We don't often like to nitpick individual behavior when it comes to flying. After all, flight attendants, just like everyone else, can have bad days. But our experience last week on a United Express flight truly surprised us. And from a supply risk perspective, the example illustrates how a vendor, especially one that shares a name with its main -- or only --customer, can truly get a company into trouble. In our case, the somewhat outlandish scenario outlined below happened on a "GoJet Airlines dba United Express." Here's an excerpt of the email I sent to United which tells the story:
We are writing to relay an experience on Flight 3635 from Jacksonville to Chicago on Sunday, January 20th, 2013. It started after we were seated in the exit row on a regional jet. The flight attendant was oddly rude to us in how she asked us to read the seat instructions placard to open the emergency door (which we read and complied with as the person sitting to our left, listed below, will attest to). As reference, we were in the middle exit row where the "C" recommendations were the correct instructions on how to open the exit door over the wing area.
My wife (Lisa Reisman) and I felt immediately singled out and even harassed in what felt like some sort of profiling process (this is the only explanation we can think of). As the boarding process continued, we then proceeded to close our computers, moved them (in a small attaché) completely under the seat in front of us per the flight attendant's instructions, turn off our phones when requested and gave a verbal "yes" that we could open the 42 pound door.
When we said "yes," the flight attendant chided us for interrupting her before she finished her statement. She then accused us of not "listening to the recorded message" that was taking place. A few minutes later, right before the plane pushed back from the gate, she approached us and told us that we did not meet the qualifications to sit in the exit row because we were "not following her instructions." We were moved to an open seat in front of us, leaving the exit row exposed without anyone sitting in it.
We can assure you that we were paying attention throughout the safety instruction and emergency row procedure process. We take safety very, very seriously. The people around us found her behavior as shockingly strange as we did. Dr. ABC of the a well known hospital who was seated immediately across from us in the exit row. He observed the entire incident and would be happy to be contacted [We included his contact details in our original note to United].
We often have amazing flight attendants on United. Your employees have gotten us across the country with three screaming kids, flown us around the world for business (on almost a weekly basis) for nearly a decade, gotten us through aborted take-offs (one in which a flight attendant hugged us and one of our children - 4 weeks old at the time - following an engine fire on the runway) and even kludged upgrades during the horrendous systems switchover to Continental's ticketing system.
Recently, United even waived our fees on the outbound version of this flight itinerary because our 2-year-old was in the ER overnight on the previous Thursday evening and we could not get on the 6:00 AM outbound flight to Jacksonville as a result. And of course, our favorite United story: when we were seated in a United Express flight from Montreal to Chicago and the barf bag was full from a previous passenger; you gave us vouchers for our "inconvenience."
We thank your staff for all of the personalized treatment over the years, but we have never seen such strange and rude behavior from any airline. We really don't know what to say other than the fact we will avoid United Express flights again until you update us on the manner in which this was handled internally.
We don't want compensation (the gesture of waiving the outbound change fees to push our flight back was wonderful and made our quick weekend getaway possible). But you do need to do something about this and find out the underlying cause of why someone would treat any passengers this way, let alone top tier frequent fliers.
Jason Busch and Lisa Reisman
United's response is as follows:
Dear Mr. Busch;
Thank you for contacting United Airlines.
I very much regret learning of your disappointment in our performance and welcome the opportunity to address your concerns. At United Airlines, we believe all customers and co-workers are to be treated with dignity and respect. This philosophy is deeply woven into everything we do. There is never an excuse for unprofessional behavior, and I am very sorry this was your experience of the services received from our flight attendant. I realize my apology cannot erase what happened, but I hope it helps to know we take your concerns very seriously. It was especially helpful that you were able to supply such a detailed description. Please be assured your comments will be forwarded to appropriate senior management within Inflight Crew Services for internal review and necessary corrective action. I do understand the value of your decision to fly with us and assure you we will make every effort to leave you with a better impression when we again have the privilege of serving you. I ask that you accept my apology and allow us that opportunity.
We are sensitive to your concerns and your report of unsatisfactory service. By reviewing the situation with the management and employee involved, we are taking action to improve service quality. I trust you understand United considers all disciplinary measures between employee and manager to be confidential.
We appreciate your business and look forward to welcoming you on board a future United Airlines flight.
A satisfactory response in our view -- honest, reasonable and fair. But on a broader level, United has an important supplier management challenge on its hand. After all, given the fact that its partner carrier shares a name (at least on the side of the plane) with the parent and provides and end-to-end booking experience for it on the same website, we're a bit surprised that the apologetic gate supervisor we spoke to after the flight had no means of filing a report against on our behalf because "it was not United". At least not United, name withstanding! Further proof that your suppliers matter as much as your own employees (and products) when it comes to customer perception and satisfaction.