July 10th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

Air travel is notoriously awful. From overpriced on-board amenities to flight delays and cancellations, airline companies pride themselves on making customers miserable while they’re trapped inside a metal box in the air–or on the tarmac–for hours. In May, for example, on-time arrivals dropped from just over 79 percent to 76 percent and flight cancellations jumped from one percent, to almost two, USA Today reported this morning. Lost baggage claims grew as well, rising to 3.34 reports per 1,000 fliers, as compared to 2.96 during that month last year and the 2.92 reports per 1,000 fliers in April, USA Today reports. And, unsurprisingly, passenger complaints are up: in May, there were 1,280 complaints from disgruntled fliers, a 31.3 percent jump from last May and a 1.7% increase from April.

But, as it turns out, turning an air travel nightmare into a positive customer experiences isn’t that difficult when employees have the right mindset.

Earlier this week, passengers on a Frontier Airlines flight from Washington, D.C. to Denver was forced to “circle in western Nebraska” and eventually land in Wyoming because of bad weather conditions. Stuck on the runway for over an hour with some very frustrated passengers, the crew eventually ran out of on-board snacks and was getting desperate. So the captain took matters into his own hands.

According to some passenger accounts, Captain Gerhard Brandner made an announcement and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, Frontier Airlines is known for being one of the cheapest airlines in the U.S., but your captain is not cheap. I just ordered pizza for the entire plane.” Apparently, he ordered over 40 pizzas, with at least one pie per row of passengers. 

Sure, ordering pizza for angry passengers probably isn’t a part of Frontier Airlines’ customer service policy handbook, but who cares? Time and time again analysts agree that most of the time, it’s up to company executives to set up a culture in which employees have the authority and the initiative to do what it takes to delight customers, but it’s ultimately up to employees to deliver that satisfaction. Brandner made the right call here, and Frontier Airlines looks better for it. Cheap or not, that airline is getting something right–it’s instilling the kind of dedication and devotion to customer service that other airlines should strive to inspire among employees.

“If the need arises,” Brandner said later,  “you need to take care of your passengers. They are my responsibility the moment they step on the aircraft until they get off the aircraft.” That’s good customer service for you. 

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