True innovation in the airline industry is refreshing to discover, so I must compliment you on the $1200 pillows you have in first class.
To frame it for you, I travel a great deal. 2,000,000 miles on United alone which makes me one of your partners in THE STAR ALLIANCE. Airline travel still offers me new and surprising experiences even after all those miles.
Yesterday I boarded flight 1529 from Charlotte to Denver. My seat was in coach. When I boarded first class was full except for 1D which had a pillow on the seat. Overhead, I counted four unused pillows; pillows first class passengers had stuffed overhead to get out of the way. I won’t bother you with my lower back problems except to say that a pillow makes all the difference in comfort for me on a long flight.
I made the mistake of taking a $1200 pillow (I will come to the valuation momentarily).
The first class steward (flight attendant? pillow monitor?) asked if I was in first class. No I answered. “Then I can’t let you take that pillow.” I pointed out that it wasn’t being used. He replied that it didn’t matter because it was “against the rules.” The pillow could NOT leave the first class cabin. I said it didn’t make much sense. He said it didn’t matter. I said, and I quote, “I guess this isn’t about common sense.” His reply was a vacant look.
I returned the pillow to the overhead where it still resided when I got off the plane three hours later.
Once at my pillowless coach seat I tweeted and posted my displeasure on Facebook. You might be discomforted to know that there was quite an outpouring of customers who really dislike U.S. Air including a member of your Chairman’s Club. But I digress…
I also emailed my travel agency and asked them to remind me to not fly U.S. Air again, that I’d rather connect on any other carrier. This might seem like an over-reaction but I’ll come back to this point later.
Then I did some simple math. I fly U.S. Air 3-4 times a year. Assuming an average ticket cost of $300 (probably much higher, but I don’t want to exaggerate), that means you’ve just lost a minimum of $900 from my decision. My business development manager travels periodically and while I won’t forbid her from flying U.S. Air, I will warn her. Oops. There goes another $300 for a grand total of $1200 which I can only assume is the value of your pillows in first class.
Those pillows are probably worth more, but I can’t tell how many people were negatively influenced by my tweets, Facebook posting or this blog (ah, the double-edged sword of social media).
With pillows worth that much, I’m surprised you don’t talk about them more in your advertising. How about “We’ll alienate customers so you can keep your pillow available at all times” or “First Class Pillows: Worth More than Customer Goodwill.”
Your pillow monitor could have controlled pillow count by allowing me to use the unwanted pillow and if–heaven forbid–there was a sudden demand for pillows in first class he could have asked me to relinquish mine. I’d have been copacetic with that. There are, after all, creative ways to accomodate most passengers if you are willing to try.
It would have been thoughtful had one of the passengers who didn’t want their pillow had offered it to me (and I hope I remember to think that way when I fly first class). Of course that might have invoked the ire of the pillow monitor.
Back to my over-reaction mentioned earlier. Last week I flew U.S. Air and observed a woman on boarding made to check her “extra bag” as she had a small roller bag, shopping bag and tiny hand purse. I am very familiar with the two piece rule. What bothered me is that the gate agent didn’t suggest she combine her bags (which would have been easy to do) and that the woman needed to wait at baggage claim at the end of a long day. The overhead bins had plenty of space and a woman in first class oddly had three pieces of carry ons thus violating “the rule.” The passenger made to check her bag didn’t speak English well so she could neither resist nor question the inconvenience.
But it gets worse.
I’ve learned that complaining, even when justified, doesn’t usually help, but I felt bad for the other passenger. I spoke with the flight attendant and pilot about the situation, mistakenly thinking they might be empathetic.
They seemed prepared with excuses. “The FAA will fine us if we let people bring on more than two pieces!” the flight attendant adamantly explained.
I’m sure that is possible but how often does that actually happen? I fly every week and I’ve yet to observe the FAA monitoring and fining for an extra purse. The statement may be true, but the excuse is lame especially given the lax enforcement of this rule by airlines in general.
The pilot told me not to worry because luggage in Denver gets to the baggage claim very quickly.
They said more, but here is what REALLY bothers me: there was a total and complete lack of empathy. You don’t have to agree with someone to understand how they feel. I would have felt better with a simple “We hate to hear about a passenger being inconvenienced.” Unfortunatley it seems in my experience that your employees miss that important point. Instead of helping, they spend their time justifying.
That attitude, coupled with the $1200 pillow, has motivated me to avoid U.S. Air. I’m a realist: someday I may have to fly you again or not get where I’m going, but I will work very hard to avoid doing so.
Now, two apologies:
First, I apologize for the bait-and-switch. This obviously wasn’t a congratulatory blog. I’m hoping maybe this will get your attention more effectively than “Yet Another Complaint Blog.” But I’m doubtful.
