Tag Archives: customer service

A “North of Expected” experience at Alaska Airlines

The Spirit of Alaska

Recently had the opportunity to visit the Alaska Airlines Flight Operations Training Center. The Spirt of Alaska was very much alive and palpable here.

Located near SeaTac Airport, the center is a two-story building housing training facilities for Alaska’s almost 2800 flight attendants and approximately 1400 pilots. My first impression was that of entering a small private school. As it was early, activities had not quite kicked off; there was minimal activities in the hallways. However, behind closed doors there was a flurry of activity and things happening to keep the Alaska Airlines operation running safely, comfortably, and on-time.

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Alaska Airlines Flight Operations Training Center

Alaska Airlines has come a long way from its humble beginnings as McGee Airways in 1932 and has grown in to a profitable airline that has 136 aircraft, and serves almost 100 cities. Alaska Airlines is adored by the industry and has a loyal and dedicated customer base as well as motivated and dedicated employees.

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It was via a some of these motivated and dedicated employees that I got the opportunity to see how Alaska Airlines has become, and remains, truly Alaska (the Alaska spirit).

During the visit I was shown and introduced to many people who are responsible for the safe operation of Alaska Airlines flights throughout their system. We toured the Systems Operations Control (SOC) area where I was given an overview of flight attendant and piloting scheduling, dispatch, and load control. I then received a thorough overview of the Command Center. This room becomes the center of activity during emergency situations that impact the airline. The personnel giving tours were humble, thorough, and answered the many questions I had. I also had the opportunity to look upon the flight simulators used to train pilots at Alaska Airlines.

The majority of the visit included time spent with Inflight Services. It was in this department that I could relate closely with. When I was introduced to the office staff, they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and at home.

After meeting the good people who manage inflight services we proceeded to the 737 mockup where safety and service procedures are learned and perfected. As Alaska Airlines only flies the 737, they have one mockup that is used for these purposes. As with most mockups, this one is a very fair representation of the real thing: cockpit, FC + YC galleys, FC cabin, YC cabin, lavatories. The mockup is capable of simulating different “situations” that may arise on board an aircraft: smoke in cabin, smoke in lavatory. The mockup is also used for evacuation drills via emergency window exits and doors.

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“Leave everything! Come this way!”

To my delight there was a flight attendant training class in session! I had the opportunity to meet the class and observe them practicing emergency and service procedures. Ahhh, the memories! Have to say they were a nice looking group of people who were excited and happy to be joining the Alaska Airlines family. One of the takeaways from the customer service training was “don’t get lost in the task, because you have a purpose on board.” To me this sums up how to give the best customer service you can. It’s about “creating moments” with each and every passenger you interact with. Deep.

There were a couple other “deep” moments spent at the training center. While watching the nicely-produced, emotional indoctrination flight attendant training video, “Their Story is Our Story”, Flight Attendant Carol S. says, “It’s not just a company. There’s something unique about Alaska. It’s spectacular.” I’d have to agree. The people that I met while on this tour are passionate about Alaska Airlines and work very hard to keep the spirit alive. They’re protective of their brand and culture. The feeling I get from Alaska Airlines is that they are a close-knit family where relationships mean everything. Because they care for each other as fellow employees, this feeling of caring and well-being is bestowed upon its passengers. Alaska Airlines has won the JD Power and Associate Award for Customer Service 7 years in a row now. They’re definitely doing many things right.

A poignant moment in the tour involved visiting the Memorial Garden, a beautiful and serene area honoring those lost on Alaska Airlines 261. The garden is reflection of the caring nature of the people who are Alaska Airlines.

We at AirlineGuys are always interested in sharing what we’ve learned and know about the commercial aviation industry. In fact sharing thoughtful, impactful stories and information are what we’re all about. The tour of Alaska Airlines was truly impactful. Seeing how other airlines operate, the impact that company culture has on customer service, and what makes each airline unique drives our passion to be the AirlineGuys.

A very special THANK YOU to Arnie Tharp. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to observe the very special culture that is Alaska Airlines. Thanks for arranging such a thoughtful, well-executed tour.

Arnie and me

 

Thanks also to Blair Kimball, Todd Horn, and Ashleigh Berlin-Stebner for giving me the opportunity to observe you impart your commitment to customer service to the Alaska Airlines trainees and for your part in keeping the spirit of Alaska alive and well (you too Arnie!).

The experience was definitely “North of Expected”!

Sylvester Pittman

 

 

 

Open Sky for Fearful Flyers

Had the pleasure to attend the very first Open Sky for Fearful Flyers class conducted by AirHollywood, the largest airplane mockup studio serving the motion picture, television and commercial production industry. While not afraid of flying, I decided to attend because I knew there would be useful information shared AND anything aviation-related designed to assist others is always a good thing. Well, we weren’t disappointed.

