There Is An Airline Doing It Right!

PorterThis post is in praise of airline customer service and an overall EXCELLENT air travel experience.  Yes, really.  A positive one.

A few weeks ago my husband and I were looking for an easy, seamless ski vacation that didn’t involve driving 8 hours to Vermont or flying out west and battling the altitude, the time change and a cross-country flight.  We decided on the ski resort Mont Tremblant which looked to be just the right fit for us, but what sealed the deal was that a small Canadian airline called Porter flew direct between Newark and the local Tremblant International airport.  I liked their tagline, “Flying Refined,” and the price was comparable to other commercial airlines, so we pulled the trigger.

I have never had a more pleasurable flying experience.

Porter flights don’t have a business or first-class section, which means no priority boarding (unless you are infirm or travelling with small kids) and their in-airport customer lounges are open to all customers.  Here you can relax with FREE wifi, a bottle of water, some yummy snacks and even make yourself a coffee, cappuccino or espresso – in a real cup.  Like in Italy.  My husband and I slugged two each before hopping on board.

Once airborne, we had a very short flight to Tremblant (1:10), except that we had to take three approaches to land in what looked like a shoveled driveway in the middle of the snowy wilderness.  (Pretty standard for the more remote airports in Quebec, or so I’ve been told.)  After each of two failed attempts to land, there was a brief announcement from the pilot about visibility and then the stewardess came down the aisle with additional information, including a contingency plan to go to another airport should visibility not improve.  We all felt informed and even the nervous fliers on board weren’t alarmed because we knew exactly what was going on.  Very civilized.

Fortunately, the third time was the charm and we landed easily on our final approach, hopped a shuttle to the resort and had a great vacation.  But then, another inevitable polar vortex of weather was threatening to hit Newark airport on Sunday, so we made the decision to try and get on an earlier flight home, just in case.

When placing the call early Sunday morning, I steeled myself for a long wait, inevitable extra charges and possibly a flat out “no.”  I mean, this was a small airline with limited flights.  After approximately 8 minutes we were booked on a new flight with a short layover in Toronto – no extra charges, no drama.  The nice Canadian lady even apologized that our trip would be cut short by a few hours.  (Really?)

I’m not a fan of layovers, but Porter flies out of Billy Bishop International Airport in downtown Toronto (with regular shuttles to downtown Toronto, which is just a few hundred yards across the water) and is the only airline to use that airport, making international transfers as easy as walking down the hallway.  This also means that the whole airport is actually a Porter lounge, including a huge business center with computers, free wifi and an even nicer snack spread than Newark.  Porter is currently petitioning to have an ultra-quiet jet approved for landing at Billy Bishop (they currently fly only prop planes), which would allow the airline to fly to further destinations, including the Caribbean.  My fingers are crossed that this will go through – and that they will stop in Newark along the way…

I know it may seem silly that I was so floored by Porter’s cute lounges, good customer service and seamless flying experience.  I’m also not alone in recognizing that Porter is kicking butt in the airline space – they were awarded best small airline in the world according to Condé Nast Traveler’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards.

The thing is, flying has become torture for all of us in recent years, so when things go RIGHT, it feels like being given a gift.  This is a sad state of affairs, but it’s also an opportunity for airlines – should they deign to care about their silly customers – to set themselves apart from the pack with small, yet very important details.  Porter has certainly done that in spades.

Oh – and onboard snacks and wine were free…  What’s better than that?

I admit I am a sucker for every points and gold club out there.  From my United Airlines status to the Starwood Preferred Points to Hertz Gold, I am constantly chasing the perks where I can get them, I mean who wouldn’t.  But this past Friday, an unexpected perk (potentially not eveimagen tied to my membership) totally surprised me AND made me a Hertz renter for life.

Here is the story.  Twenty minutes till flight leaves Dallas Fort Worth, just spent 90 minutes on a 20 minute drive due to an accident on the highway, and pull up into a huge line at Hertz Returns.  Sounds pretty bleak, right?  Well not that day (thanks girl at DFW Hertz).  When I pulled up my boss and I told the woman directing cars that we were potentially going to miss our flights.  She sprung into action, telling us to not even take our bags out of the trunk and to get back in the car; she would drive us to our gates. Unexpected and unbelievable. And we both made out flights thanks to Hertz.

