I once asked a friend for his opinion of a particular airline, and he replied: “They’re great in the air, but terrible on the ground.”
He then described the litany of problems he had had with his website booking, and with customer service both on the phone and at the airport. After that, he told me how comfortable his flight had been, and how polite and efficient the cabin crew were. On balance, though, he said he’d prefer not to fly with that airline again because of the hassles he’d had before the flight even took off.
On another occasion, I was advised to try a certain airline because they were offering great bargains and, I was assured, their service was as good or better than the carrier I was accustomed to on that route.
Over several days, I struggled to make a booking. The website kept freezing before I got to the payment stage. I gave up in frustration and flew with the airline I knew, albeit at a higher price.
And don’t get me started on the trouble I had trying, in vain, to book a reward flight to London recently.
At this stage you may be asking: What’s your point Brett? Well, it’s that people expect different things of their airline.
I know people who regard any carrier that will get them from A to B without the plane catching on fire as sufficient. I’m not one of those people.
I want the booking process to be smooth and I want to travel in style and comfort. For me, the holiday starts when I jump in the cab (or, better still, the limo) on the way to the airport.
I want to be greeted like a friend when I arrive at the terminal, and I want somebody to offer to take my bags (although I will, most often, politely decline that offer). I do not want to queue to check-in, and I want to breeze through the immigration procedures and settle in, as soon as possible, in the airport lounge, with a glass of champagne in my hand.
When the time comes, I want to glide onto the aircraft at my own pace, and settle into a big, comfortable, fully reclinable seat up the pointy end, where a very pleasant flight attendant will offer me another glass of champagne, or two, before take-off.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. I’m sure you also realise that this is something of a fantasy, and things don’t usually work out that way. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to afford (or been willing to pay for) business class, and I’ve been fortunate to have been upgraded to first class on several occasions.
Of course, I know that not everybody can afford, or even want, to do what I’ve done. (I also know that some people, vastly more wealthy and/or famous than me, have realised Noel Coward’s famous aspiration to “travel through life first-class”.)
But at the very least we should all be able to travel without needless irritations, whether we’re flying ElCheapoAir or on a private jet.
While it’s true that you get what you pay for, there are some things that airlines can provide for free, or at very little cost, that can make all the difference to their passengers.
For starters, they could get their websites right. Some very big airlines have poorly designed and barely functional internet pages. If the technology on the website doesn’t work, how can we can sure that the technology on the plane works?
They should also invest more effort in to training call centre and social media staff to be polite, good natured, and to at least appear to be enthusiastic about their job and well informed about their product. If I make a complaint, or a compliment, over the phone or on Twitter, I expect some kind of acknowledgement, even if it is something like: “I’m sorry to hear that, but there’s really nothing we can do.” That takes all of five seconds to type or to say.
Ditto, the service at the airport and on the plane. I know airline jobs are not as glamorous or as well paid as many people believe, but there are a lot worse ways to make a living. On one American airline that I won’t be using again, if I can help it, the complimentary peanuts were tossed at me by a charmless attendant who wore her disdain for her passengers like a badge of honour.
The message here is simple: while not everybody’s arriving in chauffeur-driven stretch sedans and booking into the $20,000-a-trip premium apartment, every passenger deserves to be treated with civility and respect.
After all, shouldn’t every airline aspire to be good in the air and on the ground?