Simple Customer Service

Part of my amusement about frequent flyer status is that I've spent an entire work day stuck in airports, and it's only Wednesday. Monday had me in the nation's capital for a conference on multi-level security, with thunderstorms in both DC and Newark setting back my return by 4 hours. Last night was a trip home from Boston, delayed another half-day by weather, mechanical problems, a tractor stuck at the gate in Newark, and air traffic control.

Many of the problems I experienced in Boston were due to bad communications; the inbound flight was delayed due to weather, but then the engineering crew didn't set an expectation with the airline about when the plane would be ready for departure. As a result, we watched the estimated boarding time slip 15 minutes at a time for well over an hour, like someone hitting the snooze button from ramp control. Tell your customers what's going on, set expectations for when a decision can be made, and what you'll do if the decision isn't the one they were expecting, and you'll have happy customers. Simple information makes people feel empowered; take away the information and you treat your customers as if they're your property. Ignore problems, ignore the grumbling, and anticipate a single (and possibly unlikely) outcome, and your customers read between the lines.

Half of the people on both my Washington and Boston flights were making connections in Newark. Continental has moved all of its short-haul flights into lovely Newark Terminal A, while the longer-haul and hub flights use the new, Dunkin Donuts equipped, dual-Presidents Club Terminal C. They've spun up a shuttle bus that takes people from the A-gates to the C-gates, eliminating the need to exit, take the airport train two terminals, re-enter through the security checkpoint, and then run through another terminal. At the hour my flights were arriving, the shuttle bus wasn't running, and dozens of customers were looking at missing 8-to-10 hour flights because a 45-minute flight was delayed.

Continental did the right thing: they brought our flights right into Terminal C, close to where the widebodies were parked, so that every passenger had a chance to make connections. I was the one taking the train back to my car, but I'm glad that the connecting passengers were vectored to vacations and business trips without infrastructure limits adding Jersey insult to weather injury. Each passenger who wakes up from a trans-Atlantic nap today will remember that Continental took a simple step to fulfill their obligation to customer service, and will likely be more loyal because of the experience.


If you are going to Boston or DC from NJ I'd highly recommend using Amtrak. The mild difference in travel time is more than made up by the to and from airport gymnastics one has to do. On top of that you're probably be much closer to your final destination, get a far more comfortable ride, AC power at a table, a food car, and if you have a EVDO or UMTS card you'll have decent speed net access the entire time. For these short hauls I'll never fly them again...

Posted by Wayne Abbott on June 21, 2006 at 08:17 AM EDT #

At a time when Sun is: A) Tightening its financial belt \*AND\* B) claiming more and more about all this supposed stuff we can do over the network, I find it interesting to read blogs of Sun's middle-management who can't seem to get enough of themselves and their frequent flier status, because they fly Oh So Much.

Posted by Larry Kellner on June 21, 2006 at 01:36 PM EDT #

You're missing the point, Larry. The reason for all the flying is almost certainly that Sun's upper and upper-middle management are spending the bulk of their time selling. And whatever else you might try do over the network (n.b. NSFW), selling remains a face-to-face activity.

Posted by Geoff Arnold on June 21, 2006 at 03:16 PM EDT #

If it were the real Larry Kellner (CEO of Continental Airlines), he would have recognized the compliments and probably also separated the serious from the intended humorous posts. My frequent flyer status is a by-product of going to where the customers, conferences, and employees are. I was merely poking fun at those of us (myself included) who engage in the airborne equivalent of leet-speak.

Posted by Hal Stern on June 21, 2006 at 03:30 PM EDT #

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