This past weekend I flew on United to San Francisco. There are direct flights from Eugene, Oregon, where I live to SFO on United, and therefore I fly on United A LOT. From SFO I can get pretty much anywhere – so it is almost like my home airport. Anyone who lives in the Bay area, or has flown through SFO regularly knows what a pain it can be when it is cloudy and or foggy. Apparently, way back when the runways were built, due to geographic constraints (i.e. the bay) 2 of runways are too close together for simultaneous parallel landings. This means when the visibility is reduced the FAA mandates one of the runways shut down. This wreaks havoc on SFO, and more so on United who has the most flights in and out of SFO. So usually in the winter, when flying out of Eugene through SFO I always brace myself for tons of delays and sometimes even cancellations. The airlines have become notorious for TERRIBLE customer service and United has been no exception.
So imagine my surprise on Friday when I received a phone call from a SkyWest employee (they run United Express flights out of Eugene). She called to ask whether I could get to the airport within an hour in order to get on an earlier flight – as my flight was already showing a delay of at least 2 hours. If I could get in, they could get me on the earlier flight, and I could get into SFO at the same time my original flight was supposed to arrive. I was floored. My jaw dropped. An airline calling to facilitate my travel, giving more information then I have asked, and then trying to accommodate me? Was this really happening? Was I really getting “customer service” from the airline?
Of course I also realized that this is the type of customer service that really helps them:
1. They had plenty of available seats on the earlier flight. Getting me out and on that flight opens up seats on the flight I was on, which they were afraid would be the last flight of the day (the latest flight was going to be canceled). Getting me out of their hair and on a flight also saved them effort and money trying to reschedule me – and potentially get me to SFO through Portland, or even on another airline. It was actually the easiest thing for them to do. That being said — it was still amazing to me that the airline, without me calling them, without me freaking out about the delays, made this happen. I got to San Francisco 15 minutes earlier then I had planned. Overall – perfect customer service – better for the customer and the company
2. United has started not updating their flight status. The last 4-5 flights I have been on have been delayed by more than an hour. The United website and automated phone status system do NOT reflect the actual changes. The plane looks like it left and arrived on time – although the reality is not so nice. BY calling me, and getting me on the earlier flight they deal with the customer issue — but still get to keep their so-called on-time record looking better. I am not annoyed that the info online is incorrect – because I have received a personal phone call. I still feel it is fraudulent of United to NOT update their status – but as a customer I don’t care as much as long as they take care of me.
I feel like there is so much that can be gained in industries like the airlines, for that company that can actually break through and provide good service. JetBlue has actually been a good case study of an airline that focuses on customers and has gotten ahead by doing so. Imagine if the airline actually emailed you and alerted you with real information about flights? Imagine if the airline alerted you and let you know when fares had gone down, so that you could get a price break on an expensive ticket? Wouldn’t that make you more loyal?