When I dug further I found that this practice is a Hertz commitment and something that is not advertised but communicated as needed.  I guess people would take advantage if it was common practice.  But last Friday, when I needed it most, it was truly a brand practice that was all about me.

By Sarah Sanzari

As I prepare to embark on a two-week European adventure, there is still one part of the trip that I am dreading – the eight hour flight.  Cramped spaces, crying babies, and security lines are not my idea of a good time.  Luckily, I have pulled together a guide with some great, and wacky, inventions to help ease the pain of flying.

If you’re worried about the latest in x-ray technology you can purchase flying pasties which protect you from TSA’s eyes.  The orange pasties include the slogan “Only my husband sees me naked,” and can be purchased for about $15.

Once you make it past security you have to deal with the flight.  A must-have is Bose noise cancelling headphones, no more crying baby or chain-saw like snoring from my seatmate.  Of course, don’t forget to bring your iPod along for the flight as well.

Tired of having your space infringed on? Get the Knee Guard which prevents the person in front of you from reclining.  You might have to deal with an angry passenger but that’s ok because you can just put on your Privacy Scarf. The scarf envelopes your head and laptop so people can’t creep on you while doing work or taking a nap.

Now that I have packed all the essentials, I’m ready! Will you be taking any of these gadgets with you on your next flight?

 

It’s been awhile since my last blog but travel tends to inspire me to write, or maybe it’s just the ridiculous things that occur when on the road.  Last week, several colleagues and I flew to Chicago for a meeting.  I am typically a United (formerly Continental) gal but someone in the group (read: the boss) is none too pleased with United since the merger so we flew American. I was more than happy to go along for the ride particularly since the cost for a first class seat was marginally more expensive than a coach fare.  The trip out was uneventful although first class was lacking.  The trip home, however, was another story altogether.

Our meetings concluded a bit early so we bolted for the airport in hopes that we could hop on an earlier flight. During our two hour drive, a few back in the office were kind enough to help us research and rebook on an earlier flight. All was well or so we thought.  Upon arrival and check-in we learned that we were not only no longer in first class (allegedly there were no seats available which we later learned was untrue) but that we now owed American $300 EACH to move back to coach.  Wait, it gets better. Our esteemed colleague who had purchased an economy fare checked in and was upgraded and received a refund of $10 on his original ticket.  WHAT!?!?  In what universe does this make sense?

Now, I have absolutely no problem flying economy, in fact, 9 out 10 times, that’s where I am seated. The premium security access is what I am after.  American had no explanation for this except for “It’s how you booked. We don’t know why but we can’t help you.”  Well, American, the customer experience here was in no way “first class” but did have one redeeming quality. Gwen at the First Class ticketing counter at least attempted to assist us and ensured me that although we had now paid a small fortune to be downgraded we could enter through  premium security. Thank you, Gwen!  I will be flying United for the foreseeable future.  It’s not perfect but at least they make sense.

As a PR practitioner and a consumer, I have had the opportunity to experience customer service issues from both sides of the fence. What I’ve seen over the past few years is a major shift in the ways people complain and the ways brands respond, particularly through social media. Rather than sitting on the customer service 1-800 line, customers are taking to Twitter, Facebook or other online platforms to make their dissatisfaction known. In return, brands jump through hoops to quiet the complaints by hitting them with discounts, coupons or other incentives. In the words of JetBlue’s Morgan Johnston, “It’s like playing customer service Whack-a-Mole.”

When dealing with a stressful issue – like a broken oven hours before a dinner party or a delayed flight when trying to make a business meeting — it is easy to turn to your smart phone to send a tweet demanding an immediate response and solution. It’s human nature to vent, but social media has made it easy to turn your complaint into an announcement through a bull horn.

