Sunday, July 25th, 2010
A few years ago, I was seated in the boarding area at Dulles International Airport awaiting my fate as a standby passenger on the last nonstop flight to Denver. About ten minutes after the last passenger boarded, my name was called and I was given a seat assignment and permitted to board the plane.
As I was the last passenger to board, all eyes were on me as I struggled to find space for my garment bag in the overhead bin. Just then, one of the flight attendants called down the aisle, “Ladies and gentlemen, we can only depart when this man is seated.”
She wasn’t very nice.
She seemed to find pleasure in using a perverse form of peer pressure to motivate me to quickly stow my bag and be seated. As I had yet to make any friends on the flight—and weary airline passengers can be quite unsympathetic—I settled into a most uncomfortable center seat for the ride home.
I understand the airline’s policy requiring all passengers to be seated with bags stowed and seatbelts fastened prior to departure but couldn’t this flight attendant have found a way to convey this message without admonishing me publicly? Couldn’t she be nice?
Too often, employee requests sound more like reprimands or, worse, threats. By simply adding a bit of empathy, humor, or tact, the same message could be presented in a way that achieves similar results without offending customers in the process.
It’s easy to do and you and your customers will have a lot more fun in the process. Just last Wednesday, on United Airlines flight 405 from La Guardia to Denver, a male flight attendant in an effort to expedite boarding, made the following announcement over the airplane’s intercom:
“We cannot close the aircraft door until all bags are securely stowed and all passengers are seated with seatbelts fastened. At this moment we are perilously close to closing the door late and relinquishing our place in line for takeoff. If that happens, we may remain on the (echoed for effect) tarmac, tarmac, tarmac for (echoed for effect) hours, hours, hours…”
A message that could have sounded like a reprimand, been met with resistance, and created tension among passengers (especially those stowing bags who had yet to be seated), instead was presented with humor, met with laughter, and broke the ice with passengers.
When I met the flight attendant later during the beverage service, guess what? He was nice. Coincidence? I don’t think so.