Keeping The Friendly Skies Friendly

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The holiday season is one of the busiest travel times of the year.  Even though travel was down this past Thanksgiving, predicted that over 43 million people would be traveling to visit family and friends for the holiday.   The highways experience gridlock, and air travel is a nightmare.  Even with online ticketing and check in, air travel isn’t what it used to be.

Customer service delivery has changed with more and more products and services moving online.  Not all change is welcome.  In fact, for some industries, customers long for a level of service long past.  The airline industry is a good example. 

Time was when flying the friendly skies were a lot friendlier.  Stewardesses instead of flight attendants delivered outstanding customer service with a smile.  A Business Insider article noted several ways airline customer service was better back in the “old days.”   A look back can reveal some valuable lessons about what customers want and how taking back some old customer service practices can make customers happy again.

First of all, there was no airport security.  Whether good or bad, it made travel a lot more convenient.  No barriers meant no one was barred from walking right up to the gate.  Families seeing off a loved one could walk all the way to the plane with them and kiss them goodbye with a gentle hug.  Now, families have to say goodbye just short of the airport security checkpoint, often leaving the passenger sitting alone while waiting for departure. 

On a holiday weekend, it can take minutes, even hours to get through the various airport security checkpoints.  Customers don’t like barriers or waiting.  Customers like to walk right up and get what they want.  No waiting.

Airport seats used to be wide and comfy.  Now, passengers are squeezed into tight spaces.  If you want a comfortable, roomy seat with plenty of leg room, you have to pay a premium for First or Business Class. Or, you can get a few extra inches with Economy Comfort, a new promotion to help coach passengers feel more comfortable—for a price.  Customers like comfort, and don’t like to be categorized into classes to get the service they feel they are entitled to. 

A meal on an airplane was more than a hot pocket in a box or bag of peanuts.  Every class of passenger seating had a full meal, for free.  Tablecloths on the tray tables.  No plastic forks and knives or cups and plates.  You were served your choice of entree (usually from three selections) on real plates.   Customers like the little extras without having to pay a premium.  Surprise your customers with a little extra and they’ll return again and again.

Today, if you want to take a nap on an airplane in a reclined seat, you have to pay thousands of dollars for Business or First Class.  In the 1950’s, coach seats reclined, and you could actually get a sleeper seat with privacy curtains. 

Some things that disappeared are best left behind.  Smoking was allowed on planes, and later a smoking section was set aside to separate smokers and their smoke from the rest of the passengers.  There wasn’t much to do on the plane except sleep and talk to your seatmates.  Today’s customers need electronics to keep them occupied, and that’s a good thing.  Customers’ tastes change and customer service agents have to listen to the customer needs and give them what they want.

The best part of airline travel was things were free.  Now, customers pay for meals, checked bags, earphones, snacks and drinks.  In some classes, customers pay for WiFi access, movies and even reserved seating.   While things may never be free again, the service that was so well known comes with a price tag. 

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