Airlines have been cutting back on all kinds of services, ranging from removing pillows to charging for aisle seats and even peanuts. Yes, rising fuel costs are creating a perfect storm that threatens their existence, but the ultimate success of the airlines, or any business or organization for that matter, still rests with the customer. Luckily at least a couple people in that industry still remember that fundamental concept. Coincidentally I was reading that article on a United flight from Chicago to San Francisco.
Gerrity, 46 and a pilot with United for 16 years, is one of several
commercial pilots who have taken it upon themselves to make flying more
enjoyable for passengers who often view air travel as a
less-than-pleasant means of getting from here to there.
Gerrity credits United colleague Capt. Denny Flanagan for his
inspiration. "I was a co-pilot with Denny 12 years ago, and he showed
me some neat things to do for the passengers that just end up making
everyone feel good. I jumped right on the bandwagon. It’s a matter of
treating people with the same kindness and respect that you would show
guests coming to your home."
So just who is this Flanagan fellow?
Flanagan, 57 and with United for 22 years, said he treats every
passenger as though the flight is his or her first. He has been known
to buy McDonald’s hamburgers for a planeload on long delays, call the
parents of unaccompanied children who are on his flights and go into
the cargo compartment of the aircraft and take photos of the pets there
to show their anxious owners that the critters are fine. He’s also
taken in-cabin pets outside for a quick potty break before the flight
On flight delays, Flanagan will make coffee in the airplane’s galley
and serve it to the passengers in the gate area, answering questions
and taking a bit of the sting out of the situation. "I lead by
example," said Flanagan. "I never ask the flight attendants to help me
do this, but invariably, by the time I’m on the third pot of coffee,
they’ll be out serving with me," said Flanagan.
That example creates a similar response from his customers.
Flanagan’s kindness and respect begets the same from his passengers.
"Things just sort of snowball," he said. "If we have soldiers
traveling, we’ll move them up to first class if we have room. And if
there isn’t space, I’ll get the gate agent’s permission to address the
passengers in the gate area and I’ll let them know that if there’s
anyone who would like to increase their travel experience today, if you
have a great seat and would like to exchange it with any of the members
of our armed forces traveling with us in appreciation for their
sacrifice and service, just walk over and change seats with them." Flanagan reports 100 percent participation.
Do you think those customers even think about complaining about the lack of pillows?
"On Capt. Flanagan’s flights, there is a 50 percent improvement in
customer satisfaction scores that specifically look at how likely
someone will fly United again," points out United spokeswoman Robin
All it takes is a little realization that the customers… are customers. The ones that pay the bills.