Customer Service and Manners

CaptureGreetings from SFO Red Carpet Club.  There were days, pre-marriage and definitely pre-kids, when I enjoyed flying, whether for work or for leisure…   And the Star Alliance network, led by United Airline (now United Continental Holdings) provided the widest reach.  Fast forward a few years (after a couple of 200K+ annual air mile years and joining million miler club) and marriage and kids, I now fly only when needed and necessary.  So when I logged on almost 50K miles in the last 60 days (no I am not trying to reach 2MM miler club), it was like learning a new trick all over again.  Here’s what I’ve learned…

  • Automatic Premier Gold status for million-miler does not get you whole lot, except for premier check-in line.  No wonder while back, a United million-miler sued the airline for breach of contract (before the merger, million lifetime miles got you premier executive, not premier gold status).  I feel like I’m treated better by Star Alliance member airlines when I am traveling abroad that United, which I have most loyalty to.
  • US flight attendants really do need a lesson in customer service.  Just because you start the sentence with either sir or ma’am that does not excuse rest of the sentence / paragraph that comes out of your mouth.  Specifically, a couple of flight attendants in my recent flight from ORD to SFO were behaving like two frat boys at division II schools.  It was embarrassing…
  • My recent flights on KAL, Singapore and Asiana served to only affirm my view.  Of particular note, I caught an Asiana flight attendant cleaning the lavatories during downtime so that the customers can have more pleasant flying experience.  25+ years of flying domestic airlines, I’ve never seen any domestic flight attendant do the same.

I can certainly empathize with tight margins and cut-throat environment that depicts the airline industry (I was an early guy at Orbitz so I do have some insight).  But it just seems like many US flight attendants, especially those with senority, have given up and are just going through the motions and are waiting for retirement (with apologies to those flight attendants who care and bust their butts to do their job right)…  Much like networking, customer service is just good humanity.  It has to be something you want to do and take pride in.  So what’s my solution?  Depressed million miler benefit combined with poor customer service, I don’t have much choice except to fly Star Alliance network airlines instead of United on international flights.  Then again I do have 500K miles on American…  Perhaps time to try a different domestic airline?

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About Richard Lee
Experienced finance and operations professional. Currently partner in five companies, adjunct professor of economics at Columbia College and executive contributor to a small business blog (www.SMBmatters.com); following corporate finance, M&A and management consulting tenures with Orbitz and Diamond Technology Partners; and six years of service with the United States Army.

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