Tag Archives: airports

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

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Collecting experiences never gets old

While waiting on my flight I bumped into a former colleague. During our chat he asked “And why would you do that?” and my response was “Because I can. I like to collect experiences.” And he wasn’t the only asking why I would fly roundtrip over the Atlantic ocean to spend 4 hours in another country. Now before your mind starts to wander, please know this was a legitimate journey. No shenanigans planned or expected.

As the youngest of 9 children I used to dream of doing things like this. Experiencing something like this helps me bring my existence full circle. As a kid growing up in rural Florida I used to dream of hopping on planes and flying around the world. Those dreams have come true and are still coming true. Why this trip? Well, let me tell you about the trip.

The 747, The Queen of The Skies, is rapidly approaching her last coronation. Many of the world’s airlines have retired or are retiring this majestic machine. What started as a dream for the Boeing designers ended up changing the world. The original “jumbo jet” made the world a smaller place.

Every now and then you can catch a 747 operating on a domestic route. Most 747s ply the Pacific or are freighters. As part of the summer schedule, Atlanta and Detroit receive daily 747 service to Amsterdam. With Spring Break winding down, and summer travel not here just yet, the loads look great for NRSA travel. Let’s go!

When flying NRSA you have to be strategic and most importantly flexible. Flying  to Detroit to take the daily 747 to Amsterdam was the better option because loads were extremely favorable. Hopped a flight to Detroit and had several hours to spend enjoying the airport. When boarding began I kindly requested from the gate agent seat 1K., if available. Wanted to be at the “pointy end” of the plane. Sitting in Row 1 puts you further forward than the pilots. I think most people would prefer to sit on the upper deck. However, I had sat on the upper deck of a 747 before from Tokyo to Detroit a  few years back and wanted to experience something new.

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Ship 6308 DTW – AMS

While sitting in my seat I took in the lines, the curves, and the essence of this magnificent flying machine. Thought about all the talented men and women who put her together. I wondered how may times she had flown around the world, who she had carried to far off destinations, what her last flight would be, where and when she would be retired. Spent the flight enjoying some tasty foods, drinking fine champagne, watching movies, looking out the window, and having brief conversations with the crew. The crew was very nice and took great care of me. While sitting there I couldn’t help but think this is exactly what I had imagined my life was going to be.

We arrived early in Amsterdam. Checking in for the return flight to Atlanta was quick and efficient. The Delta and KLM agents were most friendly and helpful. Now I had about 4 hours before I headed back to Atlanta. What to do? People watch of course. And buy some stroopwafels to bring back home.

The boarding process was a bit hectic as the nonstop 747 to Atlanta was very full. The company which handles security for my flight were efficient, thorough, and very friendly. There were the usual questions (“did anyone give you anything to carry?”), however, there was a difference in how they did their jobs.

Ship 6308 AMS - ATL

Ship 6308 AMS – ATL

I was pleased to receive a seat on the the flight in the “pointy end” of the plane on the main deck. Just before pushback the flight attendant was able to move me to an open window seat at 9K. For the next 8 hours and 49 mins I was again taking it all in. Had some terrific food and drink, watched a couple of movies, shared pics via twitter and instagram (thank goodness for inflight wifi), and had great conversations with the crew. Speaking of the crew, they were most excellent. They treated the whole cabin with kindness and respect. They were attentive, efficient and smiled a lot. I felt grateful to have such a wonderful crew on this special trip.  Some of the same thoughts I had on the DTW-AMS flight came to mind. In addition I started to think about experiences.

As I get older I have begun to collect less things and more experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I still have lots of airline stuff (writing this while sitting in 747 seats from NWA). However, things are things. They accumulate. They collect dust. We store many of these things and then rarely think about them. Experiences on the other hand are with us at all times, no matter where we are. The slightest thought, sound, or smell can trigger a memory that is as vivid as when it first occurred.

Also on this flight I’m transported back to the little kid who dreamed of getting away, seeing the world, experiencing new things. As Annie Lenox sang, “Sweet dreams are made of this.”

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Sylvester

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

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.

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.

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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.

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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

Focusing on the journey

And then there was the time…I took my last flight as a flight attendant. It was an easy trip; a turnaround. And guess who’s on my flight? The one and only Stevland Hardaway Morris, aka Stevie Wonder. He was traveling with 3 other people who guided Mr. Wonder onboard and settled into first class. I wished them all a safe and enjoyable flight as we departed for Philadelphia. The flight back to my base was full. We had just enough time in tourist class to serve all the customers and pick up. During our decent I had a lovely conversation with the customers opposite my jumpseat. They were an older couple who had been married for many years and their “thing” was visiting baseball stadiums around the country. While not a fan of baseball, I found their story interesting; here were two people with common interests, enjoying themselves, the places they’ve been, and each others company. And just like that, my career as a flight attendant ended. No water cannon salute, no paparazzi, no throngs of well-wishers. What a beautiful ending.

Moral: It’s all about the journey, not the arrival. Imagine had my last flight been overly dramatic. It may have eclipsed much of what I had experienced up to this point. I find life to be more fulfilling when focusing on the journey; the experiences, the people you meet along the way, the lessons you learn, and not the arrival at the final destination.

Safe travels!

Sylvester