Let's face it - air travel sucks these days. That's true on all the major carriers. They are forced to offer prices at ridiculously low rates compared to costs and as a result have engineered the most complicated system of boarding the aircraft possible, a convoluted system of redeeming air miles that almost makes you question your loyalty, baggage policies and fees that defy logic, and seats jammed together so tightly that they must have a relationship with a knee surgeon. Frankly, that stress makes it way into the psyche of the staff who have to deal with frustrated customers on a daily basis.
American Airlines is no different. If you look at my Twitter stream over the past month you'll see that they have caused significant levels of stress due to canceled flights, extended delays due to mechanical problems, and overcrowded flights etc. but overall the one reason I continue flying with them is that their staff tend to always go above and beyond what is asked to make things just a bit better.
That was true a couple weeks ago when my wife was stressed out at home because I was stuck in Houston and told there was "no way I could get home that night". Somehow though, their Twitter team made it happen happen. It was also true last weekend when because I was on an award travel ticket and Heather wasn't, we couldn't move my seat to be with her. Unfortunately the AAdvantage agent wasn't able to help either - but she told me that there were seats available and I just needed to get to the airport to access them.
Upon arriving at the airport I dreaded the response to this special request and wondered if I would get an agent that actually cared or one that just wanted to push people through the queue.
Luckily, I met Raja Zahid and after some effort he was able to find seats for us together!
It's easy to just let things end there but I recognize how difficult it is these days and that people like Raja (as well as those faceless members of the phone and social media teams) deserve to be thanked for their effort. Like anything in a service industry though, it is critical to remember it is a two-way street. While we as travelers have a right to expect a certain level of service I have found that when I ask nicely, calm down and try to work with the staff and provide as much guidance on exactly what I want to have happen that 9 times out of 10 they are able to hook me up with what's being requested.
Saying thanks and letting the kind people know that they are appreciated also helps to pass that positive spirit to the next person as well, so I Tweeted to American, thanking them and didn't expect anything more than a canned response.
Instead, they followed up a short time later and sent me a note that they had given Raja (on the right in the blue jacket) an "Above and Beyond" certificate for his actions and even sent me the photo of him being presented with it.
It is amazing how something small like that can make your day a bit better and to see that my gratitude actually reached the person responsible for spending an extra couple minutes to help a customer was an awesome gesture. This (along with their engagement on Twitter during my frequent flights) goes along way towards building a sense of loyalty even beyond being Priority, Gold, Platinum, Ruby or whatever crazy level they will come up with next.
Thank you again Raja and the American Airlines Social Media team!
I can't wait to fly with you guys again soon ...