Come Fly The Friendly Skies
I have always been motivated by airlines. They so often treat their customers horribly, under the guise of “safety first”. I’ve been the recipient of that treatment perhaps more than my fair share, most likely because when something I’m instructed to do doesn’t make sense, I tend to push back. I always used the shoddy customers service of airlines as a reminder of how Boloco could differentiate from others… it may be hard to believe, but back in the 90’s this kind of customer management was prevalent in many restaurants too.
David Dao, the passenger so publicly dragged out of the United flight last Sunday, may turn out to be the hero who changed this culture once and for all. But so far, little has changed.
Yesterday I flew United from Phoenix to Newark and then Newark to Manchester. I was curious what, if anything, would be different in how I felt as a passenger.
In the ticketing area, which I breezed through having checked in on-line, it was business as usual.
United has nothing to do with TSA, I don’t think. Business as usual. Pre-check saved me 15-20 minutes. Amazing.
At the gate, all I could hear was the familiar female voice reminding us repeatedly about the severe consequences of leaving a bag unattended. “Your bag will be confiscated, damaged or destroyed, your bag will be confiscated, damaged or destroyed”. Got it.
On board the Phoenix- Newark flight, a surly flight attendant asked me if I would like a snack, and I asked her what was available. I was ok with her being surly, but a little surprised by it. I just expected maybe they’d take the personal initiative to choose “other than surly”. This professional was clearly having a day destined for mediocrity.
“Have you not looked at your menu?” she asked. I had not realized there was a menu. She grabbed the aisle passenger’s United magazine and started flipping through pages with an increasingly perplexed look – it wasn’t that easy to find after all. Finally, after at least 45 seconds, as more neighboring eyeballs began to wander in our direction, she handed it to me open and vaguely pointed at the two facing pages. There were no less than 12 options on those two pages. “Impressive!”, I thought.
“Can I get anything I want?” I asked.
“No, you can either order the fruit plate or the sandwich”, she impatiently responded.
“Why didn’t you just say that in the first place??” I asked myself, without uttering the actual words.
I ordered the fruit plate and went back to my own business… letting it all go (at age 47, this is so much easier to do than it was at 35, where I would have asked her why she was giving me such a hard time).
The next flight to Manchester was more interesting.
I had again paid up for Economy Dis-Comfort (although on this particular aircraft it really was comfortable) and only one row separated me from First Class. As I boarded I noticed those front 6 seats were all empty which was strange since no offers for upgrades had been made on check-in or at the gate as I’ve seen many times in the past.
It didn’t take long to find out why.
One by one, United crew and pilots entered the plane and parked themselves in those coveted seats. When a few maintenance employees entered and headed towards their assigned seats in back (“by the bathroom”, I heard one lament) they were quickly encouraged to stop and turn around and take one of the open Economy Comfort seats. They did without hesitation.
Each of the pilots and crew seated in first class were then offered large bottles of water as was the maintenance individual seated across the aisle from me. None of the paying passengers were offered anything.
I’m sure this is “standard procedure” for United and many other airlines… but it sure did seem like a questionable strategy given all the attention on how poorly United treats its customers.
I keep wondering… what if at Boloco we asked, and then forced, for instance, our guests to get up from their seats to allow myself or our teams to eat their lunches during their break? What if we served our employees at their table but refused to do so for our guests, citing company policy as the reason?
A lot of social media commentary has focused on David Dao simply not doing what he was told. He should have known better, they say. And yes, he’s guilty as hell of not doing what he was told. But many of us who expect to be treated with respect by companies and individuals and believe in certain customer “rights” would have been guilty too. Who knows how I would have reacted had I been in that position? (I’d be writing this from behind bars more than likely).
Will United and other airlines change their ways? Will David Dao be a hero? Or should he have simply done what he was told?