It was a hot humid summer day in late June 1999, when an overweight, red-faced American in Bermuda shorts and a bulging stomach arrived at JFK airport for his Tower Air flight to Israel. The flight’s departure had been delayed for three hours. The air conditioning in the old Pan Am terminal that Tower Air was using was barely functioning. Everyone was frazzled and the ground crew was doing its best to keep the hordes of angry passengers calm. So when this bellicose passenger pushed his way through the crowds and banged his fist repeatedly on the counter, screaming “How dare you treat me like this, don’t you know who I am, don’t you know who I am?” the supervisor cracked a smile as her upper lip quivered in delight and over the public address counter, asked quite demurely: “Is there anyone in the hall who can help this gentleman, he doesn’t know who he is?” No doubt the least effective way to lodge a complaint at an airline is to scream incoherently at an attendant, ground or flight in the feeble attempt that by raising one’s voice you will be heard. The far more effective way is to put pen to paper, finger to your mobile and write the appropriate body.
In fact, an upbeat and energized United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz recently told a group of investors that his company’s mission was to become the best airline in the world. Munoz touched briefly on the April 9 incident in which a passenger was injured when he was forcibly dragged off a United Express aircraft to make room for crew, but the main focus of his speech at the Wings Club in New York was his aspirations for United’s future. But Munoz conceded that United – and the industry in general – needed to get a deeper sense of customer service.
“That means a lot of things to a lot of people. Primarily, people want frequency, reliability and cost,” he said. It also requires more flexibility.
Airlines are tasked with the great responsibility of safely transporting travelers across the globe, while also keeping them entertained and happy in the process. In addition to serving restaurant-quality food and creating atmospheric, suite-like cabins, the best airlines in the world have put great emphasis on their customer service.
We all know that travel can be stressful. The airlines that excel in customer service do so by helping flyers enjoy even the most mundane aspects of air travel, from checking in your luggage to waiting at the gate.
Most surveys rank Singapore Air as the overall favorite airline. Rated top in most every category: cabin comfort, food, in-flight service, value and customer service. The 32-inch seat pitch in economy class helps, as do the flight attendants, famous for their above and beyond service.
Let’s define the basics: What is airline customer service? Airline customer service is providing customer support to customers before, during and after a flight. The difficulties and complexities of air travel can make support a major challenge, but improving it can lead to happier customers, better travel experiences, and improved service ratings. When travelers’ expectations are not being met, everything from buying a ticket checking in to security screenings to baggage to the actual flight can all be improved. It’s a challenge that represents a great opportunity: the company that can provide the best experiences will stand out among the crowd, giving it a competitive advantage that will lead to customers choosing them when they travel over the competition.
For years the joke would go when flying El Al: “Do you want to start your vacation when you get on the plane or when you arrive to your destination?” Historically on the three US legacy carriers, American, Delta and United the longer the flight, the older the flight attendants were. I always try to curry favor when flying one of those carriers by asking how many grandchildren they have.
More often than not, a broad smile is shone upon me as pictures of their darling grandkids are shown to me.
Irrespective of any individual fare, airlines have this overarching notion of who their valued customers are, and what their lifetime value is. And because of the structure of the system, they can take advantage of it to the point of being mean to people.
Business travelers, who are less likely than leisure travelers to comparison-shop for airfare, reap the rewards of pricey, company-sponsored travel in the form of miles.
They’re pampered, while passengers in the back, who are more likely to have simply searched for the best deal, are left without many frills.
El Al has been getting a lot of media attention with the launch of its first Dreamliner, the Boeing 787 scheduled to begin service in late October on her flights between Newark and Tel Aviv. Sadly they will need a lot more media attention to overcome reviews like this: “It was an overnight flight from JFK to TLV both ways.
They fly an old ragged fleet of 747s, and when I say ragged, I mean ragged. When we boarded our outgoing flight, I noticed some of the overhead reading lights in the cabin were working and some weren’t. None on our row were working. So I asked the flight attendant about it. She told me they would all work once we reached cruising altitude. I knew this was one of those obvious professional lies used by this airline’s flight crews to get around trying to explain their dilapidated equipment. I just let it slide. Of course, once we got to altitude, none of our reading lights in our row worked.
