The Art of Kindness

“Let me stop you right there and catch you up on how this works,” the man at the American Airlines Platinum desk said to me this morning on the phone. After his extremely condescending explanation about how we should have used more miles to purchase an upcoming trip–even though we were already booked mostly in business, I had what I thought was an epiphany: can customer service and loyalty really be dead in the airline industry? It was an extremely frustrating conversation that ended up with me sadly hanging up and shaking my head.

1.7 Million Miler = Rubbish
Having spent a considerable amount of the last decade on an AA plane for a previous global role, I figure I am fairly knowledgeable about how this works. Yet the last several experiences on what used to be my carrier of choice in the sky, I feel that the special touches as a frequent flier become more diminished each year.Today’s occurrence was nothing new…yet I started to think about companies that really do stand by customer service and trying to always make it right.

Fitbit gave me a full replacement on my wearable device when it wasn’t properly tracking my steps. Apple has traded not one but two iPhone SEs when the cellular reception was weak. Even though it may be a provider problem, they stood by their product. As I thought of the customer loyalty that Apple has, I had a figurative “light bulb aha! moment” and thought of a recent happening that might just restore my faith in an airline and make me a converted and true customer for life.

Let me set the scene: a family member very close to me had emergency open heart surgery a few weeks ago, and many of us flocked to Lubbock, Texas to be by her side. I was there a week, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the lovely people at both the Wyndham Hawthorne Suites and the amazing team at Covenant Health a special thank you for their kindness during a hard time. And one thing happened at the airport when I was trying to catch a Southwest flight home on standby that I won’t soon forget.

Tired Traveler Seeks Seat Home
My loved one was recovering beautifully, and I attempted to get home–to a certain desert city of sin–on a holiday weekend. Yes, I knew my chances that Friday afternoon were slim. Yet after an emotionally draining week, I had to try. You can imagine my sigh when plane one left the gate without me on it… I went back to the podium to ask Melissa, the gate agent, my chances for flight two. I missed it by one person, then promptly burst into tears.

Melissa immediately came around the service counter and enveloped me into a hug. I felt embarrassed about my emotional reaction and even farther away from home, yet her kindness (and the hug) made it somehow better. The story ends on a happy note: I got to spend one more night at the hospital with family, and I ended up making it home the following afternoon with no problem.

And the moment I checked in for my flight, Melissa had my security pass pre-printed and ready for me with a smile. We chatted briefly–and I was again touched by her kindness when she worried if I was able to find a hotel room in a college town on the first football weekend of the season. I assured her all was well and asked if there were a supervisor I could share her wonderful treatment of me. She demurred, and soon after, I was on a flight home.

The Moral? Kindness Can Be a Core Value
This week’s post is not my typical travel blog, yet the story and thought behind it is something that will stick with me for a long time. Emulating loyalty and kindness is certainly worth aspiring to, and I would much rather be on that end of the customer service spectrum. Thanks to companies like Southwest Airlines, whose actions of loving their passengers seem to go viral weekly, role models to emulate really do still exist. 

LUVing the Friendly Skies Over West Texas

LUVing the Friendly Skies Over West Texas

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The Joys of Flying

My most current business trip started as most do: I called Uber for my lift to the airport while doing some last-second packing. After many years of traveling for work, I have fitting it all in down pat, although this pre-trip rush always gives me adrenaline. At the airport, I head to a different terminal, as I’m flying on US Airways this particular trip. As a long-time American Airlines fan, I was dreading flying this merging airline, especially with some updates announced today that are sending us frequent AA flyers into a tailspin.

Nevertheless, my trip went was fairly non-eventful–except for some small hiccups. So, here are some friendly reminders for all of us on a flying metal tube to have a pleasant flight:

  • Although your ring tone is a loud “Sweet Child of Mine” by the great Guns ‘N Roses, after the plane door is closed, it’s probably a good idea to silence your phone and have it in airplane mode.
  • Come to think of it, phones should always be in quiet mode during a flight, especially when you’re composing emails the entire trip. That means you, 6B.
  • I can’t understand why passengers seated in the rear of the plane place their carry on luggage near the bulkhead. Those spots fill up so fast, then those who are by law required to stow all luggage have nowhere to put their belongings…which can cause delays!
  • What you’re grabbing for balance every time you get out of your seat is actually the back of the passenger’s in front of you. Remember: we’re all in this together!
  • I’ve read multiple times recently in travel forums how few people actually respond to the flight attendants when they greet boarding travelers. I decided to preempt their greetings with one cheerful “good morning!!” of my own. It’s not only the polite thing to do, but they have been very lovely in response.

Hopefully, this week’s post comes across as a positive one. Travel is definitely my passion, even though I have to remind myself during delayed flights and encounters with rude passengers. We road warriors must remember that it’s all worth it–especially the opportunity to experience new cities, meet new people from around the world, and enjoy the rare–but incredible!–personal excursions we get to take.

