Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I am (almost) sure I will never fly US Airways ever again

It was a few mins after midnight, last Thursday. I was supposed to be just arriving home in Alabama from a business trip to New York City. Instead, I was sitting in an airport in Charlotte because my US Airways flight from NYC to Charlotte had been delayed by 2 hours, causing me to miss my connecting flight home from Charlotte. So it was midnight and I was settling in for a 9-hour wait till the next flight left Charlotte for Huntsville.

And I was VERY pissed.

This was my first time flying with US Airways, and it had been a disaster. Every flight had been delayed, and I had missed my final connecting flight home. I got on Twitter to vent my frustrations, and quickly heard sympathy from many followers that stated that they had had similar issues with flying US Airways.

Then I got a tweet from Jody Gnant, AKA @usairwaysgirl. She wanted to know what was happening with my trip, and if everything was ok. At first I assumed she worked for the airline, but she was instead an evangelist for US Airways.

And if I ever fly US Airways again, she'll be the reason why. Note the title of this post says I am 'almost' sure I'll never fly USAirways again. By evangelizing the airline, @usairwaysgirl put that bit of doubt in my mind, that MAYBE I should give them a second chance. I decided to see if USAirwaysGirl would be interested in letting me interview her, and thankfully she was:

1 - You are obviously an evangelist for US AirWays, and your bio says you used to work for the airlines. Why do you spend time on Twitter essentially providing customer service for the airline's customers and trying to help them solve their issues? What's in it for you?

US Airways is also my hometown airline… ala "America West". I remember the girl in the TV commercials standing on the baggage counter and singing "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" – and I just LOVED her! She was actually one of the first singers I looked up to! So, needless to say, I've always loved America West, and then US Airways, as the merger took place.

I really loved working for America West / US Airways as a Customer Service & Sales Agent (1995 – 1996), and didn't actually want to quit; but I needed to get an extended leave of absence and it was not granted. I had made a trade with Kyle MacDonald of www.oneredpaperclip.com allowing me the opportunity to record an album for the first time in more than 10 years. I could not pass up the chance, and so I had to leave. :(

(I wrote a song once, while I was working for US Airways, that was called, "The Hero and The Pawn" – mainly because I loved helping people figure out the solutions to their problems – even while I myself had no real power within the company.)

People fly for some of the most important moments in their lives, and so when they have trouble getting there it can be super stressful. I just thought that since I have a really great understanding of the policies of US Airways that I might be able to help some of my fellow Twitterers get through those times.

When I started working for US Airways, we all had to take classes in airline aviation. (Betcha didn't know that I have 11 college credit hours in airline aviation, did ya?) I got a 100% on my final in the class, and loved every minute of it.

I almost never have any trouble when I travel – and I travel almost exclusively with US Airways. (I flew 50,000 miles last year – and they were ALL US Airways flights.)

But, I am also convinced that the REASON that I never have any trouble is because I know the rules and regulations of the airline like the back of my hand, and I truly feel like this helps me when it comes to booking a ticket, choosing connections, understanding what my rights are as a passenger, etc.

I just want people to love traveling on US Airways as much as I do.

Now, granted, there will be times when I have missed a connection, or a flight is delayed, and there is really nothing anyone can do about that. But in those situations, I at least know the difference between a weather delay and a mechanical delay – and I know what my options are. That information alone can make a big difference in what happens next at the airport.

2 - As you know, I recently had a pretty disappointing experience with US AirWays, and I tweeted my frustrations with the service I got from the airlines during a recent trip. I didn't hear from anyone at US Airways, but you responded to me, offering to help if you could. Is this something you do often on Twitter?

It's something that I do as often as I can… I don't have an iPhone, so my customer service time is limited to the times I am actually on a computer –which, fortunately – is fairly often.

Were I helping you, in your recent situation, to initially book the ticket that you had trouble with, I would have looked at the average on-time departure of the planes that you were taking. Based on the averages, I might have suggested alternate flights, or a longer layover. When your first connection was missed, I might have suggested that you call the airline to "protect" yourself on the next flight. Again, I was not privy to your exact situation, but it is advice like this that can really make a difference when you are sitting on the tarmac wondering if you are actually going to make it to your destination in time.

3 - You told me on Twitter that US Airways hasn't reached out to you, and that you aren't sure if they know what you are doing on Twitter on their behalf. Do you think that US Airways should contact you?

Sure! I would welcome dialogue with US Airways! I have a lot of ideas on how they should properly enter this space, and what they should do with it.

That being said, I think that if US Airways is to enter the Social Media space that is Twitter, they will need to reach out to someone LIKE me. They are in a very difficult position, because in my opinion, they need to find someone that understands the Twittersphere, and also the already established booking policies and procedures of US Airways. While it would be fun for them to enter the space, and Tweet about fare specials, and airport closures, etc. – the real value to me (and other US Airways customers) would be to have an actual Reservations Agent capable of helping those in their most dire moments of need. As I said, people usually travel for very important occasions… these are some of the most important moments of these people's lives and it would be pointless to enter the space unless there were an actual point of contact for the customer to reach out, if necessary.

That seems to put US Airways in quite the predicament, because it would take a Super Agent - someone who was flawless on company procedures, and was able to make comments without jeapordizing the company legally in any way; a tough spot, indeed.

