What It Takes

What It Takes

Another Airline, A Different Story

By Callie Oettinger | Published: April 14, 2017

I flew on Alaska Airlines this week.

Before the flight took off, I witnessed a first.

The pilot joined the passengers at the gate to announce a flight delay.

No microphone. No airline staff at his side. Just him. His voice. His proactive communication.

He thanked us for giving him our attention.

He announced the reason for the delay: The hydraulic lift connected to the flight deck broke.

He announced the steps being taken to address the delay: A team was working on fixing the lift.

He disappeared behind the gate door.

He returned to announce the lift couldn’t be fixed and that our plane would depart via a different gate. Again, he thanked us for our patience, and then disappeared behind the gate door.

The gate change was announced.

I went to the new gate. It was a Southwest gate instead of an Alaska Airlines gate.

The plane arrived, followed by the pilot, who explained why we were boarding at a gate operated by a different carrier.

The closest open Alaska gate was in a different terminal. Moving terminals meant moving through another security checkpoint, too. Instead, his team was using an open Southwest gate that was located near our original gate. However . . . The computer at the Southwest gate didn’t work with Alaska’s tech. His team needed a few more minutes to figure out how to load everyone, track the tickets, and so on.

Once the team on the ground had a solution, the pilot returned to announce it.

The solution: A gate attendant took our tickets and, using her phone, called in our info to someone with an Alaska connected computer on the other end.

Once we were all aboard the plane, the pilot greeted us at the door and the flight attendants invited my kids into the cockpit, to sit in the pilot’s seat (a first for them).

As the flight taxied toward the runway, the pilot made two more announcements.

He knew passengers had tight connecting flights on the other end. He’d gone to the powers that be and asked that they hold as many flights as possible so his passengers could make their connections.

Next he welcomed aboard Ray Chavez, the oldest living survivor of Pearl Harbor. I later learned from news reports that Chavez turned 105 earlier this year. At the time of the pilot’s announcement, I felt like something special was happening, but Chavez being on the flight felt like a blessing.

Alaska’s team showed that they are more than a few well-crafted paragraphs on a web site. For reference, the following appears on their site:

For over 75 years Alaska Airlines, and the people who make us who we are, have been guided by integrity, caring, ingenuity, professionalism, and a unique spirit. A spirit that was has grown out of our geographical roots.

We are product of our history and the amazing people found throughout it. Today, that product looks like a long list of aviation milestones, paired with countless stories of people going above and beyond to help others.

All of these milestone, good deeds, and community involvement have grown us from a small regional airline to an international carrier.

During a week when another airline made headlines for its treatment of customers, Alaska’s team was “guided by integrity, caring, ingenuity, professionalism, and a unique spirit.”

They were proactive in their communications.

They took responsibility.

The cared for their customers.

They were kind and they were patient.

They offered me a first: When airline travel has increasingly been an experience full of wrongs, they offered so many rights.

Seeing their team of pro’s in action was a beautiful thing.

Posted in What It Takes

23 Responses to “Another Airline, A Different Story”

  1. Mary Doyle
    April 14, 2017 at 5:57 am

    Wow, what a great story to end this week with – thanks Callie! And Bravo to Alaska Airlines!

  2. David Smith
    April 14, 2017 at 6:17 am

    I had several ongoing consulting jobs that took me to Anchorage or Fairbanks pretty often 10-15 years ago and got to know Alaska Air pretty well. I didn’t ever experience quite the “personal touch” that you did, but I always got the feeling that they “try harder” than the Big Guys. I don’t fly every week or two the way I did before retiring, but when I do Alaska Air is one of my preferred carriers, even here in “the lower 48”.

  3. April 14, 2017 at 6:20 am

    What a terrific example of a company practicing superior customer response –not just service. United Airlines and other carriers should post this story on every wall of their offices and gate operations. It should also be introduced into training and development, as well.
    Alaska Airlines knows why it’s in business. United hasn’t a clue.