On the other hand, brands often have communications or marketing professionals manning the social media channels. These folks are sometimes unequipped to provide immediate help depending on the complaint. To appease the customer in the meantime, brands dole out coupon codes or a special perk in hopes of quieting the complaints or, better yet, generating a positive response from the customer to their followers and friends.

Brands have set the expectation for consumers who now think that if they shout the loudest online, they will receive extra special treatment. The problem here is twofold. First, brands have forgotten that the customer doesn’t distinguish the marketing department from the customer service department from the CEO. When they engage with a brand either in store, through the customer service line or the Twitter account, they see a singular entity. Second, some brands have lost sight of the fact that they must treat the illness not the symptom. Organizations need to track customer service issues, no matter if they come from in-store, call centers, social media or otherwise, and make an effort to correct issues internally. This will ensure far fewer complaints overall because the root of the problem will no longer be an issue.

It is essential for brands and organizations to keep their audiences’ experience in mind when engaging with them online. When customer service issues arise, make sure that you are asking the right questions to gather as much information as possible and let the individual know that they are being taken care of. Have a solid communications policy and process in place for circulating customer service issues internally. When possible, provide status updates; this can help curb any follow-up questions and will show how the brand is a valuable resource. Ultimately, both brands and consumers will need to rethink the role of social media in the customer service process.

Last week I traveled to a small town in Tennessee.  The easiest way to get there was to fly into Atlanta and drive two and a half hours. Fun right?  On the night we were to fly home  home, we were delayed departing said small town
and had to stay overnight at a hotel close to the airport in Atlanta.  My only request?  That we stay at a “real” hotel.  By real hotel, I mean a hotel with dining and imbibing options that extend beyond powdered continental breakfast eggs and vending machines.  Someone back in the office booked us into the Hyatt which was much appreciated.  I was thrilled – until we pulled up and saw that this was a Hyatt Place. Now, I do not have anything against convenient and affordable options a la Holiday Inn Express and Comfort Suites but it had been a long two days and I was looking forward to a decent meal and a glass or two of drinkable vino.  Well imagine my delight when I walked into a shockingly stylish lobby which boasted 24 hour food options and a small bar. Who knew? Someone apparently did because the place was packed and a post stay search revealed that Hyatt Place boasts more than 58,000 likes on Facebook.

Perhaps I just haven’t noticed the marketing associated with Hyatt Place before, but I was not only satisfied with what I found, but feel that the brand’s messaging was spot on – Welcome to a different place. Because you deserve to have access to everything you need 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The café’s signage and menus catered to the business traveler touting that just because you arrive and depart at off-peak hours you don’t have to eat chips from the vending machine, dream about a cold beer or wait until you arrive at the airport for a hot cup of coffee on your way to a 6am flight.

Keep up the good work, Hyatt Place – I will be back!  Two suggestions:

  1. While the front desk/wait staff are personable and efficient, managing front desk duties, take-out orders and the bar can be challenging and somewhat frustrating for bar/café patrons.  Give these guys some help!
  2. Continue to differentiate yourselves from the pack with great amenities, stylish surroundings and your marketing communications. As a frequent business traveler, I was unaware of what was available to me and wrongly assumed you were just like everyone else.

Nothing beats a place where you walk in and everyone yells NORM, or in this case Maggie. But as corner bars have proliferated into chain bars every ½ mile, and half of retail therapy is done online, is it possible for any bar or brand to keep up with that kind of consumer focus?

It all boils down to the person behind the bar – both literally and figuratively. Just last week I was passing through Vino Vento (a nice stop near Gate 72 at Newark Airport). The place was its usual packed annoyance and I muscled into a bar seat just before a [pack of six showed up. Security had been a disaster and I was at the end of my rope when the bartender handed me a menu and said, “Hi. Haven’t seen you in a bit. Sauvignon Blanc? And did you get your hair cut since you went to Dublin?” I almost passed out. In a place that has very few “Norms,” this bartender remembered critical aspects of me as a customer that quickly alleviated all my frustrations and reminded me why I liked this place over the other choices in the terminal.

