right" after it carelessly broke his Taylor acoustic guitar, but given the extent Carroll and the Sons of Maxwell had to go to find justice is virtually unforgivable. Four days ago, Carroll had introduced a music video about the band's experience. In four days, the video has captured 1.5 million views (one million since yesterday) and shows no signs of slowing down.

Dave Carroll: United Breaks Guitars


Propelled by coverage by the Consumerist, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun-Times, ABC News, CBS News, and others; Carroll may eventually have the first customer complaint to go gold and the 13,000 plus passengers who file claims against United Airlines may have a permanent rally cry against broken customer policy.

Inept Customer Service Followed By Bad Public Relations Pun

After the first known acknowledgment from United Airlines' Twitter account, the airline issued a statement that reinforced the pun — "This has struck a chord w/ us and we've contacted him directly to make it right." Here is the extended statement:

This has struck has a chord with us. We are in conversations with one another to make what happened right, and while we mutually agree that this should have been fixed much sooner, Dave Carroll’s excellent video provides United with a unique learning opportunity that we would like to use for training purposes to ensure all customers receive better service from us.

Since, the tone of the tweets have changed from pithy to tempered, with United Airlines offering apologies and promising to use the video for training purposes. Ironically, the consumer crisis is indirectly helping the airline earn more followers on Twitter. We suspect they might not know that 50,000 followers is an empty goal if half sign on to keep the Carroll story alive until changes are implemented. Much like we suspect they didn't realize their statement would fuel more Carroll coverage.

At the same time, United Airlines is also being fined $80,000 by the federal government for not telling consumers which other airlines it has code-share agreements with. United is part of the Star Alliance, which partners international carriers. Other members include US Airways Group Inc., Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Air Canada. Incidentally, US Airways is not known for customer service either.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned regarding customer service and communication inside this humorous take on airline travel, but the one that resonates the most is that companies might get used to the idea that they have two opportunities to listen to unhappy customers — either on the phone when they first call or online with the whole world watching as judge, jury, and, sometimes, executioner.

To its credit, at least United Airlines has some semblance of a fledgling social media program to answer some consumer questions direct. While a quick review reveals it's less than perfect by any measure, many companies facing a similar customer-driven crisis communication challenge would have to rely exclusively on the media to tell their side of the story. Sometimes that's what it takes for organizations to finally understand you don't have to engage in social media to be engaged by social media.

This story bumped our third installation of the SyFy branding debacle, now slated for Monday. Have a nice weekend!

Tuesday, November 20

Flying Cargo Class: The Airline Industry


Zagat Survey today announced the results of the 2007 Zagat Global Airlines Survey. Singapore Airlines took top honors as the best international economy class and Midwest Airlines pulled the No. 1 spot for domestic economy class again. Midwest Airlines has taken top honors in the past eight Zagat surveys; Virgin America and JetBlue Airways followed as No. 2 and 3.

While social media proponents might consider crowing that the number one and number two domestic Web sites both support well-planned blogs, the real communication lesson for the airlines comes from Zagat participant comments that pinpoint the state of the industry. Here are a few favorites:

“I’d rather be a package on FedEx.”

“The legroom is great if you’re a yard gnome.”

“Their planes make Larry King look young.”

“I thought the Geneva Convention prevented this kind of thing.”

“Only good thing about first class these days is that you get to leave the plane first.”


Ouch!

JetBlue continues to score big with its fans despite the “nightmare delays” last winter. But all is not bliss as public relations professionals like to claim. JetBlue continues to balance leather seats, satellite TV, and happy crews, and decent snacks against rising prices, limited routes, and points that expire.

Still, third is a long way from the bottom, an honor that belongs to U.S. Airways, which came in last among domestic airlines. (And Philadelphia International came in fourth from the bottom among airports.) Hmmm … I wonder why.

The survey covered 7,498 frequent fliers who rated 84 airlines and 46 major airports. Each airline was separately rated on its premium and economy service for both domestic and international flights. The typical survey participant took 19.7 flights in the past year aggregating 147,000 trips. For complete results from domestic and international carriers, visit Zagat.

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Tuesday, August 14

Surviving US Airways: Social Connections


“…the surprising ease in which our brains interlock, spreading our emotions like a virus.” — Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.

As a writer and creative director, especially in the fast-paced profession of advertising with always urgent deadlines, I've understood the general concept of what Goleman calls social intelligence for some time.

