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#015: In the Sky

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On this episode of the UnPodcast, we talk all about airlines and how good or bad customer service can change the entire way we view an airline and whether or not we choose to fly on it. We also share some of our best and worst flight experiences.

Other topics include:

  • What it’s like to be  mistaken for Jesus
  • Our worst flight experiences EVER
  • Two ways of reacting and the impact of each
  • How travel presents ample opportunities to provide good customer service
  • Levels of outrage
  • How the way things are handled affects the way you view a brand
  • The worst apology a company can give
  • Why it’s never just one thing
  • How Delta has changed my perception of their brand
  • How to change an angry consumer to a content one
  • And so much more. . .


When you offend people directly, you also upset people who are offended indirectly.

Problems are unavoidable but communication is optional [Tweet This]

Items mentioned in this episode

Video provided by: AtomicSpark
Audio recorded by: Wayne Cochrane Sound

  • Brenda Kerber

    WestJet has always been great to me. My partner and I, due to some air miles restrictions, were scheduled on separate flights from Edmonton to Abbotsford. Mine was the earlier one. Because of that, my partner figured it was fine to just take his time getting out the door. We arrived at the airport 30 minutes before the flight. I jumped out of the car and ran to the check in. The attendant said the flight was closed but she would see what she could do. My partner ran up a minute or two later and I looked at him and said ‘I’m going to kill you.’. The attendant said ‘No, don’t kill him now, you don’t have time. I’m going to get you on this flight and then I’ll kill him for you.’ Then she said there was another seat open and she could get us both on. I told her I didn’t want to fly with him. She said not to worry, she would seat us apart from each other. She held the flight, got us both checked in and directed us to the quickest security line. Not only did she take care of a problem that was clearly not her issue and totally our fault, she knew how to keep me calmer during the whole thing.

    • That’s what I like to hear Brenda!

    • Going to redirect my entire services management class to this comment! Fantastic human replies that defuse a tense situation and turn it into a memory.

    • It’s so terrific when people are sensitive to strangers’ needs and circumstances, and behave appropriately. Good for her, and good for you! Thanks for sharing.

    • Kelley Skar

      I swear, I think WestJet has been watching what Air Canada has been doing for years and doing the exact opposite. Hence the excellent customer experience Westjet continually delivers! Great story 😉

    • Flies Too Much

      Glad to see this happens still. I’ve seen it happen with Air Canada too but it is rare.
      The fundamental problem is most airlines have structured their product such that good customer service like this is impossible as such good service in their mind is a “chargeable service”. When you “charge” for giving a certain service it is hard to call it going above and beyond. This is why all US Airlines are loathed.

    • Nikki

      I had a similar situation with JetBlue. I had a problem with security and then the person in the scan line in front of me held everybody up, so I was late to the gate. The plane was still there, but they said that once the door is closed, if they re-open it, they will be fined. I was nice and polite and in return, the agent was as well. She made a reservation for me to take the next flight in the morning.

      About 3 people came up after me, 10-15 minutes behind schedule and she wasn’t as nice to them and even charged them extra for the exchange to different flights.

      I don’t know what policy is and if she broke the policy for me and followed it to the letter for the others, but, the difference I could definitely see was that my attitude and approach was a lot softer than the others. When it’s your fault, you have an obligation to be as kind as possible to the person with the pen in their hand. The situation has a much higher chance of working in your favor if you do.

    • sarshiny

      Adore this story!

    • srubinovich

      What a great story! As I was reading it, I thought you were going to say that you got arrested at the airport for making a death threat. Good for the gate agent for knowing how to diffuse a bad situation and make it a great customer experience. She was obviously well-trained.

      I have a very positive Delta experience. We were flying back from West Palm Beach to Toronto, through Atlanta, which was a much cheaper flight (saved about $200 each) than the direct Air Canada flight. There were mechanical problems with the plane that delayed the 1st leg long enough that virtually everyone on the flight missed a connection.

      The magic was how Delta handled it – with transparency, compassion and understanding. They kept us up to date with PA announcements every 10-15 minutes, even if it was just to say that they didn’t know anything new. They opened the doors to circulate air and gave everyone free water and juice. And when it was clear that we were going to miss connections, they gave us the phone number to call to re-book.

