With no shortage of horrifying airline stories in the news, you might be feeling some anxiety about planning that next trip. Thankfully, these type of stories are not actually all that common – but what is common are disruptions, delays, and mishaps.
Just last week one of my Twitter friends, Julia, received notice just five hours before her Norwegian Air flight out of Newark, New Jersey that her departure airport was being changed to JFK Airport in New York. Not only did she have to get to JFK, but she wasn’t given a new departure time. She just had to rush over there and sit and wait… and wait… for what ended up being a more than five-hour delay.
I usually don’t blame airlines when disruptions and delays happen. I am still amazed by the idea of flight, and I understand there are a lot of moving parts to the process of getting a giant tin can up into the sky and moving it successfully to another part of the world. Airlines can’t plan for everything: sometimes there is bad weather, sometimes sensors malfunction, and sometimes air traffic control is going to get backed up.
Situations like these give me the opportunity to evaluate airlines because ultimately how the airline and their employees handle the situation and treat their customers is what really matters. Each time there is a glitch in the flight process, airlines have the opportunity to lose or impress their customers.
Spirit, an airline that lost me, canceled my flight home at the last minute but didn’t communicate the cancellation with me. I found out only after arriving at the Orlando airport. I tried for hours to arrange another flight, and, in the end, wasn’t able to get a new flight until the next morning causing a chain reaction of sorts. I had to pay an extra night of parking, find a place to sleep, and lose a day of work. The only compensation I received was a $10 meal voucher for the airport. When I tried to use it, the restaurant and store employees repeatedly told me, “I am sorry but I am not allowed to accept that because Spirit never pays us back.” Because of this experience six years ago, I have never flown with Spirit again and discourage my clients from traveling with them.
On the other hand, last year while preparing to fly to London with WOW Air, after boarding, we learned there was something wrong with one of the sensors on an emergency exit. After sitting on the plane for two or three hours, we had to get off and be rescheduled. We were immediately given drink vouchers for the airport bar and told to go enjoy ourselves while they worked out the details of our complimentary hotel rooms for the night.
A little bit later, we were shuttled to the Marriott and given meal vouchers to cover breakfast and lunch the next day. We were rescheduled with a direct flight on British Airways the following night. I was also given a free round trip ticket to anywhere WOW flies (that’s how I got to Italy this past September) and an added bonus of getting to meet and hang out with other travelers.
Both were crappy situations I didn’t want to be in but WOW employees stepped up to make sure we were taken care of to the best of their ability. And this includes their Twitter team who went above and beyond all day by keeping in touch with me, passing along updates I had not yet received, and following up to confirm I made it to London. They turned me into a raving fan who has repeatedly flied with them and recommended them to friends and clients.
As I watched Julia’s situation unfold on Twitter and learned the same Norwegian Air situation has occurred multiple times this week, I have been disappointed to see Norwegian Air missing out on the opportunity to serve their passengers and show them they are valued.
I know my experience is not unique so I went in search of times airlines and their employees have impressed customers by doing something extra special to help a passenger. It is my hope that by sharing these stories, airlines will be inspired to continue looking for ways to improve the traveler experience and turn more passengers into raving fans.
Cathy Carty’s Southwest Evacuation Story:
Last year, my fiancé and I cruised out of Puerto Rico. We heard about Hurricane Irma and knew our return flight was going to be cancelled. Unfortunately we didn’t have a good way to contact Southwest from the ship, putting us at a clear disadvantage for rescheduling.
We called Southwest as soon as we returned to port. Unfortunately everything was cancelled or booked for the next six days. The agent on the phone suggested we go to the airport even though we didn’t see any availability on the website. We went to the airport and talked to one of the agents. She looked at a few things on her computer and then left the desk. She returned from a back office with boarding passes for a flight that day!
It turns out Southwest added a flight to the schedule the day before and found a crew willing to come pick up stranded passengers! We ended up making it home that day and avoided a disappointing end to an amazing trip.
