Airline gets creative to improve customer experience

Airline gets creativeWhen airline customers think about flying they often focus on flight schedules and possible delays, damaged or lost luggage, and making connections. Its not exactly a happy place for their minds to be. Now, one airline gets creative and is making changes to move beyond that.

Delta air lines, the one that not long ago added Seattle Best Coffee, will make Apple iPads available to rent on flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) when the airline upgrades its Concourse G terminal at the airport beginning in January 2012. Using “virtual newsstands” at “Media Bars” throughout the terminal, customers will be able to download their choice of content, including publications, movies, music and apps. Once customers reach their destination, a prepaid postage box they got at the time of rental will be used to return the iPad.

Pretty cool idea really but what else?

“As part of our plan to invest in improving the customer experience both in the air and on the ground, Delta is excited to showcase some of Minnesota’s finest chefs and foods to passengers from around the globe while providing our customers with superior amenities,” said Delta’s Bill Lentsch, senior VP, Minnesota Operations.

At MSP, Delta will also rework its current offerings with 12 new local chef-driven restaurants and fresh markets including

  • Mill City Tavern, a reflection of the wealth of Midwestern farms and artisan purveyors with fresh, local ingredients.
  • Mimosa will feature the flavors and textures of simple French country cooking.
  • Minnesota Beer Hall, a festive gathering place to relax prior to flight.
  • Minni Bar, an easygoing cafe offering a menu of globally inspired sandwiches.
  • Twinburger, a famous South Minneapolis cheeseburger that features cheese inside the meat patty rather than on top.
  • Shoyu, a modern Japanese menu that celebrates fresh ingredients where noodles and dumpling wrappers will be made fresh daily in a glass structure that juts out onto the terminal, engaging travelers.
  • Vero, features thin-crust, artisan-style pizzas.
  • Volante, a modern Italian restaurant renowned for being able to take three seasonal ingredients and create a true Italian experience.

“We’re confident that the unique concepts will reinforce our commitment to the Twin Cities and maintain the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport’s status as one of the best in the country” added Lentsch.

Sure, it’s not a guarantee flights will be on time or luggage will make it with you to your destination but who doesn’t like a good gourmet meal at the airport?

Flickr photo by jhritz

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Frequent Flyer Diet

DoT gives airlines $175,000 reminder ahead of Thanksgiving

Three airlines just scored a first with the U.S. government: they were fined for leaving passengers in the lurch. Continental Airlines, ExpressJet (a Continental affiliate) and Mesaba (part of Delta) racked up a total punishment of $175,000 when their combined efforts left fliers on a plane in Minnesota for six hours.

Continental and ExpressJet were slapped with a fine of $100,000, while Mesaba was nailed for $75,000, according to the Department of Transportation.

With the busiest travel day of the year right around the corner, the timing couldn’t have been better. Airlines that let their guards down could face stiff fines. And, let’s face it: these airlines can’t afford peanuts, let alone five- and six-figure fines.

On August 8, 2009, 47 passengers were stuck on a Continental Express plane, which was diverted to Rochester, Minnesota (the original plan was Houston to Minneapolis), where they were forced to spend the night. ExpressJet operated the flight, while Mesaba, the only airline working the airport, refused to let passengers leave the plane.

Only approved electronic devices allowed in the cockpit?

Maybe the flight attendants should start talking to the cockpit, too. When a plane overshot Minneapolis last month because the crew was playing around with personal laptops, national attention turned to what actually goes on in the front of the plane. Congress is kicking around the idea of a new bill that would kick personal electronic devices from the cockpit.

Unsurprisingly, the pilots and airlines aren’t crazy about the idea. They say that the measure would impede progress by making innovation less accessible. Scott Schleiffer, a cargo pilot who’s also thrown some brain time at safety issues for the Air Line Pilots Association, told USA Today, “We would like to have access to tools, and as tools evolve, we would like to have better tools.”

FAA chief Randy Babbit agrees, saying, “We need to be very careful,” in regards to the prohibition of personal devices in the cockpit.

Airlines are starting to bring new technology into the cockpit, with laptops and other devices used to improved weather and safety information. The devices aren’t all that different from what distracted the Northwest pilots who missed Minneapolis. JetBlue has issued laptops to pilots, which are used to push through calculations during takeoff and landing. But, the airline doesn’t allow personal use of them.

So far, two bills have been introduced in the Senate. They would exempt devices used to operate the plane or help with safety issues, but pilots don’t believe that this is enough.

Neither side of the argument addresses the core problem: keeping pilots focused on the job. In theory, extraordinary measures shouldn’t be necessary. Professionals, by definition, should not need that kind of intense oversight. It’s already against the against the law for pilots not to pay attention to their responsibilities, and that’s probably enough regulation. Instead, the solution needs to come to the airlines — organizational measures are needed to ensure that professionals remain professional. Executed properly, the good ones shouldn’t even notice a different.

Irony: NWA pilots land late because of scheduling discussion

The investigation into the overshooting Northwest Airlines flight continues. The National Transportation Safety Board has found that the pilots were distracted by conversations and the use of personal laptops when flying 150 miles past Minneapolis. One of the topics being bandied about was scheduling, though I suspect it didn’t involve the impact of a late arrival because of a missed airport.

According to the NTSB, “The pilots said there was a concentrated period of discussion where they did not monitor the airplane or calls from (air traffic controllers) even though both stated they heard conversation on the radio.” In the report generated by its investigation, the NTSB continued, “Both said they lost track of time.” Meanwhile air traffic controllers and airline dispatchers were trying to contact Flight 188 for more than an hour. Neither pilot realized something was amiss until they were asked about it by a flight attendant.

Delta was pretty quick to announce that the pilots were involved in activities not related to flying and that they could be fired for it. For now, the fliers are suspended pending the results of the government’s investigation (and one by the airline itself).

NWA pilot: lots of misinformation, but can’t talk about it

All eyes are on the Northwest Airlines crew that missed Minneapolis by 150 miles. Rumors abound, such as dozing and arguments in the cockpit. Richard Cole, a crewmember on Northwest Flight 188, wouldn’t talk, except to say that it wasn’t his fault: “But other than that, I cannot tell you anything that went on because we’re having hearings this weekend, we’re having hearings on Tuesday. All that information will come out then.”

The flight had 144 passengers and five crewmembers and left San Diego for Minneapolis. At one point in the trip, there were 78 minutes of radio silence, and when the air traffic controllers reconnected with the crew, it had overshot the airport by 150 miles. The police who met the plane said the pilots were “cooperative, apologetic and appreciative.”