The secret of getting wonderful airline service
Want to get great holiday airline service even from the airlines? Use your “pleases” and “thank yous” – and don’t expect too much.
During the holidays, customer service is more difficult to find. However, it is in the greatest need. Families are navigating airports who are unfamiliar with the ways of aviation. Plus, they are herding children, strollers, and gifts. It can be a giant hassle.
You can score excellent service, even in the worst conditions, by understanding your airline, bringing what you need for your own comfort, minding your manners, and taking care of a few basics.
Do your research and check out airline service
Courtney Goff, a former employee of one of the ultra-low-cost airlines, says getting great service is a struggle – on both sides.
“Holiday airline service was always an issue we had and could never really resolve,” she told me. “I attempted, in cases where I was able to help. But you can’t win them all.”
Ensuring a good flight experience starts at the beginning, before you book your ticket. Research your airline carefully. Learn about the fees and extra charges, which can be burdensome. But Goff says you should dig deeper.
“Does the airline delay its flights all day and then cancel, or do they cancel their flights immediately?” she says. “Do they have a way of accommodating you if there is a cancellation?”
How do you find out? You need to comb social networks, priming your searches with keywords like “delay,” “stranded,” and “compensation.” If you find lots of complaints about an airline leaving passengers high and dry during a cancellation, you might have a problem and should consider moving on to another carrier.
Point is, you want to weed out the bad airlines before they have a chance to show you how bad they are.
Be polite, it makes a huge difference
Catherine Olson, who handles social media customer service for a discount airline in Salt Lake City, says manners can make a huge difference. And it’s not just using “please” and “thank you.”
“The absolute worst thing is when customers think they know everything,” she says. “Particularly when they think they know more than the airline employee or accuse them of lying or accusing them of purposely mistreating them or delaying or canceling a flight because the flight isn’t full enough.”
You’ll get much further by asking questions – not slinging accusations – and being appreciative.
“When you start your interaction with an airline with a compliment, you catch our attention,” says Olson. “Our natural response is, ‘Yes! What’s going on, maybe we can help?’ Expressing gratitude is the number one way to have a great flight.”
That’s good advice when you’re dealing with any travel company, but mainly a low-cost or discount carrier. Why? Employees of those airlines are accustomed to being beaten up – figuratively, and sometimes literally – by customers. They face rude, ungrateful passengers every day, even though they didn’t create the customer-hostile policies they must enforce.
Bring what you need — comfortable clothes, even a personal pillow, and a good attitude
Another way to get good holiday airline service: Prepare yourself. Leigh Ann Newman, a senior program manager for an international government consulting firm, always packs comfortable clothing so that the tight quarters don’t seem even tighter; a fully charged phone loaded with movies and music to drown out the screams of babies and the complaints of adults; and plenty of snacks, since everything costs extra.
“I also have an upbeat attitude, and I make it a point to engage the flight attendant with a smile and a kind word,” she says.
If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re right. Surviving a flight on an ultra-low-cost airline depends on your outlook as much as it does your preparation.
Lisa Flowers, a publicist and a frequent flyer on discount airlines, says she never checks in without a family-size bag of M&Ms for the flight attendants. On a recent trip with her young son, the flight attendants were shocked by her gift and reciprocated by giving her free snacks and drinks for the duration of the flight.
“Even the worst airline can have great employees,” she says. “Sometimes, you have to be patient to find them, but if you look, you’re likely to find one or two delivering the airline’s customer service promise.”
As a consumer advocate who deals with airlines every day, I couldn’t agree more. Careful research, the right attitude, and a little kindness can make even the worst flight bearable, and perhaps even enjoyable.
When flights go wrong, good holiday airline service is even more important
- Don’t try to bend the rules: That’s the advice of Lisa Cortez, owner of bluSardinia Tours, a tour operator in Europe. “Low-cost airlines typically have very strict carry-on luggage rules,” she says. Packing a heavy bag in the hopes that you can carry it on is folly. Odds are, the airline will weigh the bag when you check in, and you’ll have to pay extra. It’s not worth the gamble.
- Don’t expect too much: You know the saying, “You get what you pay for”? Cortez says that one “rings true here. You won’t be hearing the pop of a cork or smelling the aroma of warm mixed nuts before takeoff when flying a low-cost airline.”
- Bring your own everything: “Bring snacks and water,” advises Beau Ragland, CEO of Voyista Travel, a tour operator. He’s flown extensively on European low-cost carriers. “You won’t be getting anything on the plane unless you get out your wallet. This is especially important for long-haul flights,” he adds.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher’s articles here.