I sometimes use it to remind account executives and others that negative reinforcement might teach mice to press bars for cheese, but it never did anything for creativity or teamwork. The designers will beat the deadline, I tell them, provided you stop asking them if they’ll meet it.

Emotions are like viruses. And communication is the way it spreads.

Being keenly aware of this, long before reading the first page of Goleman’s book (I picked up at the airport, where I was stranded, the morning after), perhaps it was easier for me not to succumb to the plague of negativity — worry, fear, anger, rage — that swept through the terminal the day before.

Instead, I focused on making alliances with like-minded people who seemed unaffected by the social disease caused mostly by US Airways employees. While I could have tuned it out as an observer, I opted for an inoculation of sorts, creating positive social connections that can make all the difference when you are destined to perform a mini-repeat performance of Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal.

“That’s based on a true story,” insisted Stephan (from Sweden), who was stranded on his way to Dallas. (I didn’t know it, but he was right).

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Christina (from Germany), who was on her way home after studying at Duke University. “I never saw the movie.”

While our group originally numbered five in line, it was the three of us who spent the most time together, passing the evening hours in an airport bar that was packed with marooned passengers. For a few hours, communication was effortless as we traded observations about our respective cultures, ranging from Christina’s choice to study law in America or Latin in Europe and how the Seventies-spun infamy of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders is ever-present abroad to the growing Swedish presence in American hockey and why some Europeans think Baywatch exemplifies the American experience.

I’m thankful for these spontaneous friendships. It proved helpful when we waited in line together and even more so before heading off to find our respective sleeping arrangements — some empty terminal benches (some passengers flipped them on end to make temporary beds). Sure, there are plenty of tips I could pass out to help people deal with such a crisis, but the best advice is to seek out positive people (not those who want to focus on the horror of it all).

Had the US Airways passenger service agents known this, they too may have been better equipped to face the long line of rightfully concerned passengers who heard that the airline would offer no redemption whatsoever. Hmmm ... imagine how different it could have been had US Airways personnel at least understood that their communication had a greater impact on the passengers than the cancellations. Or that even the simplest service plan could have helped.

Demonstrate Empathy. When you have a 40 percent delay rate and 4 percent cancellation rate like US Airways, it might seem easy to shrug it off as another “here we go again” situation. However, passenger service agents need to appreciate that cancellations are not ordinary to passengers.

Draft Consistent Messages. Even my partner, who attempted to connect with the 1-800 number from home, noted that after speaking with four people, each of them had conflicting messages and none of them were told what I was told on scene (which was different from what other airlines told passengers for that matter). A consistent message — we will get you to your destination and, more importantly, we care — would have went a long way.

Create A Crisis Team. Two or three people serving stranded customers in a bank line model does not work. US Airways could have used personnel who were obviously not checking people in on these flights to assist. Even a 4-person team could have provided a better structure: two on the counter; one to assist off counter (calling for updates, gathering hotel availability, etc.); and the one to handle special needs, eg. parents who needed their baggage, which contained their baby’s formula (baggage could have tracked the bags before the family went down to claim them).

Offer Pre-Counter Service. Rather than allow a passenger service agent to walk the line and discourage passengers; the employee could have told passengers what to expect, letting them know that they were being booked on the next available flight; that it might be late tonight or tomorrow morning; that if they want to change flight plans, need baggage, or have other needs, fill out a form so they can assist expediently; and for those spending the night, they would receive an updated list of hotels ready to accommodate them.

Provide Real Guidance. Given the frequency of cancellations due to, um, "weather" in Philadelphia, US Airways could have easily produced a working list of area hotels based on rates, proximity, and availability, making it easier for passengers (even if the airline refused to pay for them).

Expedite the Line. Four-and-a-half hours (some waiting even longer) is too long when the "return on wait" is negligible or negative. Studies prove long waits are more bearable only if customers can see superior service ahead of them. Since our plan already provides passengers information before they reach the counter, passenger service agents could have fine-tuned their communication, saying “we have booked you on this flight, which means you may want to stay at this hotel tonight at this rate. If you want to change your plans, need your bags for medical or other reasons, or if you have additional special needs, this agent will assist you over here.” Move them forward. Put them at ease.

Simple. Easy. Effective. Empathetic. At minimum, it would have been better than. Instead, the only communication besides a few discouraging employees was a fifth generation photocopy that began “The entire US Airways team sincerely apologizes for this disruption to your travel plans.” It was disingenuous at best and communicated the exact opposite at worst. Frankly, the letter US Airways passed out last week created more negativity than no letter at all.

