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A Tight Rope Flight to Istanbul

This was the second break the lead air hostess Anita had to take in past half hour. You could tell she had cried in the washroom and then somehow got her composure back as she came back.

We were flying from Delhi to Istanbul with a newly launched international flight of a national budget airline. As we settled into cruising, we realised that like short haul flights, the food and drinks had to be purchased even on this 8 hr flight.

As the food trolley rolled down we were told that travellers could pay only in US dollars and not in Indian rupees. Most importantly, the on board credit card machines were not working. It quickly became a chaotic scene as passengers were hungry and could not buy food or drinks if they didn’t have cash US dollars- and very few had. Some people had pre booked meals which were served. One of the passengers had a old grandma with him who was hungry and the person next to her was served meal. He became agitated and started arguing with the air hostess Anita why he couldn’t buy a meal.

She had a tough time explaining pre booked meals and credit card machine failures. At every seat the air hostesses had to explain the situation to irate and hungry passengers. You could see visibly, the young crew was facing a tough time and Anita took the first break when a lady passenger shouted at her for not serving free meals.

We were seated in the first few rows and had a ringside view of all the drama as it unfolded. Anita met the captain and probably shared her predicament but she didn’t seem to get a solution which would make customers happy and the staff comfortable. By the end of the flight the whole crew looked haggard and travellers irritated. I am sure the airline permanently lost quite a few passengers that day.

I kept thinking about service delivery and customer experience lessons from what unfolded in front of us.

  1. Do airlines see paid food and drinks on a long haul flight as acceptable service? Do you know what minimum service levels your customers expect?

  2. If you launch a new service, how do you understand the market and customer experience thoroughly before entering the market?

  3. Is your front line staff empowered to take decisions to provide at least minimum service when system fail? Could the air hostess have accepted Indian rupees in this emergency situation when credit card machines had failed?

  4. What recovery strategies do you have in place when service fails? How can the airline regain customer trust even after this incident? Do you take into account emotional distress your staff faces while designing for failures?

What do you think? I would be interested to hear your thoughts...

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