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The class was facilitated by Capt Ron Nielsen, a retired commercial airline pilot. According to a published bio, Capt Ron has been a pilot for almost 40 years and recently retired as a captain for a major airline. Flying has been a lifelong passion of his and he now devotes much of his time and energy to helping others overcome their fear of flying. He began working with those fearful of flying in 1987, and has gained a unique understanding of fearful flyers and their fears. His master’s degree in professional counseling has served him well in his endeavor to help others. His knowledge of people combined with his knowledge of airplanes has helped him develop strategies for fearful flyers to successfully manage their fears. Through his live classes and webinars, he has restored confidence to thousands who are now flying again.  He is frequently contacted by the media for his aviation expertise.

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The class was set up as a 6-hour course. Introduction of the weaker was followed by why people are afraid of flying (control, irrational fears, previous situations, etc.). After receiving statistics and facts about the safety of flying in today’s world, we partnered up with others in the class to learn more about what motivates your fear(s). As I’m not afraid of flying, my activity partner did most of the talking as I interviewed him about what makes him fearful. After sharing bios in a group forum, and what makes you fearful, we were treated to a very nice, casual lunch on the backlot. Lunch was followed up by “boarding” our flight. The studio is complete with Jetways and a motion-based mockup which simulates turbulence. We were then treated to the full phase of flight from boarding, to take off, cruise altitude, turbulence, landing, and arrival back at the gate. Even the owner of AirHollywood got in on the action, providing drinks from a beverage cart!

 

To my delight I had the opportunity to speak with the students in the Open Sky for Fearful Flyers course!

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Our day concluded with a tour of the AirHollywood props department and backlot, where we saw upclose and personal everything studios would need to film movie scenes, commercials, or photo shoots.

As this was the introductory course, AirHollywood and Capt Ron listened to, and answered questions from the students regarding what worked well and what we’d like to see in future classes. The goal is to have an on-going fear of flying classes complete with classroom instruction at the studio followed up by taking a real flight.

Here’s some of what we learned:

  • Every year, flying becomes safer > less accidents, although more traffic. Increases in safety due to better engines, technology, training
  • Fear of flying is NOT the same as risk of flying
  • Approximately 60 million people in the USA have a fear of flying
  • If you’re afraid of flying, first introduce yourself to the flight attendants and let them know. Then the pilots. Make sure all of the crew is aware
  • Breathing through a drinking straw will prevent you from hyperventilating. Carry one with you if you’re prone to hyperventilating
  • Sights. Sounds. Sensations — overcoming the fear of flight begins by recognizing these

I left the studio feeling great. It’s a nice feeling knowing that there are others out there who have a love and passion for what flight can add to your life and how overcoming your fear of flying can enrich your life and make it more fulfilling.

Talaat Captan, Capt Ron Nielsen, Rachel Owen, Me

Talaat Captan, Capt Ron Nielsen, Rachel Owen, Me

Sylvester

Please see our previous post on visiting AirHollywood > click here

Sometimes you gotta just keep smiling

And then there was a time…

…I decided to wear a brand new pair of shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight. C’mon, they were Kenneth Coles! When I say I was looking sharp, I was looking sharp! Getting to Zurich was a bit of a challenge though. By the time we arrived the next morning my tootsies were tender. I couldn’t get to my hotel room fast enough to get out of those shoes! Sneakers on my layover were just what the doctor ordered. Next morning, the thought of putting those shoes on again caused me to tear up. And I realized that sneakers (not even the Braniff Converses or AirBerlin airplane sneakers) wouldn’t work with my uniform.

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So, I begrudgingly put on my Kenneth Coles and walked across the Atlantic. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. And I continued to smile. And if you’ve ever met me you know I smile all the time, even when it’s unpleasant.

Moral: When your feet hurt it’s easy to  become a miserable SOB. Sometimes you have to smile through the pain just to make it home.

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Passenger dominoes

And then there was the time…

That I was working an (in)famous LGA to PBI flight; a flight that is known for it’s (ahem)…seasoned traveler. I always had a great time working these flights and you had to take on a new tone with this group of flyers. It always worked best if you could match their zeal and energy. One day during boarding there was a back up and people were standing in the aisle with no space between them. As a passenger was putting his bag in to the overhead bin he lost his balance and caused a domino reaction; bodies started toppling. When the domino effect reached a certain passenger she began to react in the most dramatic way. “Ooooh!”, she yelled! “He is trying to knock me down!” “Whats going on?!” She was about to really get going when I stepped up, looked directly in her eyes and said, “Ma’am! You know just as well as I do, that was not what he is trying to do. This began a few people ahead of him and no one was trying to do something to YOU.” She looked me dead in the face, completely calm and said, “You’re right.” She then took her seat. She couldn’t have surprised me more.

