Shouldering responsibility for customer service

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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Keith looked like a nice man. He’d greeted me flamboyantly, with a nice “Welcome onboard” and a seemingly warm smile as I boarded the American Airlines flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles and shown me to my seat.

Explaining that I had an acutely painful shoulder muscle injury, I asked Keith, who seemed to be the senior purser, if he would mind helping me lift my computer briefcase into the overhead compartment.

Keith’s deportment changed and his smile dissolved. “Well guess what?” he stormed, “I’ve got a bad shoulder too and American Airlines sure aren’t going to pay my medical bills.”

“OK,” I replied. “I only asked.”

So with one arm I began to lift my Toshiba-laden case into the overhead. As I struggled to do so, Keith returned, and made a token attempt to help. “Here…” he began.

I stopped him in his tracks. “Leave it, thank you, I’m fine.”

I took my seat and a few moments later accepted the glass of sparkling wine in a plastic cup that Keith proffered while we waited for take-off. It had been a long week with little sleep due to jet lag and I Ieaned back in my seat and reflected on a fantastic few days at the DFS Hawaii 50th.

After a short while, Keith returned. “Here,” he said almost conspiratorially, “I had some left over.”

Without waiting for my agreement, he began pouring half a cup full of tepid sparkling wine from another plastic cup (I kid you not) into mine. It looked like (and may have been) someone’s leftovers. “There you go,” he said with a satisfied smile and walked off (you’re right, I didn’t drink the wine).

Keith was a big-built man. Loud. Gregarious. He appeared to rule the cabin. For the remainder of the trip to LAX he was polite, though overbearing. I think he realised his little scene earlier was inappropriate.

But it was too little, too late. Keith had not only been rude and unhelpful to a customer but had disparaged his employer publically. Just before take-off and landing, the airline played the standard safety and arriving videos. Both thanked passengers for choosing American Airlines ahead of other carriers. Well guess what Keith? If I know you’re onboard next time, I will be flying another airline.

I contrasted his attitude to the DFS staff I had spent so much time with during the week. To a man and a woman they could neither have been more helpful nor friendlier. On the Monday evening the retailer had invited all employees, past and present, to a 50th anniversary function. For the first time in the history of the State, all DFS shops (airport and downtown) were closed, as a result. It’s fair to say that all those individuals felt very warmly about their employer (with whom, remember, many had experienced hard times as well as good, during various crises).

It’s probably fair to say, too, that Keith is unlikely to land a job there anytime soon.

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  • Glad to hear that I was not the only one to experience such a service on-board American Airlines from HNL to LAX, I am amazed they survive with this attitude, they obviously did not pass the entrance exam to ‘charm’ school.

  • Martin,
    I am appalled, but not surprised. Having worked as a Purser for TWA back in the 60s and 70s I would have reacted strongly to any flight attendant behaving like you described. Later in the 80s and 90s the attitude among the American based airline employees and particularly the “prestigious” NWA, AA, DL and UA changed toward “you the passenger is so lucky I am here”. The self-righteous attitude became more and more apparent as the cabin service declined and the corporate attitude became focused on the bottom line, merger, departmental goals and “ anti-employee”. Unfortunately this attitude has started to spread, though the Asian airlines seem to have been spared for the time being.
    An airline is no longer in a service/hospitality business and traning/supervision reflects this. The larger the airline the importance of quality service seem to be put aside for short term bottom line results.

  • Unfortunate experience Martin but not a surprise. As an American living abroad for some 25 years now, and having had the privilege of flying Singapore Airlines for most of that period, I can only shrug and attribute this boring attitude to the employer for permitting such conduct to manifest itself to this unacceptable level. I was equally offended and disgusted when “The (Un) Friendly Skies” compelled my wife to disembark at the rear of the plane about 4 days after her December ski accident left her virtually immobile, citing that there was no other entrance available for wheelchair assistance on arrival. The flight attendants would not assist her, and you guessed it, citing potential liability consequences should she have fallen. Sad but true.