Airlines are the same, but employees are not

As you may know, I’m a regular flyer. About 200 flights a year. Mostly on major airlines, but because I’m more interested in flying nonstop than getting travel miles or points, I take whatever airline is most convenient for my schedule. More

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Airlines are the same, but employees are not

Posted 10/14/13

As you may know, I’m a regular flyer. About 200 flights a year. Mostly on major airlines, but because I’m more interested in flying nonstop than getting travel miles or points, I take whatever airline is most convenient for my schedule.

Recently, I found myself flying Alaska Airlines from Atlanta, to Portland, Ore.

There are only a few Alaska gates, and they’re hard to find, in Delta-dominant Atlanta Hartsfield Airport. FYI: Alaska is part of the same SkyTeam co-op airline alliance as Delta. That’s where the similarity ends.

The Alaska ticket agents were amazingly friendly. Actually smiling, laughing, engaging, helpful and friendly. I hope airline employees at your airport act that way!

Yes, there’s an occasional ticket agent or two that are friendly and helpful, and there are some friendly, helpful agents in Charlotte that I’ve known for more than a decade. But these Alaska people were amazing.

I engaged them in a few minutes of lighthearted conversation and asked them what the hiring criterion was. That’s when the startling admission came, “We’re actually Delta employees who were hand-picked and retrained.”

Hand-picked and retrained. What does that tell you?

Retrained? It’s the same computer system and the same baggage criteria. Just cross out “Delta” and substitute “Alaska” right? Right.

“We were trained to greet and treat customers in a different way,” said one of the agents. “You know – smile, chat, be friendly, thank customers as you look them in the eye, and not use certain unfriendly words and phrases like ‘policy’ and ‘all set.’ ”

Wow! There’s a concept.

Yes, I boarded the plane happily and on time. Yes, the flight attendants matched the ticket agent’s and the gate agent’s friendliness. In-flight service – all five hours of it – was excellent. These days, flight attendants emphasize they are there for “your safety” and never say the word “service,” let alone the word “friendly.”

These flight attendants were gently professional, and friendly; not assertively demanding – almost rude when telling me and others to “turn off electronic devices.” I fell asleep between ordering and receiving food. Next thing I knew, a flight attendant was gently rubbing the side of my arm, and smiling as she helped me put my food in place. Classic.

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