Tag Archives: airlines

#TBT Memory – Song Airlines

Many airlines have in place a system in place whereby crew members can be rewarded or recognized for providing exceptional customer service. But did you know my former airline, Song Airlines, had a system in place whereby crew members could reward passengers?

One such innovation was rewarding passengers for good behavior or good deeds with round trip tickets. That’s right. During this particular campaign each FA (we were called Talent) were given 4 roundtrip tickets to travel anywhere on the Song route map. At the time we flew from the Northeast (NY, Boston) to Florida (FLL, PBI, MCO, TPA), from the Northeast to the West Coast (LAX, SFO, SEA, LAS), and from Florida to the West Coast. Not sure if any other airlines did or do this. It was truly unique. Due to our size (approximately 1100 crew members and dedicated ground staff) and culture we were able to implement, test and try many things. Will share more things in future posts.

Here’s how the campaign worked: If you as a crew member observed a passenger doing a good deed: helping fellow passengers, assisting you or other crew members, or just plain being a thoughtful, caring human being, you as the crew member could reward the passenger with a roundtrip ticket. There were no stipulations placed on the deed being done by the passenger. Each crew member had free reign to do what they wished with their 4 tickets. Once you gave out your tickets that was it. I can tell you passengers were really nice to the crews because they knew we had tickets!

Good times. Good times indeed.

Sylvester

Inspired by a stranger

It’s funny how someone you’ve never met before can inspire you to do something; or to do more than you have been doing. Happened to me recently on a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. After an early morning and somewhat busy day of work, I traveled to LA to meet a friend. Upon boarding my flight I found myself seated in an exit row middle seat. I’m not complaining as getting on this flight was touch and go. I made my way to the exit row and advised the gentleman in the aisle seat that I would be seated in the center seat. He stood up to allow me access to my seat when I noticed I had seen him earlier in the day while at work. Once I got settled I said, “You were at my job earlier today.” The gentleman works for a multinational company that designs, manufactures, and sells airplanes, rotorcraft, rockets and satellites. For most of the 4 hour flight we spoke about aviation, the aerospace industry, airplanes, and all that goes into designing, making and selling them. I learned a lot! To say I was on Cloud 9 would be an understatement. When we arrived at LAX we exchanged business cards and made a point to say we would keep in touch. To keep my word, I sent a follow up email letting him know what a pleasure it was to meet and that my trip to LA had went well (was attending a listening party for the singer/songwriter Seal). In keeping his word, he responded back. It was during his response that he mentioned he had visited the AirlineGuys website and noticed I hadn’t written anything in a bit. Color me embarrassed. I thank him for the reminder and said I would “get on it.”

So, here I am writing to you because a stranger inspired me.

Happy landings,

Sylvester

Marry me, fly for free – Is this still a thing?

Saw a t-shirt recently that read: “Marry me, fly for free!” Made me wonder, is this still a thing?!

There was a time in the not-so-distant past that free travel may have been a draw to marry someone in the airline business. The benefit of travel is a wonderful thing. To the non-airline person, thoughts of day trips to NYC for shopping and weekends in Paris is alluring. Before companies began offering benefits to same-sex couples, I was approached by someone that wanted to marry me so she could fly for free. Her partner worked for an airline, and at that time her partner’s airline didn’t extend same-sex couple travel benefits.  Imagine that! Someone was willing to marry me, not because I can offer a lifetime of love and great memories, but because they could fly for free. True story.

After many takeoffs and landings later, let me say the benefit of travel is still a wonderful thing. Looking back on all the places I’ve been is simply amazing. And there are plenty more places to visit. As we know, the world of aviation has changed in so many ways. It’s a very cyclical industry. Years of flying high and record profits can change overnight.

Ok, back to “Marry me, fly for free” being a thing. With high load factors (81% in 2014. A recent LA Times article reported a record number of people traveled by air in 2014. According to the DOT, 848.1M traveled by air in the US), weight and balance issues, payload optimized flights, competition to get a seat from commuters, active employees, retires, and buddy pass riders; it’s a wonder anyone looks to marry an airline employee for the benefit of free flights. Once you factor in not getting a seat for several flights, paying to eat at the airport, sleeping in an airport or paying for a hotel room, and missing days from getting to your destination; airline employee travel is hardly “free”. Some airlines subtly discourage relying solely on travel privileges; if you want to get there buy a ticket.

