Anyone who has flown has probably experienced the unfortunate delays that are consistently plaguing the airline industry. As much as I travel, I expect it, however it has been rare. For some of my friends, their only time flying this year resulted in a frustrating experience. Amazingly, they were delayed twice On the way there, and on the way back.

I understand that the airplanes face tough choices and that schedules are arranged to maximize fuel, occupancy, routing and some sort of profitability. However, customer service has been one of the primary ingredients that have always been a problem with the airlines. No one expects to be treated kindly, so when kindness happens, it is a welcome departure.

Unfortunately, there are very few cases of unexpected kindness. Church of the Customer Blog reported on rogue United Airlines Pilot Capt. Denny Flanagan, who orders McDonald’s hamburgers for his passengers if the flight is delayed or diverted and goes out of his way to be sure that his passengers know him.

Consumer-Generated Complaints
Otherwise, the news is just bad, and the perfect medium for bad news is the internet. I feel the pain of one man who sat on the tarmac for 7 hours, resulting in 10 hours on the plane for a hop from JFK to Dallas-Fort Worth. Between changing crews, changing pilots, new paperwork, and not being at the gate to coordinate all of these changes. I did this for 5 hours in Newark this summer.

Being held hostage by an airline is one thing, but then not allowing people to eat (especially when there are four babies on board) is a crime. Delta refused to feed the passengers, who boarded at 4:00 PM, but did not leave until after 10:00 PM. A long litany of excuses is provided, until Delta ultimately states “that flight is not supposed to have any food.” The plane does not get back to a gate until after 9:00 PM, which is past closing time for restaurants in the airport.

It Figures . . .
Considering other airline news, USA Today reported that many airlines would like to re-route flights around New York and Philadelphia, as they are major hubs and the source of most of the delays. Unfortunately, local New York politicians are against the routing, even though it saves on fuel, emissions, time and delays, because it will cause additional noise for residence in their district. Let me guess, those that moved to a house near the airport?

Airline Replies
One situation for delays tried to travel fast in the negative news network, but didn’t seem to get traction. A couple was delayed for three hours, thereby missing a concert they planned to attend. They demanded the cost of the tickets, plus the cost of the concert tickets, and a few other things to be refunded by the airline. The CEO, by mistake, hit “Reply to All” on his email and basically said “So what? They’ll be back when they can save a buck.” While not overly enthused about his response, I can say that I have very little sympathy for about someone missing a flight to a concert. Isn’t that why you schedule a night over – so that you do not miss things like that?
For the airlines, the unfortunate news is that bad news is normal. We don’t see the sweeping word-of-mouth as experienced by rats at the Taco Bell. Delayed and missed flights are an all too-common experience.

Before you attempt to start a word-of-mouth campaign, make sure that what customers think of you or your industry is well documented. Otherwise a big backfire could be in your future. Ask a few questions in advance:
How far does good news carry in your industry?
How often are nice things noticed?
Are difference makers appreciated?

Knowing your market and the customer expectations will do wonders for setting up your campaign.

In a land of unhappiness, any kindness is noticed.
As far as the airlines, the least little act of kindness will not be unnoticed. Especially when considering the many problems coupled with dim customer expectations. This year, I missed a connection on one of my flights with Continental. The ticket agents noticed that I was on my way home after a long trip, and had run the length of the airport only to miss my flight. She was able to get me a food voucher for dinner. She did not have to do that, and it wasn’t her fault, but that simple act (that and getting me on the next plane!) was much appreciated and it makes me an even more loyal customer of Continental.