Air France knows how to treat customers right: Tips for other airlines

There’s plenty to kvetch about when it comes to flying. Every time I book a flight, I continue to look at the arrival and departure times as merely suggestions–a rough idea. I plan to be late. I plan for problems. In generally, I am pleasantly surprised and achieve a warm glowing feeling when flights land on time. In all the times I’ve flown, I’ve never lost baggage. Baggage has never been my gripe.

In general, my horror tales of flights that have gone awry are few. The ones I do have remind me about how I like to be treated. This summer’s trip on Air France from Venice to Detroit via Paris reminded me of what an airline should do to keep passengers pleased and coming back when problems occur. If what I experienced is any indication of how Air France usually treats customers, I’d say the airline’s customer service is one area where the airline works well–even when the airplanes have issues.

If other airlines consistently followed these tips I noted, flying would be more pleasant for everyone, including the staff.

Tip 1: Go above and beyond whenever possible: Although, the customer service person for Air France was not able to switch my 16-year-old daughter’s flight from KLM to Air France so that she could be on the same flight with my 7-year-old-son and me, the agent offered to check my daughter in on the KLM flight as she helped me navigate Air France’s check-in system.

The agent’s extra effort helped make all of us feel less anxious about my daughter’s first foray into flying by herself, particularly since her connecting flight was through Amsterdam. Because of the agent’s extra effort, my daughter, son and I were able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, a smooth transition through security, and time to find my daughter’s gate before my son and I took off. Good for you, Air France.

Tip 2: Tell passengers right away if there is a problem with the plane and what will happen next: As our flight was to board, a mechanical problem with the plane was discovered. Air France announced over the Charles de Gaulle International Airport’s speaker system that boarding was being halted due to an aircraft issue and that we would find out more details as possible. In the meantime, we would be taken care of. We were also told that seat assignments would stay the same and that we would probably be changing gates. We were to stay at the gate where we were because that is where information would be given to us.

This set the tone that even though we would be delayed, the problem would be rectified as quickly as possible. It also gave us a job to do. Stay tuned for more information and stay where we are.

Tip 3: When there’s a problem, make amends with food. Once it was determined we’d be at the airport longer than expected, Air France gave all passengers a choice of one of three or four types of sandwiches and a choice of a can of soda or a bottle of water. The food was brought to us.

Tip 4: Give out phone cards if needed. One of the Air France agents gave me a phone card so I could call my husband so he could call my daughter when she landed in Detroit to tell her not wait for us. We were to meet up in Detroit to fly to Columbus on the same Delta flight. Originally, my son and I would have arrived in Detroit before her and had planned to wait for her at her gate. I was concerned that my daughter wouldn’t know what to do next and miss the Delta flight herself.

Because my concern was taken seriously, I was able to relax for the rest of the trip.

Tip 5: If the passenger is having problems using the phone card, help. Gladly. When using a phone in France, the recorded messages are in French. The phone call I tried to make to my husband wouldn’t go through. Because I couldn’t understand the message, I had no idea why not. An agent stepped from behind the desk, went to the pay phone with me, tried to use the card, found out what the message said and helped me rectify the problem which required finding out another access number. It’s complicated. The point is, the agent offered help and didn’t let me become more frustrated. Eventually, I was able to make the call I needed.

Tip 6: When the in-flight entertainment stops working properly mid-flight, apologize and do your best: The in-flight entertainment stopped working when I was in the middle of watching “I Love You Man.” There was an announcement that the crew was aware that the in-flight entertainment system had stopped working and that they were trying to fix it. In the meantime, we should please be patient. Part of the extensive system was fixed in a few minutes. The entire system was fixed in about 20.

Tip 7: Offer food that’s more than just palatable. The meals were terrific. There’s not much else to say about this tip. We all know good food when we see it and taste it. Rich Moffit who snapped the food picture echoed my sentiment with his photo labeled: “This is why you fly Air France.”

