AMR, Delta, United, US Airways and Southwest reveal their top 2011 employee service moments.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. MainStreet) -- As a heavy holiday travel period approaches, many people will approach the airport with dread.
The long security lines, crowded planes and potential weather delays can seem threatening. Add to that our country's anti-airline hysteria, heightened by media seeking distressed passengers to interview, and you may conclude that the best thing to do is stay home.
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But it is wise to remember that not only will thousands of airline employees be working through the holidays, including Christmas Eve and Christmas day, but that each day some airline employees go to extraordinary lengths to help passengers.
In fact, the kindnesses routinely displayed by airline employees are a little-known secret. Each week, airline internal communications writers churn out stories about the good deeds done by front-line employees. Unfortunately, these stories are generally read only by other airline employees.
We asked the four big network carriers to pick top service moments last year and found there was even a United(:UAL) flight attendant who saved a passenger's life. Nothing quite so dramatic came up this year, although a US Airways(:LCC) customer service agent did jump through hoops to help a passenger with dementia who was traveling alone to Israel.
Here are this year's five top service moments, selected by each of the airlines.
1. Playing matchmaker
Who: United employees in Los Angeles, Denver and inflight
What happened: This is a dreamy, romantic story about two people, Shawn and Lori, who met when they checked in for a United flight from Los Angeles to Denver in 2006. Perhaps it could be made into a Lifetime movie.
"We both got offers to upgrade, and ended up sitting next to each other in first class," said Shawn in an article in a publication for United employees. "It turned out we lived two blocks from each other, and that is how the romance started."
Five years later, in July, the couple had decided to move from Los Angeles to Denver, and Shawn wanted to propose to Lori on the same flight. When he asked United to help, employees in Los Angeles and Denver as well as the flight crew jumped on the opportunity.
In Los Angeles, lounge manager Shelley Schrader and customer service representative Fru Lavilla delivered a bottle of sparkling wine for a toast. On Flight 472, flight attendants helped Shawn arrange the surprise proposal. In Denver, lounge manager Allisa Natale and her co-workers met the flight to present the newly engaged couple with gifts and take photos. "Shawn said he couldn't say enough good things about United," Natale reported.
In a note to United, Lori wrote: "We are having a destination wedding in Mexico on July 13, 2012, because we are huge travelers! Again, we can't thank you enough for making our dreams come true!"
2. Serving as guardian
Who: US Airways agent in Philadelphia
What happened: Andrew McMahon, a US Airways customer service agent in Philadelphia, was supposed to be off work April 21.
But on the evening of April 20, the flight to Tel Aviv returned to the airport due to smoke in the cabin and the flight was canceled. The passengers included a man, traveling alone, who suffered from dementia. In cases involving passengers with special needs, US Airways makes an effort to ensure that an employee oversees the passenger's overnight accommodations.
McMahon was assigned the task of getting the passenger to a hotel for the night and back to the airport the next day. But he went way beyond the assignment. He called the passenger's wife from the airport, then again from the hotel. He made sure the passenger was settled.
The next morning, on his off day, McMahon took the passenger to breakfast, helped him pack, took him to the airport, helped him board and again called the passenger's wife with an update.
In commending McMahon, Rene Burrows, a Philadelphia customer service shift manager, wrote: "Without Andrew's dedicated customer service, this passenger would have been left roaming the airport and possibly gotten lost if he went to the hotel by himself. He kept misplacing his wallet and phone and Andrew finally secured it in his bag and stayed by his side, providing great customer service."
"I spoke to the passenger's wife later that evening and all she kept saying was how amazing Andrew was," Burrows wrote.
3. Overseas item rescue
Who: American Airlines airport office worker in San Jose, Costa Rica
What happened: In the spring, a young traveler from Cambridge, Mass., flying home from San Jose, Costa Rica, left her brand-new laptop on the belt after it was scanned by airport security.
Fortunately, the next morning, the passenger's panicked phone call to American(:AMR) was picked up by Cinthya Arroyo, the airline's administrative assistant in the San Jose airport.
"Cinthya was immediately helpful," the passenger wrote to management in a note. "We spoke about the best approach to getting my laptop back and we continued to communicate by email. She agreed to help facilitate a FedEx shipment under my account number after she secured the laptop from the airport administrator.
"Without her help and wonderful service, I'm sure I would not be receiving my laptop," the passenger wrote. "Her customer service acumen ranks among the best I've seen. It was my great fortune to have come in contact with her during this situation."
4. Taking the initiative
Who: Southwest mechanic in Phoenix
What happened: This is another story about how a passenger lost an electronic device during a flight, and how an employee got it back. In this case, the employee is a Southwest(:UAL) mechanic.
The passenger was flying home to Phoenix in September after a cloud computing conference in San Francisco. He made a fatal mistake and put his iPad in the seatback in front of him, then began yakking with a friend. "It wasn't until many, many hours later when I was unpacking that I realized my iPad was missing," the passenger wrote on his blog. (It's a fact: People who attend "cloud computer" conferences often have their own blogs.)
As is normal in these situations, the passenger began making frantic phone calls and tweets. He called Southwest. He tweeted Southwest. He called the airport's lost and found department. "I really had very little hope that I'd ever see the iPad again," he says.
"And then out of the blue, I get a call from a number that's not in my phone," he wrote. It was Southwest mechanic John San Diego in Phoenix, "who figured that he could ensure that the IPad made it back to me rather than inject it back into the system and never hear what happened."
The two arranged to meet at a convenient Phoenix-area store. "I tried to give him a reward multiple times but he wouldn't take it," the passenger wrote. "I'm still pretty blown away that he actually found the iPad and then went out of his way to return it. And then I can't believe that he wouldn't take a reward. I guess sometimes I am way too pessimistic when it comes to human nature."
5. Celebrating loyalty
Who: Delta JFK airport agents
What happened: Delta(:DAL) has something different this year: a group of employees who showed the love to a passenger as he boarded the flight on which he would achieve Diamond Medallion status for flying 125,000 miles on Delta in a single year.
The passenger's name is Ted, but it is not me -- my editors never send me anywhere. This Ted is different. In mid-November, as he headed for New York's Kennedy International Airport, he tweeted a note to the @DeltaAssist team, joking that he was about to reach Diamond Medallion status and expected to see dancing crew members and a cake.
Once the tweet arrived, the @DeltaAssist team notified the JFK team, which decided it could enliven this particular passenger experience. We will let Delta CEO Richard Anderson take it from here, quoted from a November recorded message to employees. (Anderson delivers a weekly message.)
"As Ted approached the gate he heard the gate agent congratulate him in front of the entire gatehouse," Anderson wrote. "Then they presented him with a framed certificate and a special Delta bag. They all shook his hand, congratulating him on his accomplishment, and the entire gate area of employees and customers joined in a round of applause for him."
On the aircraft, "each of our flight attendants personally came by to thank Ted for his business and the captain made an announcement from the cockpit congratulating him as well. Ted said he felt like a rock star."
Unlike the passengers in many airline hero stories, Ted was not a passenger in distress. But as Anderson said: "I love this story because it demonstrates perfectly the impact we can make when we all work together."
As far as the societal trends reflected in this story, Anderson noted that "social media is becoming an important part of how we communicate with our customers, and it makes an incredible impact when we can use those tools to create a personal experience for them."
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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