Putting an Airline’s Customer Experience to the Test

Posted by Rox Burkey on Feb 12, 2019 10:00:00 AM

As a customer experience professional, I find myself more attuned to experiences I receive as a consumer. One of my favorite stories, which occurred to me and 200 of my now-closest friends, involves airline travel. Traveling today can be filled with a number of pitfalls: everything from weather, overbooking issues, and poor communications to outdated tools left in the hands of inexperienced gate agents. My experience unfortunately brought all of these elements together for the perfect storm in passenger delay.

It was a dreary, blustery day in Denver, and many of the inbound flights were coming from stormy ports, resulting in aircraft delays. My flight was one of three outbound flights to the same destination that were waiting on aircraft, with delay times being reposted simultaneously. As a result, 100+ smart devices were pinging to alert passengers of the same information. All these flights had their expected departing times modified more than once. None of the three planes were at their gates, which were fairly close to one another. My flight had the latest original departing time of the three and had flipped to TBD instead of a new time. The airline had 600 passengers who were growing crankier by the minute.

If the gate agents were thinking of their customers, they could have ordered snacks and water to the area for passengers as a show of good faith. You guessed it—they didn’t think of that. Several savvy travelers began blowing up Twitter with the flight numbers and delays, which must have reminded the airline of the importance of customer experience. Within eight minutes of that campaign, water and snacks arrived. Unfortunately, because the gate agents were not told about the refreshment process, they announced that the items were not for the passengers. These items were feet away from the growing line of frustrated passengers who were trying to alter their travel plans that involved connecting flights. I am still uncertain who they might have thought the snacks were for, but oh well.

Connecting passengers could be at the airport or inbound from someplace else. You just never know. The trick of course is for the stars to align to get everyone in their seats. Admittedly, this particular scenario was a nightmare I’m sure the agents shudder from thinking about. The middle flight had cancelled its inbound flight and the airline was desperately seeking equipment. The agents began in earnest to rebook passengers to other airlines in their partnership or voucher passengers to stay the night and take a flight out the next day. If one thinks of the expense of overnighting an entire passenger list on a plane for one flight, management might afford additional help, training, or tools. The “rob Peter to pay Paul” rules were in play on this day.

The agents had almost completed moving the passengers one way or another when the inbound flight showed up at the gate. No kidding—you can’t make this stuff up. At that point, the crew for the flight I was on was unable to continue to my flight, so the airline was hunting for a crew. I received this information when I called the contact center, as did my fellow app users. Many of the passengers were in line to determine connections or overnight stays in the next airport for morning flights to their next destinations. All of this was done with no announcements by the gate agents, which made tempers flare.

The cherry on top was when they canceled my flight and yet it was still on the board for 20 minutes before one passenger told the agents.

This situation could have been improved with better collaboration between the workers, improved mobile application integration, and up-to-date tools for the agents. These are the types of experiences you should avoid at all costs—because people won’t hesitate to share them.

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Topics: Customer Experience