airline
Passenger airliner flight in the blue sky

By Cliff Ennico

As a professional speaker, I spend a lot of time in airports.

Lately, I’ve been spending too much time in airports.

Because my clients are (how to say it gracefully?) cost conscious, they usually request that I fly coach on the cheapest airline I can find.

Which means that I find myself most of the time on one particular airline (which shall not be mentioned by name, because to be fair many airlines share the problems I’m about to describe).

Until this year, I never had too many complaints with this airline. You get what you pay for, and I wasn’t expecting luxury service.

But something happened this year. Not a single flight I took this year has been on time. Within the last three months:

  • My 3 p.m. flight was delayed until after midnight because the airline’s computers crashed, leaving thousands of passengers stranded nationwide (I was lucky – the flights after us were all cancelled and some people had to spend the night in the airport sleeping on their luggage);
  • My 1 p.m. flight was delayed because the incoming flight was delayed – when the plane finally arrived after 4 p.m., thunderstorms at NYC’s LaGuardia Airport (which you ALWAYS get at LaGuardia in the summertime) held the plane on the ground until the storms passed through and the air traffic controllers let in all the incoming flights that were low on fuel; and
  • My six hour 4 p.m. flight was delayed five hours: the weather was fine, the incoming connecting flight was on time, but the crew were on an incoming flight that left its departure destination on time but AFTER our flight was supposed to take off.

Okay, I totally get that passenger safety comes first, and even the best of airlines will be reluctant to take off during a bad thunderstorm, hurricane, tsunami or Zombie Apocalypse. As a business guru, I even understand that airline profit margins are being squeezed due to excessive competition and unionized workforces and, hey, you gotta make up the costs somewhere.

But major predictable and avoidable delays on three out of three flights chosen totally at random? Can anyone say “fundamental flaws in operations” or maybe “incompetence”?

I’m not looking to whine, complain or kvetch – although I really do wish they would print on all my tickets in large purple type “NATIONALLY SYNDICATED NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST AND BLOGGER: WILL WRITE OR POST A YOUTUBE VIDEO ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCE IF YOU GIVE HIM AN ULCER OR MAKE HIM LATE FOR HIS APPOINTMENT WHICH WILL CAUSE EMBARRASSMENT TO [NAME OF AIRLINE]”.

At the gate, an airline representative gave us updates every 15 to 30 minutes. But no apology for the delay. When we finally boarded the plane, the cabin stewards welcomed us aboard. But did not apologize for the delay. On the flight that was stuck on the airport tarmac, the pilot gave us frequent updates, and actually told us at one point we would be among the first flights to take off because “most of the other flights ran out of fuel and had to taxi back to the gate”. But he did not apologize.

On each flight, we did get an apology. Just one. At the end of each flight, right after the plane landed, the chief flight attendant got on the intercom and said “Welcome to [destination airport]. We apologize for the delay at [departure airport]. We know you have a choice in airlines, and thank you for flying [name of airline]. We look forward to seeing you again soon.”

That’s it. The same exact language each time, word for word.

When I first heard these obviously canned statements, I thought “oh boy, these problems are so commonplace that rather than try to fix them, they have standardized employee procedures and training programs to deal with them. This airline has given up on customer service.”

But then, after thinking a little more (I had plenty of time), I realized that what this airline was doing offers an excellent lesson for my readers.

Let’s face it: sometimes you don’t always give your customers what they deserve. You overcommit. You aren’t physically or mentally at your best. You let the nonsense get to you. Your computer is down. Your kid is sick. Whatever.

Of course, you should apologize humbly when you give bad service (arrogance and defensiveness never work). Give your customer a little something extra to show them how much you value their patronage. All the books tell you that.

But overdoing it when the you-know-what hits the fan is just as bad. Too much handwringing or breast-beating and your customers will find a way to make you feel better . . . by taking advantage of your guilty feelings and asking for discounts or free service that wipe out your profits.

When bad stuff happens, be contrite, make your apology quickly, sincerely and unemotionally. Then get on with business.

And, like this particular airline, make sure you’re extremely competitive so your customers have nowhere else to go.

Cliff Ennico (cennico@legalcareer.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2016 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.  Follow him at @cliffennico.