If anything, it reinforced the only semblance of a consistent message that US Airways seemed to have for the passengers stranded in Philadelphia: “Ha ha! We’re blaming the weather for the cause of every cancellation tonight. You are on your own and I wish you would just deal with it on your own because I’m going home in an hour, and you're not. We just don't care.”

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Monday, August 13

Stranding Passengers: US Airways

You can always tell the true quality of a company by how it handles a crisis, big or small. I learned a lot about US Airways, which became the fifth largest carrier in the United States after merging with America West this year, while I was stranded in Philadelphia on my way to New Haven, Conn. last Thursday.

At least 20 flights were cancelled for “weather” and US Airways in Philadelphia quickly buckled under the strain of wayward passengers. It didn’t help that the customer service line was staffed by only two or three people to assist a line that spanned several city blocks.

Adding to the confusion was one US Airways passenger service agent who, instead of assisting passengers, attempted to convince them to get out of line and rebook their own flights by calling a 1-800 number.

“I’m not telling you what to do,” he crowed, attempting to relieve himself of any and all accountability. “I’m telling you what I would do.”

But then he would return every few minutes, berating those passengers who took down the 1-800 number in desperation or politeness but were still unwilling to relinquish their position. (Some didn’t leave the line, simply because the agent lacked credibility.)

For me, there was only one reason to stay. While leaving Las Vegas, the Transportation Security Administration agents had mishandled the tray that contained all of my personal electronics. While my laptop and camera survived, my cell phone was less fortunate — split at the seam, with all audio functions rendered inoperable. Text messaging my way out of being stranded proved futile beyond notifying those expecting me that I might not make it.

As it turned out, staying in line for more than 4 and a half hours proved to be the wiser decision anyway. I was given a new boarding pass, allowing me to enter or leave the airport (other passengers were less fortunate the next morning). And, while waiting in line, the airlines had booked me on what they said was the next available flight to New Haven (about 9:30 a.m. the next morning), arranging for my baggage to be checked through on the same flight.

I also to learned that all the airport hotels were booked full, making it futile to do as the agent suggested. So rather than spending the night at the very accommodating Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale as planned, I would be semi-sleeping in Terminal F at the Philadelphia International Airport.

“If I were you, I would give up on alternative flights and make plans to stay in Philadelphia,” the customer service agent had said. “Get out of line, get your bags at baggage claim, and find a hotel. You’re not going anywhere tonight and there are no guarantees that you’ll be getting out tomorrow either.”

There was another benefit to not listening to him or several other customer service agents who may have had the fa├žade of knowing what to do, but proved just as confused as the passengers.

The 1-800 number they handed out was overloaded with calls and frequently disconnected. If you did get through, there was a possibility you would override your status on the next available flight. And, there was another 4-hour mass of people attempting to retrieve their bags in baggage claim, ranging from parents who ran out of formula to seniors who packed enough medication for a delay but not enough for what could be a day or two.

Even more perplexing was the sheer lack of empathy for passengers. Some service agents taunted them with looks of amusement, noting to each other that they would be headed home in an hour or thank goodness they had to check in departing flights that were apparently unhindered by “weather.”

Given that 34.14 percent of all America West dba US Airways flights were delayed and 2.29 percent were cancelled in 1997 (39.07 percent delayed and 3.08 percent in Philadelphia), weather is often the explanation for the airline, but seldom the cause. More likely, US Airways has adopted the America West approach to air travel, which means it lands and takes off at the airport as “space is available.”

In fact, the US Airways crew was so used to delays and cancelled flights, they handed a pre-written letter to passengers after the first three hours. While it might have read “Once again, we wish to extend you our sincere apology, and trust that you will consider the unforeseen nature of the cause of this travel interruption and understand our team will work as quickly as possible to assist you with your new travel plans,” the real message was the medium: it was a fifth generation photocopy with a 1-800 number written in by hand. It also said, though not in writing, don’t expect credit, hotel accommodations, or meal per diem tonight.

I did not, but what I did expect was some semblance of customer service. And since US Airways seems incapable of mapping out an appropriate plan of action when such instances occur almost 40 percent of the time, I’ll post what they could have done tomorrow as well as how I, as a passenger stranded overnight in an airport, managed to avoid succumbing to the chaos and growing negativity caused by not the passengers as much as US Airways personnel.

Yes, I managed to maintain a smile even when my luggage wasn't waiting at the New Haven baggage claim as promised. My cousin's wedding, the only reason to be in New Haven after everything other reason had to be cancelled, was now only six hours away.

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