I’ll say it again, the benefit of travel is a beautiful thing. Wouldn’t change it for the world. As for marrying an airline employee for free flights, marry them because you love them. And according to my mom love ain’t enough. Before marrying someone you should know you like them. And what’s not to like about airline folk? Airline people are some of the quirkiest, funniest, thoughtful, helpful, compassionate people that I know. And THAT should be reason enough to marry one.

Sylvester

airlineguys™ Community builders. Aviation enthusiasts. Experience in airline operation/leadership/PR/. Former cabin crew. Discerners of excellent customer service.

5 Reasons You Should Book The “Pan Am Experience” Today

Stepping onto the Pan Am 747 named Juan T. Trippe was amazing. Every detail, from the stewardess uniforms right down to the galleys, was just perfect. No, we weren’t dreaming, we were getting ready to embark on the “Pan Am Experience”. There has been much written about Anthony Toth, his love of all things Pan Am, and how he partnered up with Air Hollywood to recreate the passenger experience on board a Pan Am 747. Here are the Top 5 reasons you should book a flight on the “Pan Am Experience” today:

5.  If you love all things Pan Am – Pan Am was truly a pioneer. If you’re into waxing nostalgic about the “good old days” of Pan Am, you’ve come to the right place. Be prepared to walk down memory lane and be transported back to a time when flying was considered glamourous.

4. If you like to time travel – Being on board for Pan Am Experience was truly like stepping back in time. Every detail was meticulously recreated to give you the sense of what it was like to fly on a 747 back in the 70s. The seats, the galleys, even the clipper appliqué on the wall.

3.  If you’d like to meet a real Pan Am stewardess – On our flight was Barbara. She flew with Pan Am during the heydays. She was there to provide background and answer questions from the passengers about Pan Am. She was lovely and shared stories from a wonderful time in aviation history. We even played a game of “do you know…” And she knows someone that we know, who is a former Pan Am stewardess. The world is truly a small place. The “stewardesses” who served us were models, actresses, and dancers. In other words, they have day jobs. They were a fun bunch and brought lots of good energy to the experience. This is something that they do because it’s cool and allows them to experience something different. This era of flying was at least 25 years before they were even born.

2. If you’d like to meet someone who has taken “avgeek” to another level – Anthony Toth served as the “Captain” of our flight. This captain worked behind the scenes assisting the stewardesses in providing a seamless experience. Not only was he in the galley preparing meals, he answered questions after the flight. Anthony has over the years put together a huge archive of Pan Am memorabilia. He informed us that his collection now has upwards of 50,000 Pan Am items. A good selection of the collection was on display in the lobby of the “terminal”. The majority of the collection is kept behind the scenes and is used during the flight.

1. Because it’s “AirlineGuys-approved” – The reason you should book today? As the AirlineGuys, we approve of this message. And we’d never steer you wrong when it comes to aviation 😉

Barbara, Darin, Sylvester, Rachel

Barbara, Darin, Sylvester, Rachel

Sylvester & Darin

To see more pictures from our flight, click here.

 

Once a Virgin always a Virgin

While standing out on the south parking decks at ATL yesterday, I realized it was one of “those” moments. We were awaiting the arrival of the first Virgin Atlantic Airways jet to arrive at ATL. Not only was this the first Virgin aircraft to arrive at ATL, it was a Boeing 787-9! As reported from the official site for this special flight this will be the “first ever gig streamed mid-air from Virgin Atlantic’s new connected 787.” The flight featured performances by 2 of the UK’s hottest acts: Gorgon City and Rudimental. We have to say the SoundCloud performances (the London Mix was phenomenal) had us dancing, albeit from home. We weren’t lucky enough to be one of the lucky passengers on board. From the sound of things fun was had during the excursion from London to Atlanta!

