In case you’ve been in a coma this week, you already know that United Airlines has been having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week.
After the airline decided that $1,000 was the most it was willing to pay to get people to vacate their seats for needy crew members, it told passengers “the system” had “randomly” selected four people to vacate their paid-for and occupied seats. When one passenger refused to go, the airline turned to Chicago aviation police to negotiate matters on their behalf.
And here’s a fine point I think many people have missed. Up until a week ago, one could easily argue that the police were among one of the most hated groups in America. But this is how much people hate America’s airlines. They hate them so much, they hate them more than they hate the police.
And while United’s pilots union is now—five days later—actually trying to shift the blame for the incident to Aviation police (and other parties), America isn’t buying it. Of course, it also isn’t helping the airline’s image that its CEO, Oscar Munoz took three attempts to apologize.
And now anyone who’s ever flown United is dragging out their own horrible customer service woes, including the passenger who was threatened with handcuffs and the one who was bitten by a scorpion on recent flights.
And of course, other airlines are celebrating United’s misfortune with their own memes, tweets and videos.
Delta, clearly a master at the PR game, has announced that it is empowering gate agents to offer nearly $10,000 to encourage passengers to vacate their seats. Although earning $10,000 for your seat will almost likely never happen, because who is going to turn down $2,000 when we know the next guy will absolutely take it, the story is a skillful misdirect for an airline who had its own terrible weekend.
For those of you with very short short-term memories, on the same weekend Dr. Dao was being re-accommodated from a United flight, Delta inconvenienced thousand of its passengers and self-admittedly lost $125 million, after canceling 4,000 flights due to storms at its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Jointly, United’s and Delta’s woes also serve to remind the world just how horrible it is being an airline passenger.
We hate long security lines and bad airplane food and having to pay to sit with the people we are traveling with. We hate paying to check our bags and we hate that those bags get lost. We hate that we can’t trust our airlines, especially to us where we’re going on time.
And we really, really hate bad customer service.
We know that many of things we hate are never going to change. Flights will be delayed, bags will get lost and airlines will overbook planes. No matter how much media reports sing a different tune, these factors will always remain a part of flying.
But what can change, is how we are treated by the customer service people who represent these airlines.
Yes, we know that the airlines’ front line staff are quite possibly some of the most abused employees in America. They singlehandedly must bear the wrath of our hatred for all the injustices airlines pass along to us. They must deal with unrelenting anger and hostility and do it with a smile.
But sometimes some customer service is just really, really bad.
But every so often a story emerges that makes us realize, some customer service is really good. And this is important because it's often the smallest of favors performed by an airline employee that changes how we view the airline.
You may have missed the story of another United passenger, that also went viral this week. I Love Dogs.reported that Ashley Cervantes needed to fly her beloved pup Maya in the cargo hold. Maya is too big to fly in the cabin and since Cervantes was relocating from Texas to Hawaii, there were limited options in transporting the dog.
On the crate that carried her dog, Cervantes left a note: “I’m really nervous but extremely friendly! I’m a little unsure of my crate door, so please close it gently. Also, my mom is a nervous wreck, feel free to send her a text + let her know I’m okay.”
Much to her shock, on her stopover in Denver, Cervantes received a text from an airline employee who snapped a photo with Maya and sent a text back in the dog’s point of view.
“Hello mommy!” said the note. “This guy in Denver has a brindle Boxer named Chloe so he took good care of me during my stopover. He let me stretch my legs and gave me some fresh ice cold water! I am behaving like a great doggy should! I can’t wait until we are back together in Honolulu. Don’t worry for me mommy, I am traveling like a professional.”
With United being so busy putting out fires this week, this employee may never get his due. But the airlines of America may want to take notice. It is people like Chloe’s dad that remind us that no airline is completely evil. And as our passenger liberties and perks continue to dwindle, that distinction becomes more important than ever.