Flying can be a hassle and airlines seem uninterested in making it easier. They miss so many opportunities to differentiate themselves and provide a better experience that it would seem they have no interest in doing anything other than providing a commodity.
Take this example. I was flying to the east coast from California, and, due to a variety of circumstances, had to book a multi-connection flight. I was going from Oakland to LA to Atlanta and then home. A crazy trip I assure you. Anyway, we were late leaving from Oakland because, as our pilot informed us, LA was backed up due to a lack of runways. You see, one of LAX’s runways was being rebuilt and was causing much disturbance, traffic, and back up in the highways of the air.
After leaving Oakland and arriving in LA airspace, we circled a bit (delaying us even further) and finally landed in LA. Then, our plane was directed to an open area near some hangars where buses came to whisk us to the terminal. I am not sure why this had to happen since there were what looked like several gate parking areas that were open but air travel mysteries are many. Now, while this seems simple and a fair plan to get people where they needed to be, it took forever. Everything in air travel seems to take an inordinate amount of time, in this case, it’s like no one communicated the plan before landing and there was no proactive preparation. Everything was happening “on the fly” as it were.
Once we got off the plane, the buses took us to one terminal (LAX has several). There was some confusion among passengers because we were never told that the buses would not be delivering us to each terminal so some of us stayed aboard until the driver told us we had to depart; I guess we were expected to magically read minds. From there, the mad dash of many dissatisfied, frustrated passengers began. It was like the beginning of a 5K with people sprinting to find gates and make their destinations.
So, where were the opportunities for making this bad situation better? Here’s a list starting at the beginning with buying the ticket.
- The airline’s website could have had a warning about LAX being such a problem so that unsuspecting passengers could rethink their options and avoid connecting in LA.
- When it is known that passengers are aboard who have very, very tight connections, the flight crew could facilitate getting those people off the plan a little faster by asking those with connections in less than 30 minutes to raise their hands. They could then instruct the others to be mindful and let those with raised hands get off the plane first. I know there would be the jerks who would take advantage of this (there are always ‘me first’ people in any crowd) but I think the majority would be good about it and let the better angels of their nature prevail.
- The buses could have been ready and waiting so things could happen in a more efficient manner.
- There could have been an announcement to explain that everyone would be dropped at one terminal…or…if they want to be even more service focused, they could have had the buses make rounds to each terminal to lessen the need for passengers to sprint through the airport.
Now I know these things are probably a little costly and take some strategic thinking but I work in the hospitality environment and have seen much more difficult game plans being planned quickly and implemented successfully. The key is planning, quick thinking, and caring about customers enough to want to make their experience as good as it can be.
The moral here is this, when you know customers could be inconvenienced, make a plan, think from their perspective and find every way you can to make it easier for them. Contingency planning is one thing I believe businesses rarely think about but something that could make all of the difference.
Where are similar weaknesses in your operation? Where are areas in your customers’ experience where you know they could be inconvenienced? How can you better communicate potential log jams? What is your plan for clearing those inevitable bottlenecks so that customers are not the ones having to do the work? Ultimately, how can you differentiate your organization from the rest by being proactive, preparing for the worst, and making it all effortless for your customers?