Thursday, July 05, 2007

It's the thought that counts

I had to post this piece, originally from The Consumerist, which I found on Living Light Bulbs.

I was flying from Massachusetts to New Jersey on Continental Airlines on this past week. There was terrible weather over New Jersey and while the plane took off on time, a half-hour in to the 47 minute flight we ended up circling over southern Connecticut. After a number of "we'll only be holding here for a few minutes" updates, an hour had elapsed and the pilot told us that the storm that held us up was making it impossible to get to New Jersey and that they didn't have enough fuel to get back to Massachusetts. We were diverted to a remote airstrip and were told that we'd just refuel and then get to New Jersey.

Of course, the "30 minute refuel" turned into 2 hours stuck on the tarmac at this airstrip because the storm came right through our location.

At this point we'd been on the plane for 4+ hours and despite some individual heavy sighs, most people were still pretty pleasant. We were all blown away when the flight attendant came on the PA and told all of us that they had a surprise: the crew had called in an order for pizza and had 10 pizzas delivered to the plane. They also told us not to write into Continental about this because "they'd get in trouble".

It turns out that the pilot paid for the pizza out of his/her pocket! It was a remarkable gesture, and what I found really terrible was that the crew felt that they'd get in trouble with the airline for being so thoughtful, generous, and kind to the passengers.

As I think about the experience trying to get home from San Francisco - sleeping in the airport, eating at the place closest to the gate so as not to miss anything - I wish United would take note of this story. Yes, they gave us food vouchers. But think about how we would have felt - as we stood in endless customer service lines waiting for flights to be fixed, if someone had come out with pizza, or even coffee. If just one of the people busy giving us excuses had stopped to give us a little something to show they recognized we were people and could use a break. I'd be much happier about flying with United in the future, that's for sure.


Ryan Karpeles said...

"If just one of the people busy giving us excuses had stopped to give us a little something to show they recognized we were people and could use a break."

The most significant thing here is that it's the little things that count. It doesn't take much to turn a nasty situation into something a little more positive.

It's frustrating when companies hide behind their policies and protocols. The more human businesses act, the better they'll be at connecting. Offering pizza is a humanizing gesture that recognizes our needs and meets us on OUR terms.

For some reason, airlines (besides SouthWest...usually) have trouble with this notion. I'm sorry to hear about your United troubles :( It's a tough industry, no doubt, but that's not an excuse to treat your customers poorly.

Thanks for the link love, Aprille :)

Aprille said...

No prob, Ryan (congrats, btw). I continue to wonder how the airline industry even functions. They oversold our flight by 100 people! And every flight from West to East was in the same boat - every airport, every airline.
I'd love to see the revolution of smaller airlines like JetBlue and SouthWest and others move faster and fix what's broken - but it's doubtful.
It's ironic that firms are so worried about hurting someone that they create processes and policies and legal departments to prevent the human element from happening - in the end hurting themselves. I'm encouraged about what I'm seeing in the blogosphere - hopefully corporate America will catch on.

Ryan Karpeles said...

It's definitely a messy situation. And one of the biggest causes is the fact that airlines don't HAVE to please customers. There is very little competition, the barriers to entry are enormous, and people will keep needing to fly.

I liken it to gasoline. No matter how crappy the situation gets, it's still a (virtually) inelastic product. We can't go on effectively without it, so we'll put up with $4 gallons even though it's insane.

But like you said, the juices flowing in the B-sphere prove there's hope. There is a better way. We know there's a better way. We just have to get out there and make some changes. Hopefully sooner rather than later :)