Eight Ways American Carriers can Deliver Delightful Customer Service and Stay Ahead of Competition

Top airlines in the world are loved for their overall experience combining the hard product (seat quality, In-flight entertainment, amenities) with the soft product (on-board service, food etc.). But what makes a flight truly memorable for passengers is how he/she is taken care of during the flight, of which on-board service is a significant element.

As verbal volleys between US Airlines and their Middle Eastern counterparts escalate (over the usage of open skies policy and subsidies), one area, which is often highlighted, is service. Asian and Middle East airlines are quick to talk up their superior on-board service, while criticising service standards of US airlines, using many industry accolades as supporting evidence. (The highest ranking for a major US airline in Skytrax is #45, Delta Air Lines.)

In fact, Asian airlines such as Singapore Airlines have long emphasised this fact with campaigns like this — it is not for nothing that the Singapore Girl has become a glowing icon of dedication to service perfection. Middle Eastern carriers such as Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and their ilk have adopted a similar stance in recent years as well.

Time for American Carriers to Look Within

American carriers have, by all accounts, lagged far behind in this aspect, giving aviation experts and enthusiasts many hours of entertainment debating why this is the case.

However, we believe that US airlines can rise above the growing competition across the world, if they take careful note of their existing strengths, emphasise them, and adopt a few smart practices. Here’s how:

  • Embrace history: “The hospitality of southerners is so profuse, that taverns are but poorly supported. A traveler, with the garb and the manners of a gentleman, finds a welcome at every door.” And thus Jacob Abbott described “Southern Hospitality”, way back in 1835. We won’t be surprised if it influenced this JetBlue Captain, to welcome all his passengers personally. Gracious hospitality in Southern and Midwestern parts of America has long been written about, and we think it is time for US based airlines to take inspiration from traits uniquely American, to deliver top-notch service, without aping anyone.
  • Re-emphasise the passion: Most US flight attendants are Americans, and not individuals working thousands of miles away from their homeland. There is nothing wrong in either of the two scenarios, but it must be recognised that great flight attendants in US airlines are self-driven, they feel a sense of belonging when they serve their airlines, and they do it because they are proud to do so.
  • Encourage spontaneity: Passengers don’t always want a set routine for things, and that’s where the spontaneity can come in handy. Asian airlines are sometimes criticised by frequent flyers for offering the same, vanilla, predictable service each time they fly.
  • Be proud of your Individuality : Not every attendant in the flight has to greet, behave, and serve in the same manner. While consistency is something that Asian airlines value, the opposite of that could be a differentiator for US airlines. Everybody appreciates a quick thinker who can delight without worrying about a standard way of doing things.
  • Stay Engaging and Playful: These are not words one would associate with Asian or Middle Eastern Airlines but is not a long shot for airlines in the US. For a nervous or a first-time flier, some reassuring words in a casual manner by a flight attendant can go a long way in soothing nerves. Maybe a flight attendant who raps a flight safety demo?


Upgrade Service. Adopt Smart Practices.

While US based airlines spend billions of dollars to buy new aircraft and upgrade their product quality, they would do well to take couple of lessons from their Asian and Middle East counterparts, and implement it without discounting their own brand of American service.

  1. On-board resolution: Asian carriers like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines view things going wrong as an opportunity to deliver beyond expectations. Flight attendants are encouraged to resolve and delight the passenger on-board with available resources. For example, there are many stories about flight attendants tending to crying babies on night flights or creating diapers on the spot. American emphasis on certain protocols, at the cost of a troubled passenger, can create unfortunate situations such as this one.
  2. Security and Service are not mutually exclusive: Providing good service does not make anyone less equipped and prepared when it comes to emergency and safety issues. Thus, more focus on customer service during training can make a big impact.
  3. Monitoring and Recognition: Many commentators have observed that US based airlines do not monitor service performance at the individual employee level, apart from occasional specific complaints. Airlines should also recognise and incentivise good service, leading to greater job satisfaction and happier passengers.

American carriers, if they look within, will find that they have a unique DNA that can enable excellent on-board service. After all, you wouldn’t expect the unexpected when flying on a Middle Eastern/Asian airline, but there is the possibility of that on an American carrier.

Vishal Mehra

Vishal Mehra

Vishal Mehra was leading Social and Digital marketing efforts at SimpliFlying from January 2015 to January 2016. A self-confessed commercial aviation geek, Vishal had led digital marketing campaigns at leading global agencies for 9 years, before finding his dream job at the intersection of aviation and digital marketing. His interests include Travelling, Technology, Podcasts (long before Serial arrived) and Beer.
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  • Anthony Thomas

    “Security and Service are not mutually exclusive” this is the biggest barrier. Until American airlines stop stating “staff are here for your safety [period] [end of communication]” and the TSA stop over-reaching “for security reasons passengers must not gather by the bathrooms” the product offered will continue to be sub-standard.

    • Vishal Mehra

      There are definitely some cultural barriers which need to broken down, Anthony. This might look tough on paper, and I’m sure it is tough to enact as well, but this shouldn’t be about a popularity contest. There are some best practices which American airlines can borrow from their Asian/Middle East counterparts and practice after some variations, as per requirement.

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