  4. April 14, 2017 at 6:25 am

    WOW! What a great, refreshing, rebooting, reviving, reinvigorating (All the good “r’s”-:) counter to the week. I love Alaska Airlines! Thanks for sharing!

  5. April 14, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Great story! I have forwarded this to a friend of mine who is on the Board of Directors of Alaska Airlines. Thanks for sharing this positive experience with us!

  6. April 14, 2017 at 6:55 am

    Oh, Callie, I actually got teary reading this… Lovely post, and timely!

  7. April 14, 2017 at 7:12 am

    So glad you shared this story, after the horror we saw earlier this week. I’ve always liked flying Alaska–and now I like them even more. Happy one of the other commenters is able to get this story to someone on the Board of Directors.

  8. April 14, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Callie, Thank you for sharing “A Great Experience” What an example for your children to have witnessed and be a part. Did a copy/paste and Posted on my Facebook Timeline Page. Put the Link in a Comment for the Post.

  9. Matt
    April 14, 2017 at 7:21 am

    I remember dealing with horrible drivers on Greyhound consistently during a cross country trip. On the return they were all curteous and professional. What was the change, I asked. A driver on the east coast was attacked by a passenger I was told.

    • April 14, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      That’s pretty funny. Probably more effective than a memo from the CEO about customer service…
      bsn

  10. Nell
    April 14, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Thank you for this story, but it needs some balance. I have a different view of Alaska Air. I will spare you the details, except to say I was traumatized by an insensitive security officer at the Alaska Air terminal in Seattle. I wrote a letter of complaint, but they didn’t even offer me an apology. I’m glad some Alaska Air employees are considerate of their customers, but I know from personal experience that not all of them are.

  11. April 14, 2017 at 8:11 am

    I was just reading an article about that other airline and the author noted what was written on its website.

    The substance and tone are evidently (I didn’t check) similar to what’s on Alaska’s site.

    The difference is leadership. And when it comes to a fight I believe most of us look to the pilot for that.

    Funny how everything works out when people know you care about them.

  12. April 14, 2017 at 8:27 am

    To be fair we should recognize that air travel has become mostly a commodity.

    I fly by price. Not unsurprisingly, I’ve never flown on Alaska, but I’ve been traveling on United since I was a kid.

    My grandfather logged some million+ miles on United, so it kind of became the “go-to” family airlines, at least back in the day.

    The United Airlines President once invited my grandfather to a meeting because he wanted to know why he liked United so much (and if there was anything he didn’t like).

    He said, “You don’t serve Jack Daniels, that’s my only complaint.”

    United and Jack Daniels ended up signing a multi-million dollar contract and the Jack Daniels corporation flew my grandfather to Tennessee to thank him personally…

    Times have changed. With the internet as a tool, consumers have forced competition between companies to an extreme edge. We can now shop for nearly anything in the world online and know to the penny what things would cost if we bought from the competition.

    In 2010 Continental and United merged, like many corporate mergers, maybe all of them, the driving forces are profit and survival.

    I just searched airline ticket prices to Honolulu from three cities, and as I expected, United was cheaper than Alaska, in some cases significantly.

    Honestly, I’d just as soon fly on a computer driven pilot-less plane without any flight attendants at all and pay less.

    To me, customer service is pretty much the price of the ticket and not crashing.

    Others prefer to fly first class. And that’s fine too.

    What I find strange, but I guess it’s just human nature, is people complaining about things they don’t like (for instance paying for extra baggage) but at the same time seeking the lowest possible cost for travel.

    You can’t have it both ways, good customer service and fresh hot towels cost money, nothing is free…

    Another irony here, it was cops that beat the guy up, not United employees.

    I’m glad Alaska Airlines exists and that they do a good job, but I’m also glad I can go on Expedia, find cheap tickets, and fly on a budget. I recognize that by demanding extremely competitive pricing I might get crap service, I might get bumped from a flight, I might not get my first choice in hot meal service.