My thoughts on this situation: Assume the best in people, help them see the real situation and let them rise to the occasion. It always makes your day better when a passenger surprises you with a great experience.

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If I could’ve pulled a DB Cooper…

Then there was a time…

…we were cruising through the beverage service; nice crew, light flight, no troubles, very nice passengers. I say to the customer at the window, “And what would you like to drink sir?” And the LADY with the deep voice and sensible haircut at the window answers, “I’d like a Diet Coke.” Talk about embarrassing.  The fact that it takes a long time to pour Diet Coke added to the duration of my embarrassment. If I could’ve pulled a DB Cooper I would have jumped out of the plane, never to be found again.

Moral: Look people directly in the eye when asking questions. Doing so can save yourself from embarrassment AND of the possibility of having to jump out of a perfectly functioning airplane.

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So much depends on HOW you show up

And then there was a time…

…I was working a LHR to JFK flight and decided to go visit with Joan Collins who was seated at the front of the plane. Yes, THE Joan Collins! I spruced up, checked my teeth, opened the curtain and confidently presented myself at her seat. She was reading at the time and kindly placed her book to the side. “Ms. Collins, I heard you were onboard and wanted to come say hello and see if you needed anything.” With eyes wide open, a friendly smile and an attentive gaze, Ms. Collins asked, “Are you the captain?” I found her question splendid. I chuckled and let her know that I was a member of the cabin crew. After some small chit chat, mostly me telling her how I missed her appearance at a London booking signing and her travels to NYC, I refilled her beverage and returned to tourist class. She was most gracious and kind.

Moral: People can be very nice. Depending on HOW you show up and present yourself, people may think the world of you. You part ways feeling like you’re on top of the world.

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Delta Sky Deck – an observation

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Observation decks are reminiscent of the glory days of flying. There was a time when people would go out to airports for the sake of watching planes from these excellent vantage points. A few airports in the world still have them. They’re definitely a thing of a bygone era.  When we heard Delta was opening “observation decks” at two locations (JFK and ATL) we were over-the-moon with excitement.

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Dramatic red tarpaulins dissecting the blue skies

On June 10, 2013 Delta opened an all-new 1,710 sq ft Sky Deck at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The Sky Deck is an extension of the Sky Club, Delta’s lounge for frequent fliers and is located on F Concourse at the Maynard JacksonTerminal.
We were given the opportunity to visit the Delta Sky Deck and here is our account.
When entering the Delta Sky Club on F Concourse our first impression was modern and clean. Once inside the Club we were greeted by an immense, 2-story glass wall which gave us a bird’s eye view of the taxiways, runways, and the airport control tower. Talk about avgeek heaven! The Club is standard in its look and feel across the Delta domestic system. There is ample seating arranged individually and group seating configurations, business center, work stations, quiet area, high top tables, bar area, espresso/coffee machine, and a variety of snacks (from sweet to savory, from healthy to indulgent). Other amenities included power ports to charge your electronic devices and free wifi. We did notice that the wifi was very slow. We surmised it may have been slow due to the number of passengers in the lounge at this time.
What makes this Sky Club unique, like its counterpart at JFK, is the Sky Deck; a partially enclosed outside seating and gathering place for Sky Club members. Cozy sofas, chairs, ornamental shrubs, and high top tables adorn this oasis. The blue sky was dissected by large red decorative tarpaulins. Members have an unfettered view of all the airport activity going on below. During our visit there was a Delta 747 destined for Tokyo, a 737 parked just below, and we even saw the Delta 767-400 BCRF plane (pink plane) taxiing by. Being on the Sky Deck harkened back to an era that no longer exists at many of the world’s airports. We both agreed that more Delta Sky Clubs should have Sky Decks.

At both ATL and JFK, Delta collaborated and partnered with Architectural Digest and designer Thom Filicia to develop the Sky Deck terraces. Many may remember Thom Filicia as the interior design expert in the highly enjoyable, amazingly energetic, Emmy-Award winning hit show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

For those who are not a member of the Sky Club, and want to have this unique experience, there are various ways to gain access. These include, but aren’t limited to: paid membership, using miles for membership, purchasing a 30-day or 1-day pass, and various options through the SkyMiles American Express Card. Please click to see what options are best for you, locations, and amenities offered at Delta Sky Clubs.
We enjoyed our time at the Sky Deck at the Sky Club on F Concourse at ATL. When your future plans take you via Atlanta and you have time, you should definitely check it out.
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Sylvester & Darin