The View from the Window Seat

The culture of flying to another place has changed drastically over the last decades. You know this if you lived through it, if you happened to watch even one episode of Pan Am while it lasted, or if you have been on a plane in the last few years.

Flying was ‘democratized’, as someone I know likes to say. With the relative drops in prices, nearly all consumers now have the ability to hop on a plane and head elsewhere. With this, flying became less exclusive. Today, few, unless in business class, dress up for a flight. And today, the general attitude is that access to the skies is a right, not a privilege.

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Which is all fine and good. Everyone should have access to flights around the world. Like the famous quote by St. Augustine goes, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Flying opens the world up to people who may never have had access before.

But with that comes the problem of customer service. If we believe flight is a right we have, we demand an above-and-beyond experience in customer service. Unfortunately at the same time, customer service over the years has diminished significantly. Someone I know in the industry likes to say, “it has been a race to the bottom”.

Airline carriers over the last decades have merged, and with that, personal care dropped on many companies’ lists of priorities. In decades past more airlines meant more options for consumers, so customer service had to be stellar in order to gain customers. (check out Wikipedia’s complete list of airlines that no longer exist.) Now, with many airlines still working to sort out their budgets in the post- September 11 era, customer service often comes last.

photo credit: http://www.fodors.com/

Today, obviously there are still many wonderful and talented flight attendants and customer service staff. But when the company limits the resources available to them, just how satisfying can they make passengers’ experiences? In addition, these employees have also had massive decreases in relative pay and benefits. For instance, in this article about life as a flight attendant, one flight attendant says:

“Our airline used to pay us when we showed up for duty at the airport. That was eons ago. Then we got paid our measly hourly wage when the cabin doors closed.  Then it was when the plane’s brakes were released. Now we get paid only when the wheels leave the ground. We don’t even get paid when we’re taxiing! There can sometimes be hours of delay between the time we show up for work and when we’re airborne. Different airlines have different policies, but it’s a way for them to save money. So when we greet you at the door, we do that for free. When we serve you your pre-flight drink, we do that for free, too. No wonder our smiles are so fake.”

So, my question to you, readers, today is what airline you turn to for the best in-flight experience. What do these airlines offer you that others don’t? Who has the best deal for the best experience? What tips do you have to get a better customer service experience out of a flight? What loyalty programs are best? Please leave any and all feedback in the comments section!

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