The Customer Service Survey

Phoning Home

by Peter Leppik on Thu, 2005-09-22 01:00
Northwest Airlines is the airline I love to hate. Living in the Minneapolis area, you are pretty much forced to fly Northwest if you want to get anywhere fast: the company controls something like 80% of the flights in and out of our fair city. But changes in the airline industry (among other forces) have lead to a long, slow decline in the level of service I have come to expect from the company. Right now the company is laboring under simultaneous bankruptcy and labor woes, though the planes are still in the air.

Last night I was flying home on Northwest from the ACCE conference when my flight was diverted to Sioux Falls, SD, due to nasty thunderstorms in the Twin Cities. There's nothing the airline or anyone else can do about this sort of event (at least I didn't wind up with a tree in my driveway, like one VocaLabs employee), and we'd already spent a half-hour in a holding pattern. As the old pilots' saying goes, "It's better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground."

So we landed a couple hundred miles from our destination, and the captain shut down the engines. Since this was to be a short refueling stop, we didn't taxi to a gate or open any doors (except for the forward galley door so the captain could sign the fuel slip), but we were allowed to stand up, move around the cabin, and use our cellphones.

"And," the lead flight attendant continued over the P.A., "if you need to call home and don't have a cellphone, come up front and you can borrow mine."

The flight attendants were at the end of an already longer-than-expected day, working for an airline which just declared bankruptcy last week. Earlier that same day, Northwest announced that 1,400 flight attendants would lose their jobs by the end of the year. Nobody would have been the slightest bit surprised if she had chosen to be grumpy. In fact, many of us have come to expect it.

But this one gesture made a surprisingly big difference. Instead of treating us like cattle (as we've come to expect), she showed that she cared about our problems as one human being to another. It also showed that she was on our side, not just another cog in the corporate machine to move us on and off airplanes as efficiently as possible (liberating as much of our money along the way as it can).

In the cabin, there was none of the usual grumbling that a two-hour diversion and delay would normally cause. Instead, comments were more along the lines of "Did you hear what the weather's like in Minneapolis? I'm sure glad we didn't fly into that."

When we finally landed in Minneapolis well after midnight, the captain came on the P.A. one last time to thank us all for flying Northwest. "I also want to thank you especially for the extraordinary patience and understanding you've shown with our delay this evening."

But the person he really should have thanked was the lead flight attendant, who went above and beyond the call of duty to make us feel like she cared.

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