Now I know this is not always possible, and it may have been the wine talking, but there was something special about it. Customer relevance when promoting big brands or small still has to strive for the corner bar “Norm” feeling. If every CEO, marketing director, etc. could take a cue from Amy at Vino Vento, making consumers feel special may be easier than they think. Amy (1) listened to me last time I was in, and I mean really listened. Some brands use metrics to measure their customers rather than actually putting themselves in their customers’ shoes and experience the brand first hand. (2) She paid attention because I was a repeat customer. Brands need to look at the folks who keep coming back to their branded and identify why. Engage these people as brand ambassadors and they will spread the word. And (3) she knew my drink. Not always applicable outside of a bar, but hey it always helps.

I’ll be back to Vino Vento for sure, and will spread the word to everyone. Can you say that about your brand?

Contributed by RepMan – http://www.repmanblog.com/

I’m not sure why every new parent in the world feels compelled to show off her son or daughter, but they do. They must. It’s been mandated by someone or something on high. It’s also been mandated that we must respond with an “Oh, how gorgeous, little Alex is! He has your eyes!”  

 Also, ALL new moms feel compelled to bring their infants and toddlers to their erstwhile place of work. Why? Beats me.

But, in the spirit of About You, I think it’s important for new parents – and especially you moms out there – know that many men (and, I suspect, some women), simply aren’t that interested in meeting your newborns. I know it’s heresy to say, but there it is.

Don’t get me wrong. Dads love kids. I love mine. But, most of us just don’t love everyone else’s kids. It may be a gender thing, but I’m reminded of the classic Seinfeld episode in which Jerry, Kramer, Elaine and George are introduced to what is obviously one very ugly baby. Kramer’s non-verbal reaction is just classic. As is Elaine’s ‘The dingo ate your baby’ comment. Trust me, ladies. There are lots of ugly kids out there and we guys don’t like to have them shoved in our face.

The same holds true for kids on planes. Ever notice how parents expect their fellow passengers to think their screaming, kicking and vomiting kids are just absolutely adorable? Well, guess what? They’re not. Nor are the toddlers who run pell-mell up and down the aisle. If it were up to me, moms and dads with infants and toddlers would be roped off in special sections of the plane (preferably as far away from this guest blogger as possible).

Lest you think me some sort of latter-day Ebenezer Scrooge, though, let me tell parents everywhere that I absolutely adore meeting your dogs. I love any and all canines. Big ones. Small ones. Ugly ones. It doesn’t matter. I can even warm up to a cat. But, getting back to the human side of the story, please don’t shove your newborn in my face and expect me to fawn all over little Eddie or Kirstin. Because while this post may seem all about me, it’s not.  And when it comes to your kids, it’s so not about you.

My name is Rebecca and I have an obsession with frequent flier programs. Yes, I admit it: I have a problem. Call it what you will – a passion, an addiction – it’s the only way to fly. I am enrolled in at least eight different programs and refuse to fly unless I’m a recognized loyalty member. And let’s be honest: it’s (sadly) not really about the loyalty of it all. It’s about the points. Correction: it’s about the game you play to get those points, which leads to status and the eternal promise of free flights.

A recent article in USA Today asks if frequent flier programs are losing their luster. As if the airlines don’t have enough problems, here comes more bad publicity. Turns out some folks are bothered by the fact that most airlines allow consumers to earn points not by flying, but by making purchases on a shiny, airline-branded credit card. Oh, the horror of it all. Me, I’m fine with that policy. I recently redeemed miles on US Airways to fly to Philadelphia for my brother’s wedding later this month. Most of those points were earned in the air, but my US Airways Visa certainly pushed me over the edge to get those points I needed for that sought-after, nonstop coast-to-coast flight (and first class on the way home to boot!). Another example: on a recent trip with my mom, who is a Delta Gold Medallion member, we were able to check all four of our suitcases for free, thanks to her status which she achieves mostly through her AmEx).

Of course, the airlines are not without problems; money, of course, being one of the biggest. So, what’s the harm in partnering with those credit card companies, reaching an entirely new audience and, yes, getting more butts in those 30,000-high seats?

What do you think?