From the desk of… Aviation expert: Jet airplane service isn’t the joy it used to be

“Airline customer service: I was seeking mercy, only to have it sent to me in reverse.” That was the headline of my April 11 editorial. I’ve since been assured by some air carriers that…

From the desk of... Aviation expert: Jet airplane service isn't the joy it used to be

“Airline customer service: I was seeking mercy, only to have it sent to me in reverse.”

That was the headline of my April 11 editorial.

I’ve since been assured by some air carriers that they did have new processes in place to prevent this practice. But the comment that they had put procedures in place came, in part, on the heels of my story.

And still, it seems that maybe new processes, or what’s considered good customer service, simply isn’t enough.

As Americans see air travel slowly creep out of the business under the ever-rising costs of it all, one of our major institutions is at the very heart of it all getting worse.

The fallout is real for the 160 million passengers who use these carriers each year. And that’s assuming that service is there at all. There is an ever-increasing amount of us who simply don’t experience the required treatment — resulting in a high — not just a disappointing — level of service, it’s a failure of critical mass.

I think that’s worth underlining because what most people fail to realize is that the worse an airline experience is, the fewer passengers want to experience it. If service is that bad, even paying a premium might be difficult, given the possibilities.

“’If you’re (stuck on a plane) they don’t make much money,’” wrote aviation expert, J. Robert Hughes, of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. He adds that carriers work to make passengers happy, but they will not continue to lose money.

On Monday, the world released the latest data on air safety. And, good news, it fell.

A new global safety ranking by aviation analysts Skytrax ranked United Airlines as the best of the 129 airlines, an improvement over last year. It also raised Boeing’s rating — allowing it to again gain the coveted Triple Crown Award. The annual awards are given to those three airlines because the airlines consistently deliver top flight service, quality aircraft and product, and excellence in safety.

Still, some comScore reports say that after four years in the top three best air carriers, American Airlines slipped this year to fourth best from a year ago.

“At the highest levels, airlines including American have produced the worst on-time performance and worst on-board climate scores for the past four years,” said Skytrax in a release.

“The reality is, US airlines put a high value on the sentiment expressed by their passengers. “They know that a satisfied passenger has a higher likelihood of recommending the brand to their friends and followers,” said Paul Hayes, Skytrax director of air transport.

Or as E. Anders Kristiansen put it: “Being on time is good, but being on time in the right location is good for more than just on-time. Being on time, for me, is something that does bring more satisfaction to the traveler.”

So, the latest Skytrax rankings confirm that air travel isn’t a smooth ride. There is an awful lot of folks stuck on board in some of the worst, more unpleasant air travel situations you can imagine.

And that’s true whether it’s a drunk or belligerent passenger on board, if a plane simply sits on the tarmac without ever leaving it, or when a passenger with a gun on board tries to steal one.

Which brings us back to me and my friend. I’m sure they’re never going to care that I berated them. A message that might have been harsh and harsh-tempered to the point of being an inconvenience to them may have been a necessary punishment for me in the service sector.

But maybe it wasn’t necessary for them. Maybe maybe they deserve better. Maybe they have human beings behind them in the flight crew that could have been replaced.

But the reality of it all is that maybe they don’t.

Airline passenger satisfaction this month, according to a study by American Express that is tracking trends for more than six years, is down about 3 percent — the first drop in a decade.

The airlines would rather make money by cramming their passengers in the car than by providing them with the comfort and transportation they expect. Their customer service that is truly delivering service that’s both helpful and pleasant.

My observation to anyone flying this Memorial Day weekend: Please put down your fanny pack.

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