The Virgin brand has always been about what’s “in”, fun, hip, cool, chic, even edgy. Whether it’s marketing, advertisements, activations, the on board experience, or uniforms, they pay attention to every detail. Throughout the travel ribbon you know you’re traveling on Virgin. There’s a sense of excitement, journey, and adventure. Sir Richard Branson is the brand. He is all of the above and has done a bang up job making sure the brand remains intact. As Delta now owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic, it is our hope that the little airline that has stood up to the likes of British Airways and has carved out a niche, is able to retain its brand and not succumb to any pressures to be more mainstream.

Pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

This is not the first time Delta has canoodled with a Virgin. Back in the mid-90s Delta and Virgin Atlantic placed their airline codes on certain flights between London (both LGW and LHR) and several US cities (LAX, SFO, JFK, EWR, BOS, MCO). Back then Delta took the code-share arrangement one step further than placing their code on Virgin Atlantic flights: Delta actually had its flight attendants on board these code-share flights. I was lucky enough to have this experience and spent 2 weeks in Crawley, just outside of London, at the Virgin training facility. We spent a good bit of the time learning the emergency procedures required as a Virgin flight attendant. I even learned what a “torch” and a “loud hailer” were. Training was intense. We had to learn all about the different types of 747s. The 747-400’s were easier as they were standard. The “Classics”, the 747-200’s complete with spiral staircases, were all slightly different. One, G-VMIA (India Alpha), had 2 lower galleys. Highlights of the training included learning how to deliver Virgin-style service on board. They were meticulous in how to serve Virgin customers. I can clearly remember the instructor saying: “When delivering a beverage to a customer, place the drip mat (napkin) down logo facing up, facing the customer. Richard (Branson) doesn’t print these for the customer not to see the Virgin logo.” Wow! Simple concept. It’s all about the details.

My friend CLiff and me at the Virgin training facility in Crawley.

My friend CLiff and me at the Virgin training facility in Crawley.

I even had the opportunity to meet Richard at his home in Oxford during one of the summer parties given for employees of the Virgin brand empire. We were standing near the front door of his home when he just popped out! I was taken with his unassuming and down-to-earth nature. We spoke with him for a few minutes letting him know we were Delta FAs flying the code-share flights. He thanked us for our work and then went into the crowd of hundreds who were in attendance. It was very surreal. It was one of “those” moments.

Seeing the Virgin 787 land at ATL brought back many memories of my Virgin experiences. Many companies could learn a lot from Virgin on how to deliver a better experience for its customers. Looking forward to seeing their aircraft regularly grace the skies of Atlanta soon. Thanks for the memories Virgin!

#flightdecks pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

#flightdecks pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Sylvester

 

Prolonged anger? It could cost you…

And then there was the time…

…that a business class customer remained upset for so long, she literally lost her lunch. As we were on a trans-Atlantic flight, this is a very long time to remain upset. From the time this customer boarded the flight, there was no pleasing her. Her seat wasn’t the one she requested (her first class upgrade hadn’t gone through), the champagne wasn’t cold enough, the choice of meal she wanted wasn’t available. Throughout the service she complained yet continued to eat and drink. When the dessert, fruit and cheese service began she continued to complain. It was during tray pickup that her nerves and bitterness got the best of her. She literally lost her lunch. Yes, right there. On. The. Tray.

Moral: Depending on the severity of the situation, being upset is understandable. Prolonged anger and anxiety is not a good thing. Not only do you lose a sense of control, you lose a sense of who you are, and if you stay in this place for too long you could literally lose your lunch.

6 Reasons Why United Should Re-introduce The “Tulip”

United Airlines B747-400, pic courtesy Aero Icarus via wikimedia commons

United Airlines B747-400, pic courtesy Aero Icarus via wikimedia commons

For the past few weeks I’ve had United Airlines on my mind. I’ve actually had United on my mind for quite some time now. I’ve worked for different airlines, airline brands, and codeshare partners over a 25 year (and counting) period. To say that I have a passion for aviation would be an understatement. My aviation career crossed paths with United back in the mid ‘80s when I worked as a part-time customer service representative at PBI. These were the heydays of United – the purchase of Pan Am’s Pacific Division, the only airline flying to all 50 US States, and in the late 80s a stock price valued at over $250. This was also a time of great turmoil at United which included a 29-day pilot strike. Overall, United was on cloud nine, and still flying the friendly skies. So, you can see why I’ve had United on my mind and why I have a soft place in my heart for the “tulip”. Recently I visited Chicago, and while at ORD, I couldn’t help but wax poetic as I walked around. While there I only saw 2 “tulips”, both on regional jets.