      There was a later flight out of Atlanta that day, but it was booked solid. We absolutely needed to get back that night, for the 50th birthday party of a very close friend. Delta told us that we needed to speak to the gate agent. The flight crew let us off the plane, and the gate agent got us booked on the direct Air Canada flight, at no extra charge. Our luggage made it on to the same flight. And when we got on board, we found to our surprise that Delta had even purchased a meal combo for us for lunch!

      I defend Delta anytime I hear someone complain about them. But don’t get me started about US Air…

  • Harry Chamberlain

    Was thrilled when Episode 14 ended and my Podcast app started right into this episode. I didn’t even know it was out yet!

    The underlying theme that I have noticed, and I have a suspicion is going to be the focus of the new book, is that communication and caring is more important in customer relations than even satisfactory results, most of the time. As you stated, mistakes happen… things change… and most of us know this… but the ability of employees to communicate that and help clients/customers search for a solution together is better than empty apologies or even free stuff. Am I right?

    • Harry Chamberlain

      P.S. By the way, have you thought of doing any sort of webinars or online courses? I know you can’t stand people, but your style lends itself to teaching, and your material needs to be learned!

      • I’ve done my time in webinars 🙂 I prefer the real-live thing!

  • Matt Woodall

    I have yet to fly with Air Canada Rouge as they don’t fly out of Vancouver. It sure sounds like I haven’t missed anything. It’s quite sad that Canada’s flagship airline is often synonymous with poor service. Thankfully we have an airline like WestJet that not only strives to provide good service, but also demonstrates that they actually care. It’s tough to find companies that actually care. When I do it’s refreshing and provides an easy reason to keep using them. Hopefully someone high up at Air Canada will start listening to the UnPodcast.

    Keep up the good work Scott(Steve) and Allison! Love the show and can’t wait for the next episode.

  • BrigidGreene

    Okay, I super love the [Tweet This] thing. Opens in a new window and closes when you’re done. Who did this beautiful thing? Is there a name for this? I would like to replicate it (you know, copy it).

  • Michael Greer

    My wife was returning from her mom’s funeral in Winnipeg, who passed away 27 Dec 2013, a day after she arrived. Her mom always flew WestJet when she came to visit us in Victoria, & part of her travel tradition was to pass out chocolates to flight attendants and crew. My wife decided to honour her tradition by handing out the chocolates she had sent her for Christmas. Obviously, this caused her to be highly emotional while doing so, especially when describing why she was doing it to the flight attendant. The FA immediately consoled and offered her a seat in row 3 and provided her with snacks. The other FA’s continually came by to see if I was okay and see if I needed anything. Even the Captain made time and came out to check on me.

    What really really surprised her was the crew had alerted the connecting flight’s crew and they were already aware of her circumstance and she received the same courtesy and concern as the initial flight.

    Prior to departing from Winnipeg she called to inquire the status of her flights. At that time, she also inquired about bereavement flight reduction. When we initially booked the flight online we didn’t think about it because we’re so use to just going on to the WestJet site and booking the flight home for regular visits. And we were also surprised by the seat sales still available booking so close to the departure date and in the middle of the Christmas season. With such a good rate we didn’t think much else of it, but after everything settled we just wanted to check anyway. The agent she talked to said sometimes the seat sale prices might actually be less than what a Bereavement price may be, and that it’s best to call when booking type of flight for the best rate. Without even asking, she offered me $50 credit on my account for a future flight. It was there even before my flight departed later that day. Everyone truly went out of their way to make a big difference in my wifes trip. This may not sound like all that much to someone reading it, but it made all the difference to my wife traveling that day. Is it any wonder why we don’t even consider fly with anyone else?

