I'm not usually one to praise an airline, especially after a major carrier in Atlanta told me a few years ago that they were “too busy to get a wheelchair” and suggested I sit all night and catch a flight out the next day. I had an experience with American Airlines today that serves as a great lesson in how to build customer loyalty despite a less-than-perfect experience. Just ready to push back from the gate in Miami on my onward flight to Panama, we heard an announcement that our plane had suddenly been removed from service for maintenance issues. Happily, AA prepped another aircraft and after a long haul to another concourse and an hour or so wait, we were finally on our way.
Here's what caught my attention, and caused me to consider throwing some loyalty love AA's way.
- Instead of stonewalling, the gate agents updated the crowd about every ten minutes in both English and Spanish. When they didn't know what was going to happen, they said so. When they did know, they gave out the information quickly.
- The gate agents followed through with small details. Wheelchair users were carefully informed to wait at the first gate and a cart would come to haul them the very long walk to the new gate. Customers were reminded to stay in the gate area several times, so as not to miss updates. A flight attendant who had helped an elderly flyer hoist his bag to the overhead was waiting for the gentlemen on the second plane, ready to help a second time.
- Once on the replacement aircraft the updates continued for each step of getting us on the way. We heard when catering had prepped the back and that we were waiting for first class prep. We heard that fuel was the wait, when the fuel line arrived, and when fuel was on board. We were told before having to ask that our bags were being transferred to the second aircraft.
- Most of all, they apologized. The gate agents apologized (at both the old gate and the new). The flight attendants apologized when they had to kick us out of the first plane and apologized again when everyone was settled into the replacement plane. The captain apologized when we took off, and once in the air, apologized that he could only make up about 4 minutes of the lost time. In situations like these, businesses can't apologize too much.
I've been on dozens of planes with problems where no information was offered at all. What I noticed about AA's willingness to keep people informed and apologize often is that the crowd didn't get restless, irritated, or pushy with each other. By informing us often AA avoided being asked the same questions over and over again, built good will, and even got a few laughs from the flyers. Yes, we got to Panama City much later than planned. But no one was overwrought, people were in a good humor despite the problem, and AA gets good marks for treating their customers as if they truly cared about the inconvenience.
As we deplaned in Panama, two flight attendants and the captain stood at the door and apologized again as their customers deplaned. I've got close to half a million miles in the air under my belt, and I've never seen that happen before. While I am notorious for no brand loyalty to any airline, my heart's a little softer toward AA, and I'm betting I'll check their schedule the next time I have to buy a ticket somewhere. Great service builds loyalty. Good job, American Airlines! Now if you'd just quit using those tiny puddle-jumpers from Knoxville to Dallas…… 🙂