As I travel across the country, I often find airline employees who go far beyond the normal in order to help confused, misled and frantic passengers. I try to take the time to write a comment to their airline on the airline’s site. Though complaining is the norm, compliments are remembered far longer than complaints.
A few months ago, a gate agent went out of his way to help a passenger whose schedule was being destroyed by tarmac delays and storms. The passenger spoke no English and had already been delayed for three hours on the tarmac. Fortunately, the captain decided to return to the terminal to allow passengers to use facilities and let the storms pass.
The passenger in question had been seated next to me and we struck up a conversation. As we sat on the runway, he became more and more concerned about whether he would make his connection to Santo Domingo. Luckily, I had my iPhone and could look at schedules for him should he miss his connecting flight. He was out of luck and would not be able to make the connection and would be stuck overnight in Boston.
I spoke with the gate agent when our plane returned to the terminal. He checked flights and said, “I can get him on a flight to Miami and on to Santo Domingo in about an hour.”
“Great,” I said, “but, his luggage is aboard the plane; it was gate checked.”
The agent took the passenger down the jetway and had the baggage handlers pull luggage until they found his bag. Both the passenger and the gate agent came back wet, but both were happy. The passenger headed to Santo Domingo and the gate agent went back to work.
I noted the gate agent’s name and made sure to send a compliment to the airline. Unfortunately, I never heard anything from the airline. I wasn’t even sure whether they had received my note. But I let it pass.
Last week, I was connecting through Washington Reagan and again saw the gate agent. I asked him whether he gets feedback from folk who send in compliments. I recounted the story and his face lit up!
“You’re the one! Thank you.” he said.
Then four other gate agents who were nearby chimed in, “He is a hero around here. That story made company headlines.”
It was obvious that each of the other gate agents were aware of their fellow worker’s efforts and the fact that he had received unsolicited kudos. That kind of positive reinforcement for a job well done is customer service honey.
It was nice to know that my compliment made a difference to him and his colleagues.
I have been involved in other incidents where an American Airlines pilot, knowing that many of her passengers would miss connections to South America, radioed ahead to Miami and notified the station of the pending problem. The Miami station had everyone rebooked, boarding passes printed and hotel vouchers right at the arrival gate. What could have been a mess at midnight, became easy and everyone left with smiles rather than grumbling.
That deserved another compliment letter. My letter was eventually included in the company email newsletter. Hopefully other pilots and ground crews learned about how to handle an unpleasant situation.
Bottom line: Compliments go a long way to improving customer service. When you find those who make travel possible trying to make someone’s life on the road easier, a compliment is in order. With a few more, there may be fewer complaints.