With the merger of United and Continental (a “merger of equals”) in 2010, the “tulip” began to disappear and was replaced by the Continental “globe”, albeit the name UNITED was chosen to adorn the aircraft. This “Frankenstein” branding was met with swift disapproval from many in the world of branding/marketing and vehemently discussed by many in the avgeek world.

Some would argue that the name United was mud in the aviation industry and that Continental was the “better” of the two airlines, so the newly merged company should have been named Continental. In the end, United understood that their name still held clout in the world and decided to keep the name.

So, here are 6 Reasons Why The “Tulip” should make a triumphant return:

1. Heritage – The “tulip” was introduced in the early 70s by graphic designer and Academy Awarding winning filmmaker Saul Bass. The “tulip” is a combination of the “U” in United and the shield logo which United had used since the 1930s. For many the “tulip” IS United.

The "tulip"

The “tulip”

If shown the “U” I do believe most people (avgeeks for sure) would be able to identify it as United. If shown the globe I believe a greater number of people would say “Continental” than would say “United”. In addition, United has done a not-so-complete, or quick, job of replacing the “tulip” with the globe. You can still catch glimpses on regional aircraft and some marketing materials. In contrast, when Delta merged with Northwest in 2008, the goal was “out with the old, in with the new”. Delta sent out teams of people to identify, remove, and standardize all elements of the brand. As a result Delta’s brand image quickly became consistent across their route system including marketing and promotional items.

2. Something for employees to connect with – If I were to show you this image what would be your initial thoughts?

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Image by “Almaden” at aviation-designs.net

If the slogan for this company were “We Love To Fly And It Shows” would you find it confusing? Not quite hitting the mark? Mismatched? More importantly, if you were an employee of said company, how would you feel? Would you be able to connect?

As a former employee of an airline that saw a few mergers, and a facilitator of customer service, I truly believe if employees do not believe in the message of the company, it is difficult to delivery any promise of great customer service. For any company to deliver consistent, thoughtful, and extraordinary customer service, the people delivering the service must believe the message. If the message is disjointed, confusing, doesn’t add up, this is exactly what will be delivered to the customer. United’s employee need something to rally behind. A message of “merger of equals” and “Frankenstein branding” keeps employees in their “silos”. sUA (subsidiary United) and sCO (subsidiary Continental) employees still have “their airline”. It’s something for them to hold on to. Some may hold on so long that they never move towards working together. This in turn will play out in the customer service that is delivered day in and day out. Contrast this with American Airlines. Approximately 1 month prior to the merger with USAirways in 2013, American decided to change its livery and chose a new look, feel, and livery. Part of me thinks this was by design – new livery, new leadership, new direction, and the upcoming merger with USAirways. Doug Parker (the incoming leader of the merged companies) said of the new livery “maybe we need to do something slightly different than that …The only reason this is an issue now is because they just did it right in the middle, which kind of makes it confusing, so that gives us an opportunity, actually, to decide if we are going to do something different because we have so many airplanes to paint”. Ultimately the employees decided on what the tail of the aircraft would look like (classic AA or “party tail”). By choosing a new livery for the combined company, silos are in effect removed and as a group EVERYONE can move forward in a new direction. It can be difficult letting go of the past. Time will tell how this course of action will play out.

It is my opinion, that having one unified brand will go a long way in helping United employees reconnect with their company.

