Jun 25

You can check in, but you can never leave

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It strikes me that more and more brands are promising one experience but delivering a very different one. Take United Airlines. Please!

My business travel experience has gone to hell in a handbasket ever since United absorbed Continental in a recent merger of equals (to which I reply, 'Ha!' There never has been, nor will there ever be a merger of equals). And, to pour salt in the wound, United is running a multi-million advertising campaign touting such achievements as the industry's newest fleet of aircraft, the most destinations of any domestic airline and, yes, Virginia, a solid on-time performance record. Choke me with a spoon!

In the past few weeks alone, I've suffered back-to-back, three hours delays flying to, and from, Manchester, NH, from Newark Airport, a nifty four-hour delay from Logan and yesterday's cancellation of a flight caused by what a Manchester gate agent described as, 'Weather, or a mechanical problem. It's Newark Airport, so we never really know.'

The world-weary United agent then asked if I'd be willing to fly on another airline to LaGuardia. 'Sure,' I responded. She checked the screen, shook her head and snapped, 'Nope. That flight's already over its weight limit.'

Then, my United experience morphed into an act from the theatre of the absurd. 'I'm going to try and get you to Boston!' the gate agent declared. I was stunned. 'But, I don't want to go to Boston,' I replied. 'I'm not going to risk changing planes with your airline's shoddy record.' She then clapped her hands together and said, 'Well, chop chop. Make up your mind. What do you want to do?' She demanded. I canceled my flight, rented a car and drove six hours to get home.

All of this wouldn't matter if United wasn't bombarding me with ads and airport posters containing such, feel-good headlines as:

– 'It's time to fly!

– 'Life is a journey. Travel it well.'

United is a Janus-faced organization, talking out of both sides of its mouth (or cockpit, if you prefer).

If I were prostituting myself by writing completely false copy about a godawful airline, I'd riff on the classic Eagles tune, Hotel California. With United…..

'You can check in, but you can never leave.'

 

May 06

Be slow to promise, but quick to deliver

I wouldn’t be writing this blog if the Continental Airlines pilot and flight attendants hadn’t waxed poeticPlane_2
about our arriving 30 minutes earlier than expected.

First, the pilot told us the good news. Then, the flight attendants chimed in as well. ‘Cool,’ I thought, ‘That doesn’t happen very often.’

And, as it turns out it didn’t happen this time either. Oh, we arrived 30 minutes early. But, then the captain announced the following, ‘Ah, ladies and gentlemen, the good news is we did indeed arrive 30 minutes early. Unfortunately, though, there are no gates available. So, we’ll have to sit and wait.’

Thirty minutes later and we’re still sitting.

One of the best pieces of image and reputation advice I’ve ever heard came from a ‘grey beard’ at Hill and Knowlton many years ago. He told me to wait before responding to an urgent client request of one sort or another. He told me to think through my response and said, ‘…be slow to promise, but quick to deliver.’ It was great advice.

Although I’m sure they couldn’t care less, the Continental Airlines crew should learn a lesson from today’s miscommunication. By mismanaging customer expectations, they now have a cabin full of restless, unhappy passengers.

Oh, and, guess what? We still haven’t budged.

Jul 20

Where does security end and image & reputation begin?

I detest business travel. There simply is no upside to it. In addition to the hassles, delays and indifferent service, there’s also the reality of substantially increased security.

With the latter, there’s a very fine line that exists between safety and sheer stupidity. Two recent cases in point illustrate the conundrum:

The first was recounted in a recent Joe Sharkey/New York Times column. It detailed a horrific story concerning a young mom and child traveling on a Continental Express flight. According to Sharkey, the traveler’s baby kept gurgling, ‘Bye-bye plane’ over and over as it taxied to the runway. This admonition upset the flight attendant so much that she insisted the mother ‘…..shut the kid up’ and feed it ‘…..Benadryl to knock it out.’ The mother refused, so the flight attendant told the captain she’d been threatened by the mom. Bye-bye mom. She and the kid were tossed off the plane.

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