Tip 8: At the end of the flight, thank passengers for the flight and again apologize for the problems along the way: When we landed, the pilot again apologized for the delay and thanked us for our understanding. The smiling flight attendants did the same.

I smiled back and said, “Thank you for your efforts to get us here safely and for making the flight pleasant.”

**My daughter’s solo flight went swimmingly well. She did receive the phone call from her dad and knew just what to do. Thanks, Air France.

Air travel in 2008 to get worse: Tips on how to deal with it

The news is not rosy for air travel in the U.S. for 2008. An article by Jeff Bailey in today’s New York Times covers the predictions that make air travel sound like something people are REALLY going to be miffed about. If we thought there were hassles in 2007, watch out. We haven’t seen anything yet.

The changes make me think we ought to rethink how we see air travel woes in order to trick ourselves into feeling better about them. Here are some psychological strategies I’ve thought of that work in other areas of life. Let’s see if the same strategies can work in this air travel situation.

Change #1 – Prices are going up.

We can either think that flights are too expensive, or give ourselves the illusion that they are cheap.

Instead of thinking that you’ll be able to snag a round-trip ticket for a screaming deal, like under $200, just say to yourself, “The flight will surely be too expensive for me.” Then add $100 or so to whatever you think the price might be. Then when you find out what the price really is, it will be, more than likely, less than what you imagined. Instead of being bummed that you can’t afford the trip –or mad that you are paying so much, you’ll think that you lucked out on a good deal.

How strategy works in other areas of life: This is similar to the when you are considering buying a new item that perhaps you don’t need, but you really, really want to have. Your significant other asks you how much it costs. You initially inflate the cost by 50% or more so that when the actual cost is reveled, it’s clear that you scored a bargain.

Change #2- Planes will be even more crowded.

To deal with crowding, expect that you will be stuck in the middle seat, or that you will not find room in the overhead bin for your own stuff. Then when you have an aisle or a window seat and there’s room for your luggage, you can count your blessings.

Also think of something worse that could be happening. Say something like this, “At least I’m not in a crowded emergency ward at a hospital with a cut on my foot that needs nine stitches.”

How this works in real life: If you are in an emergency room with a cut that needs nine stitches, you say to yourself, at least I’m not stuck on an airplane with the chance of bleeding to death because the plane is in a holding pattern.

Change #3 – There will be even MORE lost or delayed luggage.

We can get angry and frustrated or not care –and possibly feel happy about it.

Plan for your luggage to be delayed or lost. Pack clothes that you don’t want anymore so that when your luggage is lost, you’ll think, “Good riddance.” If the luggage does shows up, after you wear the items one more time, donate them to a place like Goodwill for a tax write-off. You’ll have already done the hard part–deciding which clothes to get rid of. Consider this part of an ongoing winnowing process throughout the year if you travel frequently.

Be happy that you remembered to pack an extra change of clothes and your underwear in your carry-on bag so that you’ll be looking fresh as a daisy despite the snafu. Better yet, vow to only buy new clothes when your luggage is lost or delayed so you’ll be hoping that this happens. That way you can wear something new for a change instead of wearing the same tired wardrobe over and over again.

How this works in real life: When your dog chews up a pair of your shoes, decide that you really didn’t like them anyway. Besides that, they weren’t quite so shiny, the insoles had lost their puff, the heels were wearing down, and isn’t it great to have a good reason to buy another pair of shoes?

One change I didn’t notice is if flight delays will be more or less. Let’s just say, no news is good news on this account.

The article does point out the reasons for the increase of travel woes, (Let’s just call them opportunities that give us the chance to act like our best selves under duress.) Higher oil prices are the number one reason. Consider this. Last year oil was $52 a barrel. Now it’s up to almost $100. The airlines are looking for ways to boost their profits. That’s the bottom line.

The silver lining to this cloud, and yes, there is a legitimate one. Airlines like Skybus and Virgin America may get a boost because of their cheap travel options.