Years ago whenever I’d fly United Airlines I would test my seat immediately upon boarding. If my seat was broken, wouldn’t recline, they’d swap me for another seat before the doors closed. But once we were on our way, nonrevs would get to keep the working seats and paying customers would have a problem.
I actually used to hope for smaller problems like burned out reading lights. That’s because United had really cut back on maintaining non-crucial items. They found it better to compensate customers who complained than to actually fix problems. Flight attendants had a pack of cards onboard referred to as ‘SkyKits’ they could give out, apology cards customers could use to claim compensation (generally miles or a travel credit and miles were usually a better deal).
A broken arm rest on a United 777 flying Frankfurt – Washington Dulles circa 2010 was common:
The idea of compensating customers onboard is hardly new. You can contact customer relations after a flight, you can even get a proactive email from an airline after a flight, but the immediacy of onboard compensation can quell problems while you’re still stuck in a metal tube and frustrated.
American Airlines is rolling out this capability next month, loading iSolve software onto flight attendant tablets.
All flight attendants are getting ‘de-escalation training’ (“dubbed ‘apology training'” by some). They’re also getting tools to offer more than words.
The new software will allow flight attendants to offer on-the-spot compensation in the form of AAdvantage miles when specific inconveniences happen inflight — that is if the passenger in question is enrolled in AA’s frequent traveler program.
Those inflight inconveniences might include such things as inflight entertainment issues, broken seats or meal shortages.
Some worry “that when passengers learn that they could get additional miles by complaining” there will be more complaints. I certainly went looking for those burned out reading lights on United, but that was a function of the generosity (which varied on flight distance and elite status) rather than the method.
Lower effort required to obtain compensation may matter at the margin, although some customers would certainly prefer the anonymous email to customer relations. However Delta has used their own version of this for several years and it doesn’t seem to be a significant problem there. On the whole Delta flight attendants already provide somewhat friendlier and more polished service.
I actually expected something like this to be rolled out about five years ago. Flight attendant tablets were supposed to enable a great deal of functionality, including integration with AAdvantage, for instance inflight upgrade opportunities when the doors are closing with empty premium seats. American has prioritized other things in IT, like changing award charts, reducing mileage-earning for flights, and introducing new restrictive basic economy fares instead.
I look forward to hearing stories about American Airlines inflight compensation — what issues arise, whether flight attendants are proactively offering it (and whether they’re responsive to requests for it), and how much compensation is given. It would be cheaper for American of course if flight attendants would just address customers by name and offer pre-departure beverages.