4 - Do you think US Airways should be active on Twitter? If they were, how could the company benefit?

I guess I accidentally answered that one above… ;)

5 - What, in your opinion, makes US Airways a company worth doing business with? Why do you 'love' US Airways?

Well, a lot of people don't know this, but US Airways is actually a low cost carrier… This means that they do not offer some of the luxuries that some of us have begun to appreciate as "standard" on other airlines. I actually like this, as I often am travelling on a budget. I don't want to pay extra for my ticket - for meals I don't want, drinks I'd rather buy at the gate, and built in margins for change fees I'm not intending on incurring. I also don't feel that flight attendants need to be waitresses.

I want my ticket, and I want to get there safely. I can take care of myself for the rest.

Luckily, I've had the privilege of flying enough (and loyally with US Airways) so as to have had the opportunity to enjoy Elite Status over the last three years. This allows me free first class upgrades, mileage bonuses, preferred check-in and boarding, free checked bags – the list goes on and on…

If I'm upgraded on both legs of my itinerary, I can get a first class round trip ticket from Phoenix to New York City for $240! Who wouldn't love that?

Also - Their mobile app is amazing, I can go to over 200 destinations, and accrue miles from other Star Alliance carriers (and by shopping online at places like iTunes, and Home Depot).

I actually flew round trip - Phoenix to Amsterdam – last year for 37,500 miles… Awesomeness!

If one knows the rules of traveling on their favorite airline, the sky is the limit!

And there you go. I will say that while I am still ticked at US Airways for the treatment I got from them, that Jody's passion for the company is undeniable. I'm not saying I will give the airline a second chance, but if I DO, Jody's evangelism for US Airways will be the ONLY reason why.

My advice to US Airways is to find the people you have like Jody that are passionately promoting your company, and reach out to them as quickly as possible. Actually that's my advice for any company. Thanks again, Jody!


Anonymous said...

I'd like to focus on one thing she wrote... that flight attendants oughtn't be waitresses. (Of course, that assumes the attendant is a woman.)

What if food and drink were removed from the airplane's stock? Wouldn't that lower the price?

Any trip less than six hours should include optional drinks in the galley and peanuts. And pass out those toy airplanes to the kids. Go retro.

Pam Martin said...

It's interesting that we have 2 different takes on the same situation.

I too have received a Tweet from Jody in the middle of an USAirways Twitter rant. Initially I thought it was pretty savvy of them- knowing that a lot of people active in the social media space travel pretty frequently and that frankly, a basic Twitter or Technorati search will bring up a couple of daily mentions of bad USAirways experiences. I was Twittering from my Blackberry and it was rant, rant, rant- Check Friends, Check Replies- rant, rant, rant. When I saw that I had received a "Is everything ok?" Tweet from @usairwaysgirl- I thought "Hm, that's interesting, timely and surprisingly customer-focused for US Airways". I didn't stop the rant, I did tone down the vitriol and started to Tweet more "constructively", being specific about my issues with the USAirways mobile app and about specifically what they were doing wrong in this situation (not updating flight information) I didn't hear back from @usairwaysgirl - but was aware that my conversation was being duly noted.

When I got back home to my laptop I wanted to find out more about this @usairwaygirl and when I discovered that she didn't actually work for or represent USAirways I felt a little cheated. I also thought it was a little strange. I think brand evangelism is a great thing- but this might be a tad out-of-bounds. Reading that USAirways doesn't even recognize her existence doesn't make me more comfortable about the experience.

Great post Mack! I think this should lead to a discussion about how extensively a company allows Private Joe Citizen shape the experience of their customers. I wonder if she'd be more effective (and authentic) Twittering under her real name and offering her unabashed love of USAirways without the dubious corporate connection.

Anonymous said...

Its strange that @USairwaygirl isn't really a rep from USairways, I do believe in company branding and having a presence on Social Networks.

Mack Collier said...

Pam thats interesting. As soon as @USairwaysgirl tweeted me, I immediately clicked her profile and saw that her bio said she wasn't an official USA rep. Then asked if USA had contacted her and she said no.

Which really made me feel that USA was totally blowing it. And they are.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I just flew US Airways for the first time last week and had the same conclusion. I will never fly them again. It made flying on Southwest Airlines seem like first class.

Anonymous said...

Mack, interesting post. It's great that Jody is an evangelist for USAir, but I am wondering what good it does if she's not in a position to help anyone in need.

I think evangelists play a big role when someone is looking to make a purchase, but not when someone is in distress (i.e. stuck for 9 hours).

I think USAir is missing the boat and Jody should collect all of her tweets, present them to USAir and have them hire her.

Anonymous said...

I firmly believe that companies should seek out their evangelists, whether they are on social media or offline, and work with them to understand why they are that way. Getting to know your "Best customers" usually means you can go find more like them!

I have also seen USAirwaysgirl on Twitter and thought it was interesting. Are there more like her for other companies? I think over time, more will crop up.

Anonymous said...

Wow. How crazy is that. What a wonderful story, Mack. We speak of this to clients all the time (passionate people evangelizing) but to have a case exposed like this is a boon. Thank you!