Second, in the interest of full disclosure, I muttered a bad name about the pillow monitor. I’m not sure how loud I said it or how many heard it but it was wrong to compare him to a bodily orifice. I believe that civility should trump dissent and dissatisfaction so I hypocritically violated my own values. I am truly sorry (and not because my publicist suggested it or Congress demanded it, but I digress…)
In conclusion, please consider:
Value of a First Class Pillow on U.S. Air: $1200.
Customer Goodwill: Priceless.
Fantastic Post Mark. However, I would argue that it was a good thing that this happened to you. Maybe it didn’t seem like that then…..but…..What you have now is a priceless story that anyone who gets on a plane or runs a business will relate to. Common Sense, as Ben Franklin said, ain’t so common.
I have argued for months, that customer service has gotten worse in this economy and the companies that do it right, will now stand out much more and be able to move forward quickly when the turnaround happens. The question is when is the turnaround?
Great piece. You are a gifted writer and I’m a fan.
Excellent example of how for some company’s “customer service” has become an oxymoron.
I love speaking, I love working with people in my training sessions, I love the interaction with my customers but God Help Us … if YOU are the customer for some of these airlines, hotels, rental agencies & restaurants, etc.!
In a tough economy and with so many choices, these folks are running off some great life long customers. I’m tired of being treated like I should be THRILLED that I can be their customer.
I’ve dropped two car rental agencies for this type of nonsense. Time to strike back as a consumer but more importantly OUR businesses should be conscious of these mistakes and be thrilled that our customers come to us for service.
I’d like to amplify Mark’s comment – companies who get customer service right in this economy (today) might SURVIVE until the economy picks up. I for one will go out of my way to do business with those who show a little bit of appreciation. It doesn’t require a rebate, just the creative use of a little common sense. Good post, Mark!
Thanks for the post, Mark.
Unfortunately we don’t get to be ‘off’ when it comes to customer service. That flight attendant might have been abused all day by unruly passengers with unreasonable requests. He, being human, maybe could only take so much. Much like you, he may have violated his own customer service ‘values’ because of how he’d been treated.
Unfortunately, we never get to hear the whole story and can only judge by our experiences. If the overall trend of bad service wasn’t the norm, we might have enough grace to forgive such infractions much more easily.
Thank you also for being honest about your reactions.
This verse ALWAYS works although I only SOMETIMES apply it:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
Good insights, Mike. And Ephesians 4:2 is an excellent reminder, for service providers and receivers. (And why I felt bad about my reaction). For what it is worth, the pillow monitor was quite the hail fellow. He was fairly upbeat and pleasant as he hid behind the rules. But I do acknowledge that service providers put up with quite a bit of abuse which is unfortunate.
US Air could benefit from your training. They could rectify this whole situation by having you come and speak to their employees about being a “Fred” as you did at our company. I cannot tell you the powerful impact you have had on Prosper.
I just listened to your interview that’s in the current copy of Success magazine, and I appreciate your comments. I didn’t expect to see a post about about airline customer service on your writer’s blog, but I do agree with all your points.
After watching this video, you may also want to add United Airlines to your list of airlines to avoid: “United Breaks Guitars” Songs 1 & 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo&feature=video_response Song 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-UoERHaSQg Song 2
Dave Carroll (the musician) has promised a series of 3 songs after United Airlines (you guessed it) broke his guitar.
Anyone who flies as much as you do has a 777 cargo load full of horror stories. We (the public) demanded low fares above all else, and they (the major carriers) have become proficient at eliminating service and charging for things that used to be free.
I understand the economics behind it.
But in thier cost-cutting measures, the airlines have trimmed where they shouldn’t have: i.e. training. They’ve replaced friendly agents and attendants with robotic automatons who are quick to point out rules and policies, and who are completely blind to the exceptions that must be made to accommodate a diverse array of passengers.
I don’t blame you for not flying US Air. However, I remain skeptical that you will find better service on any airline where you do not hold top status.
Me? I am trying hard to let go all of my preconceived notions about air travel. I am lowering my expectations dramatically to where I now refuse to let any bonehead pillow monitor or heartless gate agent deprive me of my sanity.
I’m trying to resist the urge to call you a whinning little baby but…..are you kidding me with this??
What does the word “RULES” mean to you, Mark? If you have a problem with a company, take your case to the company. Rules are rules and they must be followed.
People read your blogs and books and such to learn leadership skills, …… is this an example of leadership?? Not following rules and getting pissed off because you aren’t getting your way?