  • Sylvie St-Amand

    I have never flown WestJet, but this definitely gives me incentive to try it. On the topic of Air Canada’s horrible consumer experiences, my husband has flown this airline before and wherever he’s going, he always seems to end up in Toronto as the flight is redirected. It’s become quite the joke in our entourage.
    He once had to stay in the airport for several hours at barely 13 degrees, having to spend the night on uncomfortable seats, also having to spend a few days (in Toronto) in a bad hotel with no heating. They have ‘given’ his seat by mistake to someone else, been totally rude, offered no help whatsoever in any of these situations, even telling him that if we was not happy, he could just go back home.
    Needless to say that Air Canada is not our carrier of choice, to the point where we were joking about avoiding any flights with this company for our honeymoon as we didn’t want to spend our first days as a married couple… in Toronto! This being said, I have nothing against Toronto – if that’s where I choose to go. 🙂 And their wearing fedoras won’t change my opinion much…
    So yes, absolutely, caring about your customers is really important and the way a brand treats people can really affect perception and not only in the short-term.

  • annhandley

    My good customer service airline story happened with JetBlue. When my ORD > BOS flight was delayed on a Friday evening, the Jet Blue gate agent set out free snacks and water right there on the gate, and then played *TRIVIA* over the PA system for 2 solid hours! She even handed out prizes to the winners of those cheap JetBlue headphones.

    Cost of headphones & snacks? Less than 10 bucks. Cost of turning a terrible situation so much better? Priceless.

    I wrote about the whole thing here, including how @jetBlue on Twitter got involved and ultimately how that Trivia-playing gate agent was recognized by the company, AND commented on my blog:

    (Sorry if the link seems douchey. But it’s too much to write here. And the experience really blew me away.)

  • Scott – Always enjoy the podcasts. You and Alison do a fabulous job and obviously have fun doing it. Much like Ann Handley said in her post, it seems the agents/staff members who make the best out of the difficult situations always seem to earn the biggest fans.

    I had an awesome experience with a gate agent in Columbus that insipired me to write this post and send it to the bosses at Delta, just so someone there would know what a great job Linda did representing their company.

  • Martin Hoffmann

    Loved this episode as it was so spot on: some weeks ago I just experienced something similar to your Air Canada Rouge experience; only that the airline managed to turn it into their favor by excelling at customer service.

    I booked a flight from Munich, to the NMX in Las Vegas with Lufthansa. United Airlines, Lufthansa’s partner airline, carried out the second part of the flight from SFO to LAS and back. When I wanted to check in for the return flight, the computer system just told me that they had booked me on a flight 4 (!) days later. After waiting for 45 minutes I finally could speak to some service personnel who had the charm of a DMV employee. He told me that they had cancelled the flight due to bad weather in the East and he booked me on a flight the next day. In a polite way I tried to find out why they had cancelled the flight (both Vegas and SFO had sunshine) and whether they would reimburse hotel costs. The conversation quickly came to a point where the person from United became so rude, that I did not dare to ask any further questions. Needless to say United did not reimburse anything. Other incidents happened as well, such as that the passengers were not able to leave the aircraft in SFO for 30 minutes, because the pilot had not parked it correctly and it had to be pushed back with the tractor. During that time the flight attendants made an announcement to „leave them alone as they could not do anything“. I don’t know what had happened, but this does not seem like an appropriate announcement to make to all passengers.

    Since I am usually very happy with the customer service of Lufthansa I sent them an email to inform them about the service quality of their partner airlines, without requesting any reimbursement. On the day I landed back in Munich, Lufthansa called me. They apologized on behalf of United Airlines and reimbursed my hotel and taxi cost on behalf of United. I was speechless and Lufthansa has won a loyal customer.

    I wish other airlines would act in a same way. As you say in your podcast, it did not bother me that a flight was cancelled, and that the pilot didn’t manage to park the plane correctly, that can happen, but it’s the way how United communicated with their customers, which seemed to be more arrogant than helping. Lufthansa on the other side didn’t do anything wrong, but they helped anyways.

  • Here in the UK the customer service you get from British Airways is really good, the flights are significantly more expensive but I always feel it’s worth it because it’s so much more enjoyable and markedly less stressful than their cheaper competitors!

    I hate to link spam but I just wrote a blog on Customer Service the 6 points I mentioned in it are so often missed by companies that just try to squeeze every penny out of their customers and therefore business is lost in the long term.