 

Belize It or Not!

Instead of a calm vacation where we languished by the beach, three girlfriends and I had an action-packed few days in Central America. We were wonderfully greeted upon arrival at Ka’ana, our lovely boutique hotel, even though this welcome soured by the end of the trip with hidden fees and sneaky charges. We stayed in Casita Two (Xa) and happily explored the grounds and enjoyed the pool area.

Our first full day there, we ziplined through the jungle before cave tubing. I highly recommend our tour company, cave-tubing.com, who picked us up from our hotel and safely delivered us home after a delicious local meal of red beans and rice. At the end of day one, we visited San Jose Succotz, a nearby Belizean village. There, we went shopping for handmade souvenirs and walked around the small community. We treated ourselves to pure sugarcane Coca-Colas and caught a local futbol game. Here, we really soaked up the culture of Belize!

Our second day took us to Tikal in nearby Guatemala, which I’ll save for a future post. I will say that it was magical. The last full day in paradise was spent at Xunantunich—another Mayan archaeological site—which we traveled to on horseback! This last-minute plan of riding horseback from Hanna Stables was absolutely the highlight of our time in Belize. We dubbed our guide Santiago “the most interesting man in the world,” as he shared his family’s history, took us over a hand-cranked ferry to the ruins, and treated us to an incredible meal at the Clarissa Falls Resort. His knowledge and warm hospitality made our trip that much more special.

Our last adventure in Belize was spending a happening Monday night dining in San Ignacio, where we dined at Ko-Ox Han-Nah. This place was worth the trip into town, as we once again feasted on the simple local fare before walking around the city center and enjoying the August evening breeze. (My one caution from this entire vacation: pack mosquito repellent!) While we didn’t get to see the famous Blue Hole, as we flew in and out of Belize City and were on the Western side of Belize, we had an adventure-filled three days in paradise! Belize it…or not!

What Not to Do in Costa Rica

In the spring of 2007, a friend of mine and I used the American Airlines miles we had accumulated to buy a vacation package via AA Vacations. We picked an all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica, and excitedly, we planned our trip to Paradisus Playa Conchal.

The time for vacay had arrived. We arrived at the Dallas Fort Worth International airport for our Saturday afternoon departure, our suitcases crammed full with swimsuits, suntan lotion, and more beach reading materials than humanly possible to read poolside at our destination. Both business travelers, we were thrilled to be at the airport for a holiday destination. What may come next will surprise you, and six years later, I can finally share about our excursion…

Eventually, I took this photo in Costa Rica.

Eventually, I took this photo in Costa Rica.

…that never came to be. We both received an email sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning from the airline that our itinerary had changed. Our departure was now scheduled for Saturday morning. So, imagine our absolute shock and disappointment that not only had we missed our rescheduled flight earlier that morning, but we had forfeited our entire holiday, as that was the only flight that day to Guanacaste!

(Dear reader, we eventually talked a nice person at AA Vacations to move our itinerary to another available weekend for a minimal fee, and that night, we went to Chuy’s–an “exotic” culinary experience in our own Dallas, Texas. All ended well, and we made it to Playa Conchal to zip-line, bathe in the sun, and luxuriate in nothingness eventually.) And most importantly, my travel-savvy friend and I learned the most crucial lesson of checking the airline website up-until-the-last-minute for changes. It was embarrassing; however, it’s a great story of flexibility, preparedness, and last-minute plan B margarita sipping.

Gate Zen

There is a moment on every flight where the entire plane is full of energy. It’s somewhere in between “Please remain seated until the captain has turned off the seat belt sign.” and that DING! It’s mad chaos…people in the aisle immediately begin hauling down their carry-on bags after ripping off their seat belt shackles. Free at last! Those in window seats stand up, only to crane their necks, due to the lower ceiling heights. I used to be one of those travelers…and now I have Gate Zen.

Somewhere Between ORD and LAS

Somewhere Between ORD and LAS

What is Gate Zen, you ask? It’s something I’ve learned after years of being pressed up against other travelers in the aisle, jockeying for position to deplane as soon as possible. Now, I simply stay seated, play Sims Freeplay on my iPhone, and wait until it is absolutely my turn to grab my suite-case (dear reader, it is intentionally spelled that way…my Samsonite bag has been with me on trips on 5 continents, and I will extol its virtues in a later blog post).

I used to feel a moment of temporary stress pulsing through my veins when I was the one holding up the entire airbus full of people behind me—oh the shame! But now, with Gate Zen, I calmly grab the suite-case from the bin, pull up the retractable handle, and add my laptop bag to the top before strutting down my personal runway to whatever fabulous destination is in store for me. Om!