By Richard Lee, CFO of Azul Partners, the parent company of Spend Matters. Richard is also Managing Director of Spend Matters Group, LLC and RJSL Group.
Greetings from the SFO Red Carpet Club. There were days, pre-marriage and definitely pre-kids, when I enjoyed flying, whether for work or for leisure. And the Star Alliance network, led by United Airlines (now United Continental Holdings) provided the widest reach. Fast forward a few years (after accumulating 200K+ air miles every year and joining the million miler program, not to mention marriage and kids), I now fly only when it’s necessary. So when I logged almost 50,000 miles in the last 60 days (no, I am not trying to reach two million miles), it was like learning a new trick all over again. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Automatic Premier Gold status for million-milers does not get you a whole lot, except for standing in the premier check-in line. It’s no wonder then that a United million-miler a while back sued the airline for breach of contract (before the merger, a million lifetime miles got you premier executive, not premier gold status). I feel like I’m treated better by Star Alliance member airlines when I am traveling abroad than United, which I’m the most loyal to.
- US flight attendants really do need a lesson in customer service. Saying sir or ma’am does not excuse the rest of what you say. On my recent flight from Chicago to San Francisco, a couple of flight attendants were behaving like two frat boys at Division II schools. It was embarrassing.
- My recent flights on KAL, Singapore, and Asiana only served to affirm my view. I once saw an Asiana flight attendant cleaning the lavatories during downtime so that the passengers can have a more pleasant flying experience. In more than 25 years of flying domestic airlines, I’ve never seen any flight attendant do the same.
I can certainly empathize with the tight margins and cutthroat environments that characterize the airline industry (I was an early guy at Orbitz so I do have some insight). But it just seems like many US flight attendants, especially those with seniority, have given up and are just going through the motions in waiting for retirement (and I apologize to those flight attendants who care and bust their butts to do their job right).
Much like networking, customer service is just good humanity. It has to be something you want to do and take pride in. So what’s my solution? Considering depressed million-miler benefits combined with poor customer service, I don’t have much choice except to fly Star Alliance network airlines instead of United on international flights. Then again, I do have 500K miles on American Airlines. Perhaps it’s time to try a different domestic airline?