Nothing brings a nice, relaxing vacation to a screeching halt like a crappy return flight experience. Are we there yet?

I recently wrote a blog about my booking experience for some summer travel with my two boys. We finally took that trip, and the travel, for the most part, was much less painful than that booking experience. But, let’s not get too excited! You can always count on the airlines for some customer experience “don’ts!”

I wrote about United Airlines in an earlier post (The Experience Speaks Louder than Words) in which I outlined their values, as noted by their CEO, Jeff Smisek:
  • Doing what you say you’re going to do
  • Doing your very best to deliver on it, and
  • Recognizing your mistakes
He summed these up as dignity and respect, treating each other like we liked to be treated.
Fair enough. I like those values. Now tell me if you think they lived up to them with this experience.
During our travels back home, we had a layover in Houston. We landed 30 minutes late after circling the airport for as long because of storms. After we landed, I turned on my phone and saw an email notification from United, letting me know the flight was delayed roughly an hour and why (our crew had not arrived yet). For once, it was fortunate that our connecting flight was delayed because we never would have made it to the other end of the airport in time to catch it. While we were waiting to board, the flight was delayed one more time by 15 minutes, but we boarded as if we were still on track for the first delayed departure time, 15 minutes earlier.
Once everyone had boarded, one of the flight attendants announced that she wanted to be very transparent with us. She let us know the pilot and crew had landed; however, they were at the other end of the airport, and we’d depart as soon as they made their way to our gate. We were otherwise ready to go.
Wow. That sounded great. Imagine the thought of transparency in such a situation! How delightful.
O wait. Not so fast!  Incredibly enough, that was the last we heard from anyone until we were in the air. Yes! Until we were in the air! Here’s what happened for the 45+ minutes after that “transparent” announcement and before take-off:
* The flight crew boarded. There was no announcement.
* More passengers boarded. There was no announcement that we were waiting for delayed passengers to arrive.
* We sat on the runway waiting for our turn to take off for 35+ minutes. There was no announcement about why we were just sitting there.
Now, where is the transparency? Where is the communication? Where is the treating each other like we liked to be treated?
We got none of that. Instead, what I got from two impatient boys who were tired and ready to get home: “When are we taking off? What time is it now? Why aren’t we taking off? Why are we just sitting here?” Yea, inquiring minds want to know. And it wasn’t just my kids with those questions. Unfortunately, I had no answers.
Three things that are important to a great customer experience:
  1. Setting expectations (often in the form of your values, brand promise, etc.)
  2. Communication, and
  3. Delivering on those expectations
As I’ve written in the past: “Expectations are an integral part of your customers’ satisfaction levels. As a matter of fact: Performance – Expectations = Satisfaction. Communicating with your customers openly and honestly sets their expectations and allows for a great experience to unfold, assuming you meet (or exceed) those expectations; failing to communicate simply leaves them in the dark.
The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. -George Bernard Shaw