Jen Shea’s Flybe Story:
I had a terrific experience flying from Charles de Gaulle in Paris to Exeter airport in England. The airline is Flybe, a small commuter line. I injured my left foot when I was leaving my AirBnB in Paris. The Uber dropped me off at the airport (wrong terminal) and the pain just got worse and worse as I tried to find my terminal and the check-in…
Once at the gate, I spoke with an agent and asked if I could board last because I didn’t want to slow down the flow of passengers since I was struggling to walk. Instead, they had me pre-board… and carried my bag for me. Once at Exeter, the gate agent walked me (with 3 months worth of luggage) over to the car rental (in another building) and waited with me there. I say they went over and above in service!
Beth Maynor’s Luggage Problems Story:
Flying from Orlando to North Carolina to see my mom, I got to the airport late, didn’t have the money to check my bag, had to call my mom to pay for it online, re-check in, and was then told I was too late to get on my plane and would have to wait for another flight and pay more money to get on that flight! I started to cry and the agent calmed me down and personally got my luggage and me quickly to my original flight. I’ll never forget that — I was so grateful!
It stuck out to me because I was a young, broke, scared, emotional woman flying alone and for that particular agent to take the extra time to help me out meant everything to me. She was within every right to stick to her guns, but it really made all the difference for her to help me!
Aurora Gregory’s JetBlue Suitcase Story:
Years ago, I was booked on a JetBlue flight to Chicago. It was winter time and the weather in the Midwest was awful. I arrived at the airport, checked my bag and on my way to the gate, my flight changed from on-time departure to delayed. While I was waiting, my client called to tell me the meeting I was going to Chicago to attend was cancelled. I went up to the podium and explained what had happened to the gate agent. My suitcase had already been loaded on the plane, so I asked her what my options were. She asked me to describe it, and then she and someone from the ground crew went into the cargo hold, pulled my suitcase out and gave it back to me. I couldn’t believe they did that. It was so incredibly helpful and saved me the headache of having to figure out how to get my suitcase back from Chicago where I wasn’t going. I’ve never forgotten it and when I fly, I fly JetBlue any chance I get.
Daniella Smith’s United Upgrade Story:
My credit card had just been stolen, and I must have looked upset. United upgraded me from Economy to Business just to make my day nicer.
Olga Morris’s Delta Pillow Hero Story:
Coming from Florida in February, my daughter left her stuffed animal by the seat. We were outside of the gate as we were waiting to board. When we boarded, I asked the Delta flight attendant to check if anyone at the gate could locate it. Not only did he do that, but he left the plane and went back in to the airport to get it himself. Katelyn was very happy. He was great!
Carol Young’s Southwest Mother of the Bride Story:
Southwest helped my son-in-law pull off a surprise proposal. My daughter had been serving as a volunteer nurse in Honduras for four months, and they hadn’t seen each other during that time. Her flight connected in Austin, and he boarded the plane there without her seeing him. The flight attendant announced a special event, dropped rose petals in the aisle, and invited her to come forward. They played a recording of his voice over the loudspeaker, and then he popped out and popped the question.
Caitlin Vivian’s JetBlue Upgrade Story:
My JetBlue flight was delayed for weather and no fault of their own. Without me having to ask, I got a voucher for a future flight AND they gave us pizza while we waited for the next flight AND they did a fun social media contest while we waited that got me and my boyfriend upgraded seats.
I’m level headed enough to know that sometimes unexpected situations (passenger mishaps, weather, air traffic control, etc.) that are just out of the hands of the airline will happen, but the one thing I have learned through all of these experiences is that airlines and their employees have the ability to make the situation better or worse.
The situation may be out of their control, but how they treat the passenger is in their control.
Does the airline take ownership of problems? Do they accept responsibility? When a situation is out of their control, do they communicate with passengers? Do they acknowledge the inconvenience and do what they can to try and help? Do they just try to pass the blame? When a passenger has a problem, do they show their humanity and try to do what they can to help?
When my flight to London was delayed and then cancelled, WOW turned a negative situation into one I will never forgot — not only did I make a dozen new friends but I received a voucher for another trip which I turned into a trip of a lifetime.
Thank you, friends for sharing your stories, and a big shout out to airlines that care enough about individual passengers by doing big things – like comping a hotel room – or small – like retrieving a toy or carrying a bag.