Seems the old workaday expression, “Another day, another dollar” has stepped aside in recent weeks to make room for “Another day, another debacle” in the once-friendly skies.
By now, we’ve all heard of (and seen, yikes!) the mind-blowing string of customer service, ahem, missteps involving airlines and travelers. United Airlines’ oust-a-paying-passenger incident, American Airlines’ yank-a-stroller-and-strike-a-Mom scene, All Nippon Airways’ duke-it-out-in-coach Texas Cage Match. And in just the past few days, an inflight fight on Southwest Airlines, and a brawl in the terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
And the list goes mercilessly on, giving all-new meaning to “fight or flight”.
“I’ll be your Flight (Non)Attendant …”
I even took time recently to pen a complaint letter to the Customer Service department of an airline I fly on a regular basis after personally experiencing a takeoff-to-landing litany of rudeness from the cabin crew I’d never seen before.
This one was a tad tamer and less felonious than the above fiascos but it did involve basic customer-service “fails” such as: no eye contact, greeting or smiles at boarding, flight attendants snapping at passengers, flight attendants arguing amongst themselves, flight attendants criticizing passengers openly and audibly, flight attendants criticizing airline equipment, flight attendants not being what flight attendants should be: Safety stewards and hospitable hosts as you journey hither and yon, often at great expense.
(Having said that, the abhorrent ones we see and hear about in the sensation-fueled news media are the few bad apples that taint the entire barrel of hard-working professionals. They are definitely the exception, not the rule.)
But that’s not what I want to address today. What I do want to talk about is turbulence of a different sort.
This turbulence doesn’t involve emotional headwinds, fistfights, finger-pointing, or passengers being forcibly removed though it does involve airlines. And Mother Nature. And the unpredictable failure of various and sundry mechanical parts.
It’s inevitable in the meetings and events business — which involves significant air travel, living half your life in hotel rooms, and dining in out-of-town restaurants more often than grilling out at home – that you’ll encounter this type of scenario.
(An aside: “You have such a glamorous life!”, they say. But things aren’t always as they seem though I still love what I do.)
Recently, I was managing a corporate incentive travel program for a client that involved about 140 top-performing sales professionals/business owners and their guests. Among countless others, I had two flights – both originating in a western city (that shall remain nameless because it would give away the carrier) – inbounding to Charlotte where both groups would connect on a single flight to the proverbial sun & fun of Aruba which bills itself as One Happy Island.
Well, Mother Nature wasn’t one happy girl that day. At least not out west.
One group experienced weather delays but still managed to make their connection by the narrowest of margins. Whew! Meanwhile, my other group was delayed by a mechanical and wasn’t so lucky; looking at an unplanned, overnight stay in Charlotte and apparently lopping one night off the luxury vacation trip they’d worked so hard to earn.
The airline wanted the stranded group to be immediately flown to Miami and overnighted there because there were no seats available on the CLT-AUA route the next morning but there were seats available on flights originating in Miami the next day. Thus, their outbound journey ended up being Dallas-Charlotte-Miami-Aruba. Glamorous, right?
Sailors will tell you, “You can’t direct the wind but you can adjust the sails.” The same is true whether you’re navigating the Seven Seas or the Heavens above. “Stuff” happens. It’s a fact. It’s how you deal with the inevitable “stuff” that matters.
I share this with you because I want to emphasize the importance of utilizing a corporate-focused travel agent who is a true travel professional vs. a basic travel agency (in-house or otherwise) whose prime motivation is transactions and the $30-50 fee they earn for every passenger booked. Corporate travel agents who focus primarily on corporate incentive travel programs are 100% dedicated to delivering a superior guest experience every step of the way.
At dynami, we only use a trusted corporate travel agent, Uniglobe VIP, when managing incentives or other programs involving air travel. There are simply too many potential pitfalls in an age of terrorism concerns, much stricter safety measures, unpredictable TSA lines, frustrated fliers, and airline employees that too often forget their assigned roles and devolve into something from Elm Street.
Uh-oh, something’s up …
When it seemed both of my groups were at risk of not making the Charlotte-Aruba connection, my travel gal Debbie was already burning up phone lines and the internet trying to get our group booked on the next available flight, or re-routed so they arrived in Aruba as close as possible to the originally scheduled time. As I mentioned, one group made the connection but, had they not, Contingency Plan B was already solidly in place. The other group, of course, had to resort to the Plan B.
The alternative would’ve been to rely solely on the airline to handle re-bookings which would’ve meant a mad-dash to the nearest ticket counter to stand in line with 150 of your closest friends, or furiously dialing cell phones, or tapping madly on a tablet or laptop to get rebooked online.
Maybe you’d be satisfied, maybe not.
When hard-working folks have earned a luxury vacation, they move into kicked-back, relaxed mode once they settle into their business class seats and take their first sip of champagne. The real world and its associated hassles is the last thing they care to deal with when they’re in a “pamper me” mindset.
And that’s the way it should be!
They certainly don’t want to do the rebooking, rerouting, reorganizing and re-everything they have to do in their normal business travels when bad weather, broken parts or missed connections occur. This was a well-earned vacation, after all.
On the ground in Aruba, we were also aware that dinner reservations at the Aruba property needed to be made well in advance. (There is no walk-up, “Smith, party of four” and a 20-minute wait in the bar. No reservation, no dinner. Period.) We immediately reworked their dinner reservations, adjusted the seating time in accordance with their new ETA the following day, rescheduled ground transportation from the airport in Aruba to the resort property, and rescheduled the off-site excursion they would have missed.
All’s Well that Ends Well … Right?
The point is, somebody was working madly behind the scenes to “adjust the sails” so our travelers could stay as close to their “pamper me” mindset as possible. And it worked. Despite the crooked route to One Happy Island, those delayed were still jovial and in high spirits when they finally arrived because they knew their needs were being handled.
When “stuff” hit the fan, our corporate incentive travel agent went into what I call “service recovery mode” vs. rolling the dice and hoping the airlines would do the right thing.
And because they’d lost a night on the front end, we worked things out so their stay would be extended an extra night. Nobody got short-changed and, yes, all’s well that ends well.
Well … almost.
In a decidedly cruel twist of fate, three of the couples were again delayed by a mechanical on the return leg of the incentive; taking off five hours late and having to overnight in Charlotte before hopping a final flight home that arrived at dawn on Monday morning … just about the time they were expected to be back on the job pounding the pavement.
Some would call this a miserable experience, others would simply roll with the punches (fortunately my group did). But trust me, without the expert knowledge and dedication of a corporate travel agent, who is a true travel professional, pulling strings behind the scenes, the experience would’ve been far worse.
Keep that in mind next time airlift is part of your program.
For your next corporate incentive travel program, lean on the expertise and dedication of a corporate travel agent, who is a true travel professional, to deliver a superior guest experience.
Until next time!
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