“In addition, none of the in-flight entertainment systems worked either. We were stuck in the dark on an overnight flight (11 hours) with nothing to do, except try to sleep. However, there was entertainment. The plane had many Hasidic Jews who were up and down all night long digging through their overhead baggage for religious paraphernalia, which they promptly strapped to their bodies and prayed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing or judging, but it was distracting. But who am I? When in Rome, be a Roman.
The meals were okay but nothing to write home about, and the flight crew was attentive.”
After a bit of prodding on my part, and a strong push to contact El Al to complain about the reading lights, El Al offered them a $100 voucher to be used on their next El Al flight. Hopefully the passengers will be able to experience all that the Holy Land has to offer one more time.
There’s only so much that can be done to improve the experience of travel on a commercial flight. Things like security regulations, weather delays, and airport infrastructure, and sometimes even lost baggage are simply outside the control of the airlines. However, there are some very simple things savvy airlines are already doing help to the experience a little smoother: • Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Whether it’s through text messaging, email, or a free mobile app, airlines can keep travelers in the know about things like delays, ticket changes, weather predictions, waiting times at security, locations of baggage terminals, and more. While people will certainly never be happy about having to wait, they’ll be a little less frustrated if they’re given prior notice. More often than not, my passengers are told of their flight delays when they are already en route to the airport.
• Get feedback. Sending surveys at various touch points, such as after buying a ticket or interacting with a flight attendant, will provide valuable insights on how to improve the travel experience.
• Take social media seriously. Many PR disasters can be avoided by simply taking a customer’s complaints on social media seriously. Monitoring mentions on social media, particularly those that detail extreme situations or come from people with many followers, can help rectify a situation before it spirals out of control. Plus, there’s the possibility of customers praising your response to their followers. Some even do it on the day they travel.
People will always need to fly, but at the very least they can choose an airline they’ve had positive experience with, has good ratings, or the best overall buying process.
Making the choice to invest in support can help mitigate the pain of lousy airport food and weather delays.
Customer feedback is very important in improving the user experience. Airline industries in particular need to have a reliable way of collecting and gauging customer feedback. Whenever a customer registers a complaint, it needs to be taken seriously. Smaller problems, when neglected, later become complex issues, creating customer service nightmares for airlines. Similarly, only collecting feedback without incorporating it into improving the overall customer experience is of no use. The airline industry needs to ensure that all customer feedback has been reviewed and proper actions are taken to avoid similar situations in the future.
These days I encourage customers with complaints before voting with their feet and blacklisting the airline to first reach out to the airline.
Most airlines have two ways to lodge a formal complaint, an email to the proper department or a far more laborious path by going online and filling out a form.
While the former is far more consumer friendly than the later, the majority of the airlines prefer an online form.
Here’s the list of the customer service contact details for the top 12 airlines in terms of passengers that fly between Israel and the world.
Be so kind as to save, share and send this list. Someone you know will need it: El Al: [email protected]
Easyjet: sorry no email; can only complain online.
Here’s the link: http://www.easyjet.com/en/help/after-landing/compliments- complaints-privacy United Airlines: [email protected]
Turkish Airlines: https://www4.thy.com/customercontact/ index.tkf?lang=en British Airlines: https://ukprepin.custhelp.com/app/ answers/detail/a_id/457 Lufthansa: [email protected]
Delta Airlines: https://www.delta.com/contactus/commentComplaint Iberia: http://www.iberia.com/gb/customer-relations/ Swiss Air: https://www.swiss.com/ch/EN/customer- support/complaints-and-compliments Air France: https://www.airfrance.fr/vlb/ecrm/CH/en/ local/core/engine/ecomplaint/InitComplaintAction.do Aeroflot: https://www.complaintsboard.com/aeroflot- b104371 Arkia: [email protected]
If you need any more airline contacts, Google away.
Finally if you’re seeking compensation for flight delays or cancellations there are several commercial sites that act as an agent on your behalf from Airhelp www.airhelp.com to TravelRefunded www.travelrefunded.com that with their vast airline experience and an army of litigators have a high success rate in getting airlines to pay your due compensation.
While to err is human, and to forgive divine, getting your fair compensation has its own just rewards.Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
For questions and comments email him at [email protected] ziontours.co.il