The power of compliment letters to airline personnel

by Charlie Leocha on July 1, 2009

As I travel across the country, I often find airline employees who go far beyond the normal in order to help confused, misled and frantic passengers. I try to take the time to write a comment to their airline on the airline’s site. Though complaining is the norm, compliments are remembered far longer than complaints.

A few months ago, a gate agent went out of his way to help a passenger whose schedule was being destroyed by tarmac delays and storms. The passenger spoke no English and had already been delayed for three hours on the tarmac. Fortunately, the captain decided to return to the terminal to allow passengers to use facilities and let the storms pass.

The passenger in question had been seated next to me and we struck up a conversation. As we sat on the runway, he became more and more concerned about whether he would make his connection to Santo Domingo. Luckily, I had my iPhone and could look at schedules for him should he miss his connecting flight. He was out of luck and would not be able to make the connection and would be stuck overnight in Boston.

I spoke with the gate agent when our plane returned to the terminal. He checked flights and said, “I can get him on a flight to Miami and on to Santo Domingo in about an hour.”

“Great,” I said, “but, his luggage is aboard the plane; it was gate checked.”

The agent took the passenger down the jetway and had the baggage handlers pull luggage until they found his bag. Both the passenger and the gate agent came back wet, but both were happy. The passenger headed to Santo Domingo and the gate agent went back to work.

I noted the gate agent’s name and made sure to send a compliment to the airline. Unfortunately, I never heard anything from the airline. I wasn’t even sure whether they had received my note. But I let it pass.

Last week, I was connecting through Washington Reagan and again saw the gate agent. I asked him whether he gets feedback from folk who send in compliments. I recounted the story and his face lit up!

“You’re the one! Thank you.” he said.

Then four other gate agents who were nearby chimed in, “He is a hero around here. That story made company headlines.”

It was obvious that each of the other gate agents were aware of their fellow worker’s efforts and the fact that he had received unsolicited kudos. That kind of positive reinforcement for a job well done is customer service honey.

It was nice to know that my compliment made a difference to him and his colleagues.

I have been involved in other incidents where an American Airlines pilot, knowing that many of her passengers would miss connections to South America, radioed ahead to Miami and notified the station of the pending problem. The Miami station had everyone rebooked, boarding passes printed and hotel vouchers right at the arrival gate. What could have been a mess at midnight, became easy and everyone left with smiles rather than grumbling.

That deserved another compliment letter. My letter was eventually included in the company email newsletter. Hopefully other pilots and ground crews learned about how to handle an unpleasant situation.

Bottom line: Compliments go a long way to improving customer service. When you find those who make travel possible trying to make someone’s life on the road easier, a compliment is in order. With a few more, there may be fewer complaints.

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  • Jeff Linder

    US Air has their Above and Beyond program. These are mini-forms given to Preferred Dividend Miles folks. If you notice exceptional service you can fill one out on the spot and give it to the employee, who then can turn it in. Instant feedback.

    But I agree, whenever someone goes above the call of duty, I always write a nice email or letter and copy the manager of that persons area if I can. Well worth the price of a stamp.

  • http://www.geocities.com/sffilk Michael

    I’ve sent in forms when someone goes above and beyond the “call of duty,” but never know if anything came out as a result. I’m hoping that someone gets a kudo within the company for doing a great job when I send in one.

  • http://ericcloninger.blogspot.com Eric

    A few months ago, I spotted a Contintental employee in Houston who went above and beyond during a storm and was really helping a lot of people and being so cheerful about it. I got his name and thanked him for being so helpful. The next day, I sent a couple of paragraphs applauding him via the airlines’ web site. They responded within 2 days with several paragraphs that weren’t from a form letter.

    I don’t have need to fly Continental often, but I would much rather deal with that guy in Houston than the sullen United employees at O’Hare.

  • Ed F London

    It’s been a while since it happened — but I was flying from CLT to LHR via EWR, USAir connecting to UA, the only UA flight out of EWR. The USAir flight was delayed completely eating up my reasonable connection time, and, sure enough, as our plane pulled into the gate, the UA plane was backing out.

    The US agent not only rebooked me on another airline but physically walked me to the gate as I had only minutes to make it.

    Wish I got his name — and thanks nevertheless.

