Right now, someone in America is probably complaining about a flight. Problems and airlines travel naturally together, as with cold and winter or gridlock and Congress. Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Consumer Protection Division received 9,684 complaints from airline travelers griping about everything from delayed flights to mishandled bags and denied boardings. It’s a rich tapestry of misery that Bloomberg Businessweek explored in greater depth earlier this month.
Occasionally, however, an airline gets it right and pleases a customer so much that she decides to relay her compliments through the federal bureaucracy. Around two dozen people heaped praise on airlines last year, far fewer than the 40 people who heap scorn on the airlines on an average day. American Airlines (AAL) and its American Eagle unit got the most compliments, with eight, followed by Delta (DAL) (five) and US Airways (three).
What’s striking, as you read through the positive message, is how much of the praiseworthy service comes at a time of stress—a flight has been late, baggage has been lost—or simply by virtue of surpassing a customer’s lowered expectations. Many of these positive notes read an awful lot like the thousands of complaints submitted each year. Here are the highlights of the 23 compliments airlines received in 2013, edited for length and clarity:
Thanks for Not Ripping Me Off: “I wish to commend/compliment Alaska Airlines for its automated lowest fare guarantee. After booking a trip on their website I noticed a few hours later that the fare had gone down. Figuring I had been screwed or that I would have to go through some sort of absurd ticketing reissue process with fees, I posed the question to the silly bot/person on their website called “Jenn” who (which?) guided me through a couple of clicks. (Big improvement over ‘Clippy’ dontcha think?) My ticket was reissued without fees and the appropriate refund was on its way in a matter of seconds. Bravo!”
Thanks for Cutting Down on Hatefulness: “Flight attendant Diana was friendly, speaking to each passenger as we boarded the plane. She was friendly and genuinely nice to each passenger, but boarded the plane very quickly. As she went through her beverage service, she made a point to speak with each customer individually, and treated each customer as a valued guest. I fly regularly, and have flown so many flights recently with flight attendants that were very disinterested and jaded. I’ve seen many flight attendants who treat their guests as a bother, and have been downright hateful. Diana, however, is at the top of her game, and you have my loyalty because guest service is such a priority to flight attendants like her.”
Thanks for Not Revoking My Tickets: “I booked two tickets via online travel agency for Delta flights yesterday. The charges have been posted to my credit card. I received confirmation e-mails. However, I received e-mails last night and this morning from the two agencies that my confirmed reservations have been cancelled by Delta because they were booked as part of the airlines fare mistake. Second message: Please disregard my previous note. Delta came through and honored the previously cancelled tickets, and I would like to thank them for their excellent customer service. Please close any open case and convey my sincere thanks to Delta.”
Thanks for the Flight Attendant Who Didn’t Threaten Me: “I am making a complaint to AA flight attendant Suzie (based on pronunciation) and a compliment for AA flight attendant Mr. Jason Clayton. … Ms. Suzie threatened and humiliated me in front of the whole passengers while I did not do anything impolitely to harass her! On the contrary, Mr. Clayton was so polite, professional and flexible. I feel sorry for Ms. Suzi’s service attitude and require an apology from American Airlines. I am also sending a compliment for the excellent and professional service of Mr. Jason Clayton. Thanks for your attention and looking forward to hearing from you.”
Thanks for Letting Us Switch Airports: “Our family of four was flying back to Toronto via Montreal. We went to the Air Canada counter to see if we could get an earlier flight. The lady, Marie- Claude (didn’t get her last name), helped us. She said the next flight to Toronto was full but she can put us on standby. We then asked her if we could fly to Toronto City Centre (YTZ). She said, ‘Oh, you want to fly to the Island?!? There’s plenty of seats available!’ We were so overjoyed! She then worked her magic and booked us on the next flight to YTZ. That is by far the best customer service I have received from Air Canada in my 38 years of travelling! Merci Marie!”
Thanks for Never Getting My Business Again: In a letter that begins, “I’m writing to you to discuss the worst service my wife and I have ever had to endure from an airline company,” there is this little compliment: “The customer service agent did an amazing job in getting another flight organized directly to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I don’t have her name but she is a credit to US Airways.” The letter ends on a darker note: “We have travelled frequently to the US and can assure you we will not be using US Airways ever again either for business related or personal travel. I will ensure any friends, family or anyone from my company is assigned a seat with US Airways, I will strongly voice my opinion against it.”
Thanks for Actually Listening: “Today I went to Tampa airport and spoke with a very pleasant and helpful gentleman called Robert Horwith. I had copies of the reservations I’d sent you, and also the case file that you created for me. He made a call to Air France, whose stock the ticket was written on, and was able to rectify the name problem in a very calm, reassuring and professional manner. Never have I been more relieved, or found a more helpful professional who was actually willing to listen to my story.”
Thanks for the Helpful Airport Staff: “Please let me mention the ‘Heroes’ of Miami Airport who stayed helping us after their work shift driving us from place to place (they were also tired and frustrated not finding anyone to help them. If they weren’t there my senior mom would be able to walk to a far away restroom in the airport and when I started getting my blood pressure high they also drove to the restroom and provide comfort! Please read this letter carefully and pass this important personnel airport info to the directors of the Miami Airport. It is a shame [American Airlines] did not provide any good service or care about the passengers!”