Location: DFW International Airport   Time: 7:00am    Situation: US Airways flight pre-boarding announcementscustomer-service-culture-integration

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we will begin the boarding process in approximately 20 minutes.”

“The plane you are boarding holds 120 passengers. Of those passengers, 93 will be catching connecting flights in Phoenix.”  Okay?

“Some of those connections are International, with only one flight per day. It is critical we push off from the gate on time.” I get it, thanks.

“For those of you with carry on luggage, we are offering you the chance to check your bags to your final destination.” Final destination?’ Always hated that term.

“This plane holds approximately 150 bags in the overhead bin space. If you have rolling bag, place the bag wheels facing outward to allow for three overhead bags in the bin. If we cannot fit bags in the overhead, we will need to check them. This could impact our departure time.”  Yes, yes, I know, and the 93 connecting passengers will be forever compromised.

“Once again, we have 93 passengers planning to connect in Phoenix”….” Now I’m starting to hate you.

This intercom diatribe was repeated at least a half-dozen times in the 30 minutes we waited to board our flight. The gate/ticket/intercom worker person, continued to bludgeon us with direction, pausing occasionally to breathe (or to re-load, as it were.) My guess is that the flights for which he is responsible have an impeccable record for on-time departures, but the people sitting in the seats hate him.

Somehow, that effectiveness does not translate to Customer Satisfaction ~ as recently as 2011, US Airways was rated last among Top 10 major carriers in Consumer Reports. In a slightly more acerbic manner, Business Insider reported that ACSI ranked US Airways sixth in a list of “The 19 Most Hated Companies in America” (May, 2011). This isn’t new to US Airways ~ they received the same last-place ranking in 2008 and 2009, and were rated last in every category by JD Power in a comparison among airlines in another 2011 study…even while being recognized as the leader in “Airline Quality Rating.”

I’d argue that this should serve as an example of what customers truly value, vs. a company that refuses to acknowledge this perspective. Adding to the intrigue is the transparency of a planned merger with American Airlines, another company with considerable challenges in customer perception. The merger won’t sink or swim solely based on a potentially toxic culture mix; I do believe, however, the new entity has an opportunity to re-create itself in a brand new image that speaks to customer needs. New planes, new logos, new paint-jobs are nice, but more importantly is the need for a new attitude.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m one of the 93 people planning to connect in Phoenix; no time for chit-chat.


John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. I’m known for a no-nonsense approach to carry-on luggage.

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