  • Frank

    I’ve gotten probably six good letters in the past six months. But, I’ve had some unusual circumstances in a few of them. Several Medical emergencies. People wrote how well I reacted. One, because I was telling jokes from my jumpseat. I made someone laugh. Had a pilot write the company on my behalf as well.

    I appreciate good letters ALOT. Nothing like going into work, checking your mailbox and seeing a letter with your name on it. You open it up and :::smile:::
    it makes your day. I’ve kept everyone I’ve ever gotten and have a folder for them at home.
    To those who appreciate the hardworking airline employee who do a great job, thank you, thank you, thank you.
    It’s not easy getting a good letter nowadays.

  • George

    Hopefully not off topic, but re: a different, yet intertwined industry: When I encounter helpful cell phone reps (Verizon Wireless), I ask if it’s alright if I can speak with or leave a voicemail with their supervisor, and you can “hear” the smile through the phone. I find the supervisors get encouraged as well when those they “shepherd” do the company proud. Appreciation is priceless. Oh … thanks for another great article, Charlie!

  • Lauren

    I sent in a complimentary email regarding a Continental flight attendant and not only received a non-form email in response, the flight attendant called me personally to thank me. It was nice :)

  • Ashley

    I would add that one maybe should be careful to *not* thank someone if they perhaps skirted their airline’s attempts to save money, however capricious and asinine they might be, in order to help you. I have been in several situations in which an agent, god bless them, changed tickets for free that maybe shouldn’t have been or rerouted me onto much more expensive (but ultimately time saving) routes on other carriers to get me to my destination.

  • http://nodebtworldtravel.com brian from nodebtworldtravel.com

    It is often times a hard, thankless job. If an airline employee goes above and beyond, send a note on their half. I know they get more flack so it would be a pleasant surprise for them.

  • Elizabeth

    I don’t fly often, but several years ago, we flew between Detroit and Oakland on Southwest. The service was so warm and friendly that on my way out of the gate in Detroit, I picked up a comment card. I wrote a letter that included flight numbers and dates and praised by name as many people as I could, and used titles where I didn’t have names. A couple of months later, I got a package from Southwest that included copies of the commendation letters that had gone in each employee’s file because of my letter. My, oh my! The pictures I had in my head of the people I had made happy because of my little letter! Just do it, folks! It’ll make your day, too.

  • http://www.ffocus.org Bruce InCharlotte

    Reiterating the comment on US Air’s A&B program. I used to be “Gold” with them and carried the cards in my wallet, ready to hand out and did so on a regular basis. Regretfully, the airline management screwed up the carrier and I fly with others now. Too bad there isn’t a “Below and Underserving” I could send to Tempe for them!

  • sandra southworth

    we had tickets to Phoenix from Appleton through Milwaukee flight itinerary 130813442090
    everything went good on the trip down. BUT on they way back–when we got to Chicago we found out our flight was cancelled and no other flight to Appleton till Tue. Mind you this was Saturday. I have a fractured back and the only way that the Dr would let me go on this vacation was if we were flying. Well we were stranded in Chicago and told no one could help us. i was getting increasingly tired and hurting so we were sent to Milwaukee on an Express United flight(if we could make it out of chicago on a flight to Milwaukee then wy couldn’t the fly to Appleton where the weather was fine) when we arrived in Milwaukee we were told they did not understand why we were sent there they had no flights to Appleton al all. We were told WE could hire a shuttle at a cost of $300.00 extra on us of course. Right before we were ready to leave on the shuttle Fontier airlines said they had hired a shuttle to Appleton for the people that missed their flights and we could get on it for $50.00 a piece. We had no choice so we took it. That trip was the absolute worst trip on my fracture. It was over 100 miles on a very rough ride. My back is much worse now and it is the fault of the United airlines. We needed the flight we paid for now my problems are much worse then they were when i left. i have no yet been back to work. I want to know what is going to be done. We paid for a trip to end in Appleton and did not receive it. Let me know at 715-423-7690 the cancelled flight was 7756. I can not believe that you would not stand behind the tickets we purchased. we will be waiting for an answer.

  • Lisa

    Thanks for this article. Yes, I agree that we often talk about the negative but do not compliment when we see good work. I just sent a compliment to Continental thanking the Captain and crew for finding my wallet during my holiday travel. I drop it sometime during the flight and it would be such a hassle to replace the IDs and credit cards. Fortunately, the Captain found it and I was able to get it back before my connecting flight, so I was and still am very thankful for that.

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