    I don’t care. I want to save that fifty or hundred dollars for something I do care about.

    Something most people don’t realize:

    Before Jimmy Carter deregulated the airlines, the vast majority of American’s had never been on an airplane, the average person simply could not afford to buy an airplane ticket to go on a vacation or visit family.

    My daughter, who is not yet thirty, has traveled to at least 20 countries. She’s been to Europe, Asia, New Zealand, and is planning to go to Africa this year.

    I think we forget the benefits of low cost sometimes…

    Maybe the villain is sometimes the over-demanding consumer who expects to pay for no frills and yet wants to be treated like the Queen of England.

    Maybe. Something to think about on the contrarian side of things.

    • GK
      April 14, 2017 at 9:22 am

      Well said Michael Beverly. Kudos to AA, but great to remember we’ve created this mess by demanding air travel become stripped down to cheap bottom feeding. Getting what we demand is often a bitch.

    • Amy
      April 15, 2017 at 12:32 am

      United is often the most expensive. It has never had good customer service other than for 1k passengers. Call center agents, ticket agents, gate agents and flight attendants are rude, condescending and uncaring.

      Alaska is often less expensive and always has amazing service at all levels of flight status. They care about the customer and the travel experience, going above and beyond.

  13. April 14, 2017 at 9:13 am

    I felt pretty good this morning before I read this piece. I felt a little better after. Good story, Callie.

  14. Dave LaRoche
    April 14, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Sure, it’s the company culture, leadership, credo, etc., but it’s also the man with the voice – how he (the captain in this instance) felt that morning. Was his coffee cold? An argument with his wife? His dog bit him on the way out the door. There are hundreds of variables affecting these interfaces, including prejudices formed generations ago. Statistically, United may have the record attributed to Alaska, but what we see is a culmination of unhappy variables.

  15. April 14, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Callie,
    A few years ago (crap, actually 8 years ago) we were hosting a significant intelligence training exercise. A lot of money, 400 Soldiers from all over the country flying in to be trained/housed/fed/supported by my battalion.

    The likelihood that we’d make a mistake was very high. During the inprocessing of each organization I admitted as much, but asked everyone to ‘catch someone doing something right’. It will change your own experience, and ensure you have better training. We will make mistakes, and we’ll remedy anything we can–however, if you walk around trying to catch someone doing something right–you’re priming yourself to experience this exercise as we have intended.

    Bottom line, we hit a home run. How much did my little speech make? Who knows, maybe none.

    I do know that I was smiling as I read your post. I fly almost exclusively Alaska (I live in Tacoma) and concur with your experience. More than that, it was your time and effort to ‘catch someone doing something right’ that so deeply resonated with me.

    The news is exhausting. It sucks the life from me. I limit my consumption because I become frustrated, angry, despondent. That’s not helpful.

    Thank you for taking the time to recognize goodness, competence, professionalism, integrity–it helps more than you know
    bsn

  16. April 14, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    Living in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been an Alaska Airlines client and evangelist for years. The corporate culture is outstanding. I’ve tried to avoid other airlines, but when I can’t, my allegiance to Alaska is reaffirmed. Nice callout.

  17. Jay Cadmus
    April 14, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Hurray for Alaska Airlines…and, hurray for Ms. Callie in telling this story. These are times of multiple choices. There are companies which go the extra mile to demonstrate that the customer is at the heart of what they do….

  18. Nancy Tate
    April 17, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    I always enjoy Alaska Airlines, they are now my go to airline for flights to Hawaii and any other place they fly.

  19. Comment Monster
    April 21, 2017 at 10:57 am

    We fly Alaska and Southwest whenever we can. Both airlines typically have great attitudes toward their customers, and lately Alaska has stepped up their game even more.

    We’re on vacation now, having just flown Alaska to our destination. But we’re booked on United for the return trip. Dreading it . . .

    I used to be a frequent flyer for work. Only twice in my life have I gotten in heated arguments with airline agents. Both times, United.

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