Tag Archives: flight attendants

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

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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