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By Doug Kennedy

As a hotel industry customer service trainer and conference speaker, I am on the road nearly every week.  Being based in a large metropolitan area such as Ft. Lauderdale / Miami, FL, it is not logical to stay loyal to one airline; I find it better to fly on whichever one has non-stops.  Although I am a Platinum level flyer on both Delta and American, I also frequently fly all the major airlines including United, Southwest, Jetblue, and even some of the low-cost ones such as Spirit and Frontier.  I’m sure I fly at least 200,000 miles every year and have for more than 25 years.

Of course I encounter delays, typically due to weather and mechanical issues. Sometimes the reason is more unusual, such as a recent delay caused by the plane needing to be drained of excessive fuel or another recent delay caused by the break-down of the hotel courtesy van caring the crew.

When I think about all of the moving parts that have to come together, I am actually amazed how often things go just fine. First, all of the mechanical components have to work, then the weather has to cooperate at both the departure and arrival locations, and wherever the plane is coming in from.  Then the pilots and crew members all have to arrive on time from other flights, without hitting up against the FAA maximum number of hours on duty.  Yet somehow the majority of flights that I am on arrive on time and those that are delayed are generally only a few hours tardy. Averaging about 60 trips per year for 25 plus years, I feel blessed to say I have made it to my destination all but about a half dozen times on the same day.

That being said, as I have been reading all of the recent criticisms in both mass and social media of the airline experience, I truly feel that us road warriors need to stand up for the airline professionals.

Being in the hospitality training field, I am keenly observant regarding the service levels provided by all airline personnel from the check-in counter to gate agents to flight attendants and pilots.  Although I sometimes encounter indifferent and burned-out staff, and very occasionally a rude one, the vast majority of airline personnel I encounter are true hospitality superstars.

Of all hospitality industry professionals, from restaurant works to hotel front desk clerks, I have to say that airline personnel have the hardest jobs imaginable.  So many times I have seen gate agents taking verbal abuse from passengers when the plane is delayed for bad weather and even for mechanical delays.  I often have to restrain myself from intervening and asking the complainer: “Do you REALLY want this plane to take off with a warning indicator flashing on the control panel?” or “Do you REALLY want the pilots to fly with ice on the wings?” 

Worse yet is the abuse the poor staff take working at what I truly think is the hardest job in customer service – the lost luggage desk.  Usually, the worst case scenarios are that the luggage will be arriving on the morning flight tomorrow, and often it is only going to be a few hours later on the same day.  Yet from the reactions, one would think that the poor soul will be left forever naked in a desert. When I’m the next person in line and my turn finally comes I often say, “Hello, if I yell, scream, curse and call you names, will it make my luggage suddenly appear?” They usually smile and say “no,” and then I say “Well I suppose I’ll have to be polite then!” 

Finally, I want to address these latest situations with United and American Airlines. It is truly shocking to see that guy with a bloody face being dragged down the aisle by the airport police.  It is also sad to see a young mom in tears when her stroller was snatched away.  Surely, the gate agents should not have allowed all the passengers to board and should have offered more than the $800.  However, the airline personnel that needed to be accommodated were on their way to fly a different airplane, full of probably at least 100 other passengers who would have otherwise been stranded by a cancelled flight. 

Admittedly, had I been commanded to de-plane, you can bet I would have made a scene and there might have been some harsh words, however, when reminded of my legal obligation to comply with the instructions of a flight crew, and certainly when the cops showed up, you can also bet I would have gotten up and walked off on my own. 

As to the mom with the stroller, I know procedures can be confusing for those who do not travel. I can even imagine that the gate agent might have barked out instructions to “leave the stroller at the bottom of the ramp” too quickly for her to understand, so she boarded with it.  However, I’m pretty certain that the flight attendant first told her the procedures before grabbing it away. 

So my fellow travelers, when you complain about how little room there is in the seats, how you don’t get meals any more, and how you have to pay for your extra bag, keep in mind that you are paying the lowest fares in the history of air travel.  Even when NOT adjusted for inflation, today’s fares are so much lower than when I first started traveling. Even the worst flight experience beats driving a long distance. 

Personally, I find that when I am reasonably polite, when I flash a smile, show some kindness and use a bit of humor, I always get fantastic service even from what first appeared to be that burned out indifferent gate agent or flight attendant.  So stop complaining, start smiling and start complying and we will all have a better experience! 

About Doug Kennedy

Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations, and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hospitality industry authorities. Visit KTN at  or email him directly

Doug is the author of “So You REALLY Like Working With People?  - Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.” 

Contact: Doug Kennedy / (954) 533.9130

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