How To Get Airlines To Treat You Like A VIP

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In recent weeks I have read at least three articles about how poorly the flying public perceives the customer service provided by the airline industry. As a frequent traveler myself, I know how frustrating (and that is an extremely mild word to use here) it is when you are stuck in an airport because a pilot has not arrived on time, or a flight was overbooked or for any other reason.

But before I go any further, I should first put things in perspective. Since September 11, the airline industry has been on the ropes, financially. In the U.S. four of the five major carriers have filed bankruptcy, and not one of them has shown a profit for a single fiscal year. The industry has also reduced its workforce by 200,000 fewer people.

So, as this industry’s customers, we cannot realistically expect to receive the same level of service as we received before 9-11.

But, and this is a very important “but,” there is still no excuse for rude or indifferent behavior. On this level I am happy to report that of the two airlines I have personal experience with, American Airlines and British Airlines, their employees seem to be trying harder to be courteous, helpful and empowered to go the extra mile.

Of course this all boils down to my own personal perception, but I have generally heard more positive feedback from other travelers on these airlines.

Given all the financial problems facing this industry, how can one still get VIP treatment from airlines? Before I answer that question, I first want to say that what I am about to write in this article is not to offer pity for the airline industry or to excuse unexcusable behavior on the part of indifferent employees, but it is to offer advice in the context of the reality of the industry’s financial woes.

Let’s think about the old expression, “the customer is always right.” Clearly this is not always the case. Customers often expect and demand much more than they are entitled to. In the real world, no business can really act as if the customer is always right when customers want something for nothing. Can a restaurant give free meals? Can a store give away free merchandise? Of course not, and neither can an airline give free airfare.

But airlines are in the unique position to know which customers to give VIP treatment to: their frequent travelers. If you are a member of an airline’s loyalty program AND you truly are a frequent flyer AND if you usually travel on first or business class tickets, your VIP status with that airline will swiftly rise.

Airlines can track the profitability of each and every one of their loyalty program members. Now, what if a customer shows up and asks for special treatment, or expects something extra from the airline? If that person is not a loyalty program member, or is a member but hasn’t flown with that airline in over a year, or if that person only flies on deep discount tickets bought through an online consolidator web site, he probably will not get an extra level of VIP treatment. (He should, however, be treated with courtesy, respect and receive the proper value for his travel dollar, but he probably won’t get the VIP treatment).

Now suppose a different customer comes up to the ticket counter and travels every month or so on tickets in the mid price range. That person should expect to receive the extra request if the request is reasonable.

What is the lesson to all this? Simple: the airline industry will not be financially able to offer a lot of extra perks to all its customers for a long time to come. But you can upgrade your status with any airline by making it your sole carrier whenever possible. There are many people who are members of five or six loyalty programs and spread their travel among those airlines, usually based on the ticket price available at the time they travel. But if those same people were to concentrate on one airline, they would probably find themselves receiving VIP treatment more often.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown. All rights reserved.

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