3. Retro is in – If you haven’t noticed, what’s old is new again. The popularity of retro liveries is a great way of embracing the past. USAirways has done the best job in the industry embracing the family of airlines that are its heritage. And Doug Parker of American has publicly stated that the retro jets will remain in the new American fleet; even introducing a TWA livery in the future. Tapping into nostalgia has a way of unifying groups of people who have a common goal. Seeing the “tulip” evokes in me a time when United was on top of the world. For some, the “tulip” evokes the opposite feeling. As mentioned in the opening, the name United was decided upon as the name of the combined company. If the name United was indeed so bad/so toxic/detrimental, the powers that be would not have moved to keep the name in place. So, to keep the name and not the element associated with the name is confusing from a branding perspective. If seeing the “tulip” evokes such a negative feeling amongst some people, updating or stylizing the “tulip” to be more modern would have been a viable option. If you keep the name, keep the visuals as well.

I recently read that United with keep the retro Continental livery on their B737-900. This is awesome and a step in the right direction.

IMG_1733

 

4. Mismatched branding doesn’t work – After the merger between United and Continental was announced there were plenty of articles written and many discussions on social media on how ineffective this type of branding can be. I can honestly say that whenever I see a United aircraft now, I don’t think United, I think Continental. I know I’m not the only one with this sentiment. When seeing the current United aircraft there’s a sense that something is “just not right” about it. It misses the mark. United article #1, United article #2, United article #3.

IMG_1829

Now many of you may think “the traveling public really doesn’t care what’s on the outside of the aircraft” and with that I would agree. Again, it goes back to the people, the employees who deliver the customer service around the message of the company. If there’s a disconnect with how employees feel, there will be a disconnect with how they deliver the service. CE Woolman, the founder of Delta Air Lines is quoted as saying “An employee’s devotion to his or her company, dedication to the job and consideration for the customer determine a company’s reputation.” So, if the employees don’t feel quite right about the message, how can they deliver the customer service needed to take the company to the next level?

For employees, losing “your” airline brand or identity is a tough thing. As a former airline person with over 25 years in the industry, I know this feeling all too well. Back in 2006 when Song Airlines was folded back into Delta, it was extremely difficult. Especially difficult because we had proven that the little airline with 48 Boeing 757s could make a huge difference in the passenger experience. Many lessons were learned and carried back to Delta. Many of the lessons, work rules, on-board amenities, and service delivery procedures make up the new Delta. With this I’ve learned that things change (especially in aviation), that lessons are learned, that if you open your eyes wide enough you will see the fruits of your labor. This holds true for any of the mergers that have taken place. There’s always something that’s brought into the new company. If you slow down for a moment, take a good look, you’ll see elements of “your” airline even it it doesn’t physically exist anymore.

5. Rhapsody in Blue – Ahhh, that iconic 1924 musical masterpiece from George Gershwin. United first used this music in its advertising in the mid 80s. The following commercial is believed to be the first incorporating this music (click here). And then there are all of the whimsical artsy commercials which utilized the music as well. I’m sure you’d agree, each time you hear this piece you immediately think of United. Imagine my delight when in 2013 United reintroduced this timeless classic to its commercials. The piece is galvanizing, soaring, aspirational in its tone. As I mentioned I was in Chicago recently and went through the Tunnel connecting terminals at ORD. There is something magical about the all that neon, the colors, the moving sidewalk, and Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background. Rhapsody in Blue IS United.

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Tunnel at ORD

6. Fly the Friendly skies – United resurrected “Fly the Friendly Skies” campaign in September of 2013. Long a favourite of employees and the traveling public, the return of this slogan came about as United begin to focus more on the passenger experience in its advertising and marketing. “‘Flyer-friendly’ resonated in feedback from our customers and co-workers,” Tom O’Toole, United’s senior vice president of marketing and loyalty and president of MileagePlus is quoted as saying. Most of United’s current marketing, including TV commercials, now uses the “flyer friendly” tagline.

On twitter and Facebook you will see the AirlineGuys using the hashtag #longlivethetulip.  We use it to remind United and our followers of the legacy that is UNITED; not to forget or to bury those elements which brought you to this place and time.

Let’s think about this for a moment. Currently at United we have the UNITED name, Rhapsody in Blue, and Fly the Friendly Skies tagline. It seems as though all the elements are falling into place for a triumphant return of the “tulip”.

#longlivethetulip

Sylvester