You saw the disgraceful headlines: "Fight Cancels Flight! " Unfortunately, this stunning display of (alleged) fisticuffs aboard a plane wasn't a brawl between drunken passengers; the combatants were reportedly flight attendants.
I thought I'd never get the bad taste out of that out of my mouth, until I remembered a letter I received in response to my recent column on bereavement fares. Lori Chalupa wanted to tell me about her long-ago but never-to-be-forgotten experience with United Airlines.
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"It was one of those late night phone calls you never want to get, you know?" she began.
Lori's father was dying hundreds of miles from her home, and none of the airlines she called were helpful in getting her on a last minute flight at the lowest possible price. Then she spoke to United. "I broke down and cried!" she said. And what did that airline rep do? He listened.
He took the trouble to listen and explain how she could get a much-needed cheaper fare, and she made it to her father's bedside in time. Nice story, but maybe you're thinking, "No big deal." Oh, but it was a very big deal to Lori and it won the airline a customer for life. As she put it, "I have United always at the top of my list."
But is it at the top of yours?
A couple of years back, United hired a former Disney executive to boost customer service, but if the carrier morphed into "the happiest place on earth", I didn't notice. But really, what airline is? (By the way, Disney is the parent company of ABC News.)
Lori's story is all about the "human touch" in air travel, and we have to recover that because it benefits both sides, airlines and passengers (and in all fairness, it should work both ways, too -- I'd like to see an end to loutish behavior among passengers). But do the airlines realize this? They sure seem bent on getting rid of all their humans.
Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you do need actual humans to deliver this touch, and with cuts at call-centers, the additions of kiosks at airports and much, much more, who is left?
Fear not: the human touch hasn't completely disappeared. It's just hard to find sometimes. But, what exactly is "the human touch"? It's hard to define, I suppose, but it could be anything that eases your anxieties, puts a smile on your face, or just gives you a bit of a lift after a long slog through airport security and the line to board the plane.
David Holmes knows what that's like; you may remember him as Southwest Airlines' "rapping flight attendant". He began hip-hopping his way through the safety announcements as a way to get his passengers to pay attention; he actually worried about them. Today, Holmes is still rapping (as you can see from this video) but Southwest's Brandy King tells me he's branched out, doing wedding announcements, birthday wishes, whatever.
I think it's fun – and a simple yet effective example of "the human touch" (certainly better than the "inhuman touch" used on director Kevin Smith when he was ousted from his Southwest flight in front of a planeload of people in that infamous "too fat to fly" episode).