Continued from my previous post in this series…
We landed in Heathrow and had to clear customs, and that's when the cost of the upgrade became worth every dime. It may not have helped with the original delays, disappointments, and unfriendly service from British Airways, and yet it did put us in the fast track lane through customs—the only reason we made our connection.
Even the fast track line took 45 minutes. There were thousands of people trying to get through at customs and then back past security for a connecting flight. Yes, we had to go back through security! Because of our delay in Phoenix, we only had an hour to clear both lines, so with just 15 minutes to spare after customs I didn't have any kind of peace of mind. Those who were stuck in the normal lane spent hours and hours clearing both.
Conversations of disappointment were loud and continuous. It was an insane environment, and people were unhappy. Rightfully so! The people on my flight had been experiencing problems since stepping on the plane…and we didn't even know yet that our bags were missing along with thousands of others. Not great PR for British Airways, Heathrow or London as a destination.
I have to give credit where it's due, and say that the Heathrow TSA equivalent is really impressive. Their agents are organized, friendly, and focused. Everyone is working. On a day when inefficiency and unfriendliness were everywhere, the Heathrow security agents understood that courtesy and professionalism would go a long way to keep things calm and moving. All in all a very different experience than watching our own TSA personnel, who are very social with one another more often than with travelers, and even when they seem well staffed don't necessarily open another lane or attempt to speed the operation along—the efficiency of security at Heathrow was definitely appreciated!
We made our Rome connection and sat in the back of the plane. It was another disappointing aircraft. I am a small person, and I have to hand it to "bigger" people (meaning, anyone over 5'4" or 140 pounds, a.k.a. not big at all except on an airplane!) It was cramped even for me. And again, this wasn't the annoyance that made the experience so awful. It all came down to the people.
Our flight attendant was amazingly rude. His attitude impacted everyone on that very crowded flight and put them under a haze of negativity. My biggest question was, "Where is the boss? Who is holding these people accountable?" All airlines say they provide and value service, and yet you never see supervisors on planes, ensuring that the guest experience promised is actually delivered.
The fact is that for airlines, when the rubber hits the road, it is the people on the plane that define the culture. Insisting that people bring joy to their workplace seems like an easy and remarkably acceptable request. Leaders need to make it, and help their people learn how to do it—especially in high-stress environments where a few people (one flight crew) can make or break each guest's personal experience.
The work environment reflects the culture of an organization. From my experience, it must stink to work at BA. Not a single employee was genuinely friendly; the only delight I actually witnessed was when it came to enforcing the rules and telling passengers (read: customers) exactly how it was going to be. There is a nice way to get your customers to play, and there is also a rude way. Which do you think creates customers that will come back again and again?
My first thought whenever I have a bad service experience is to ask why that person is working in service. If you don't like helping people, do us all a favor and get out of the service industry! BA actually made me appreciate Southwest's understanding that they are in the service business, not the airplane business. They follow and enforce the same rules as BA, and yet their culture uses service (and sometimes even a joke) to ensure sure customers play along, even with just peanuts for snacks and cramped spaces to sit.
It isn't what you do; it is always how you do it that defines your service and your organization! Okay, I will say it... "My mother was right!"
More to come…