This is an extremely irresponsible post and quite frankly you ought to be ashamed of yourself for posting it. By dismissing the pilot’s explanation of FAA rules by saying you’ve “yet to observe the FAA monitoring” this is so narrow-minded for someone of your previous writings. So, since you’ve never seen it, I guess it never happens. I would venture a guess that you’ve never actually seen the planet Pluto either. Does that mean it doesn’t exist?
Really, Mark. I am extremely disappointed in this post. How you seemingly dismiss rules and advocate that people should be allowed to do or have whatever they want just because they want it, and then try to disguise it under the cloak of “poor customer service” is so far beyond comprehension that I can’t believe this came from the same person who wrote The Fred Factor.
Mark, are you currently driving down the road in your car? No? Ok, can I have it? Why not……you aren’t using it.
Extremely poor post here, Mark. Extremely poor!!!!!
Tom, I did take my problem to “the company”, U.S. Air, and I’m reporting on their response.
Obviously you disagree with my post. That’s fine. And my observation about the FAA was exactly that. An observation. Have you noticed the FAA counting bags on board?
If you had read a little more closely rather than reacted harshly to my post, perhaps you would have identified my concern–NOT with the rules–but the lack of empathy exhibited by those I spoke with. I was pretty clear about that.
I didn’t get pissed off because I didn’t get my way. I got pissed off at 1. the lemming like lack of concern for customers and 2. the adherence to rules over values (not FAA rules, arbitrary airline rules…which is something I’ve talked about for years: bend or flex the rules but never violate the values.
What is beyond comprehension isn’t my post but your suggestion that I’m saying people should do whatever they want. Where did you read that, Tom? I didn’t “take” the pillow. I followed the rules. But I can feel however I want about the stupidity of the rules just as you feel this is a poor post. What is the difference between your reaction to my post and my reaction to U.S. Air?
BTW, I’m guessing you’re going to jam me on the two bag rule so just to make clear: it is LEGAL to combine smaller bags into larger ones to meet the spirit of the rule. Now there’s a solution for the lady standing in baggage claim waiting for her carry-on and it meets “the rules.”
Pillows versus cars and borrowing. Hmm…one of these things is NOT like the other. You’re stretching to make your point. And yeah, if I weren’t using my pillow, I’d give it to someone who could–even someone who blasts my post.
Do you work for the airlines by any chance?
“Hello Kettle, this is the Pot Calling…”
Tom, I think the reason you’re resisting calling Mark a ‘whinning little baby’ because you own that space. Seriously, yours is the whinniest post I’ve read in a while. Calling Sanborn out as “irresponsible” because he points out the fundamental flaws in the way a large company fails to train their front line staff is about as irresponsible as it gets.
This ain’t about a pillow, dude. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to spell it out for you.
Tom- I can’t see your point at all and actually you’re whats wrong with this country. Candor is dead and it needs to be awakened in all of us. The internet has made it impossible for any comany to hide and that’s good. I can only wonder where we’d be without the internet as it relates to air travel? Enter ‘bad airline experiences’ in google and see what you get. Do you fly a lot? Maybe you’re a pilot or a flight attendant and you can do what you want. If you don’t work for the airlines and travel a lot, you know if someone offers you up the least bit hint of good service you appreciate it. The Starbucks in the B Terminal in Atlanta, for example has fantastic service that actually makes you forget for a moment you are in the negative and depressing environment of an airport.
Consumers have some firepower, thank goodness……if you don’t do a good job, people like Mark and me and millions of others can take to the internet etc. Its really the only leverage we have against a big industry like air travel. Oh yes, we can take our dollars elsewhere, but if one airline gets you in, sometimes you have to do it.
So, Mark should be quiet, because that’s politically correct? He should be quiet because he finds the FAA comments ridiculous? Let me ask you something, have you tore off the tags on your mattress? Do you think that’s a silly rule?
Mark wasn’t talking about safety, he knows and we all know, that’s not up for debate. But a pillow? Its the perfect example of what’s wrong with much of big business in our country. We have lost all sense of what it takes to please the customer, we don’t listen to them, and we punish the millions for the acts of one. Should someone like Sanborn who flies a lot be pampered by the crew? Should they have a list of their best clients on board and get some extra care?
Common sense ain’t so common and your post is in the minority.
Sanborn, keep up the good work.
I’m joining the exchange a bit late, but I couldn’t resist. Lots of juicy material for a stimulating political conversation!
Ephesians 4:2…BINGO! Lack of common sense is too common. Rather than blaming the state of the economy (regardless of what caused it), I blame the “I don’t get rewarded for using common sense” mentality. It’s so refreshing to meet the “Freds”; I make it a point to thank them and encourage them whenever I run into them. I realize that senior leadership cannot monitor the actions of every employee in every situation. However, the culture they promote (e.g. customer service) can make all the difference.
Tom’s an idiot. Great posting, Mark.