Friday, August 17, 2007

Plane Boarding - great comedy, bad process

This is a story of poor customer service and process change (or lack thereof)... not just comedy...

"I'm sorry, if you are not Elite, you'll have to step off the blue carpet"...
This, the words from the serious Continental employee who was trying to follow her employer's rules regarding their never-changing plane boarding process. You can see the customer is thinking "Seriously? You want me to board the plane 5 feet to the left because otherwise I've just wiped out the only benefit you give to frequent flyers, which is that they can walk on the blue carpet?"

A long time ago, they came up with a process of boarding planes by row, starting with the back of the plane, so that Mr. Oblivious - who needs to stand in the middle of the aisle while he inspects his blanket, finds a non-existent pillow and unloads the specific items from his carry-on before finding the perfect place for it in the overhead - won't hold up the whole production of passengers getting seated so we can take-off within an hour of our scheduled time. The idea was reasonable. Execution often fell short, but that's expected when you have virtually no control over your customers. But, then, they added another bright idea - that is, giving special boarding priority to customers who fly often. They call them "Elite" (ahem... I've seen them all, and I could easily attain that status, and believe me, we are all far from Elite). What they didn't plan for was the incredibly high percentage of flyers who would attain that status... seems to be 50-80% of all passengers on flights I've taken. So the boarding process starts with "needing assistance" and "travelling with children" and then, they open the special walkway with the blue carpet and call "We are now boarding our Elite customers"... Stampede! Virtually everyone in the cow pen rushes to the little blue carpet thinking they are part of a select few... trying to tell the people in front of them "excuse me, I am Elite"... only to find out that the whole stockade is filled with Elitists... and now, after the Elite majority have experienced the soft feel of the 6 foot long blue carpet and lined up in the walkway to the plan, the airline employees smugly close the blue carpet entrance and ask people to go through the non-elite entrance... and call "Rows 675-699 only"... as if it matters at this point to load the plane "by row, starting with the rear of the plane", with everyone now waiting in the jetway for Mr. and Mrs. Oblivious Elitist to do their little routine.

omg... there are so many solutions here... but there's no incentive to implement them. Imagine a single Continental employee saying "this is crazy - we'll board the Elite people first, but by row"... there would be an uprising from the Elite person whose got row 7 and the empolyee would probably be saddled by the FAA with all the blame for anything that went wrong on that flight for not following procedures.

There was value in the whole process though - comedy.

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