How Airlines Can Improve Customer Service

Ready for some friendly airline news? Hello? Don’t be alarmed, it’s just my little flight of fancy. Unless you fly long-haul or you are a frequent flyer like me, you probably don’t notice the problems. You’ve probably never even heard of Elaine Phillips at America’s United Airlines and the volcanic ash crisis in Iceland.

Thanks to all the websites, the 24/7 news and the blogs, we don’t like to be kept up to date on every little thing that goes on in the airline industry. Many of us, though, cannot do this in real time. When one issue is uncovered, another one may be emerging somewhere else and so forth. Not only is it impossible to keep up in real time, but there is some interesting statistical evidence that shows that there is not much variation within the airlines themselves. In fact, there are so many that it is almost impossible to find the root cause behind each of these problems.

Most of us probably keep our levels of aggravation well within acceptable levels but feel we could go higher if it happened to us. It is the same concept of an uglier version of family dinners when people aren’t speaking to each other. Yes, it is possible for the customer service representative to have a smile on their face and yet be rude to you or other customer. The key is to not let the smile fool you. You know the feeling when you are talking with a person, talking, waving your hand, having a conversation, yet they have a look on their face and nothing has been said, nobody has said a word and not a word has been said.

According to Mark Lagerkvist and Mike Gambetta, who were subjects in a recent book about United’s flight restrictions from April 15-19 2009 called “Chaos in the Skies,” there were factors that contributed to a 20% loss in the airline’s revenue, tens of millions of dollars in revenue and 35,000 customers across the U.S. affected. “Other airlines were dealing with a hurricane, volcanic ash cloud and the Tylenol scare. United, as it turns out, had an endless supply of on-time departures while their competitors navigated around the first disaster.”

In my personal case, the customer service representative I spoke with was rude. She was polite but did not listen, did not respond to my concerns but only sent out an “urgent” email with more details to my email address the next day. She felt the airline had done everything right and she meant it, but still provided no meaningful details. I am always on the lookout for names to name and put on the list and I am sure if I put Ms. Gil from United on my list she would get to the bottom of this mess.

A recent Forbes magazine article on Philadelphia International Airport, for example, named 35 of the Airport’s recent glitches, ranging from plane delays, bad boarding passes and reservation snafus to United Airlines’ technical support and customer support.

Hanne Gershgen (@LinneaU) is a marketing, branding and content strategist for

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