Teachable Moment - the Saga of United Flight 996

By Marjorie Silverman Honorary President, UICH, Les Clefs d'Or | August 09, 2010

How do you recover as a service organization when everything that could possibly go wrong, does? I had a recent experience with United Airlines where I spent six hours on a plane to fly from Newark to Chicago and I was actually almost grateful to have done so! As a service professional, I became fascinated with the way the captain and the customer relations department handled the situation each step of the way. It was a textbook example of Service Recovery that made me marvel at how well it was executed.

The sequence of events:

1st delay-Late arrival of aircraft

August 2, 2009 was a cloudy, rainy day at Newark Liberty Airport at 9:15 AM, approximately 1 1/2 hours before flight time. Scheduled to depart at 10:46 AM, United 996 was showing an on time departure. The aircraft appeared to arrive a bit late and so we boarded at about 10:50AM or approximately at the time we were supposed to depart. Not at all an unusual occurrence these days.

2nd delay-Mechanical problem

We pushed back from the gate, did the safety review and then the captain made an announcement. They had discovered in their preflight check that there was a mechanical problem which had been fixed but airline rules demanded that a mechanic complete some paper work and we could not taxi to the runway until this paper work was filed-he estimated that it would take 20 minutes to an hour. He apologized for the delay.

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Mobile Technology: The Future is Now

Mobile Technology continues to advance at a relentless pace and the hotel industry continues to adapt. Hotel guests have shown a strong preference for mobile self-service - from checking-in/out at a hotel kiosk, to ordering room service, making dinner reservations, booking spa treatments, and managing laundry/dry cleaning services. And they also enjoy the convenience of paying for these services with smart phone mobile payments. In addition, some hotels have adopted a “concierge in your pocket” concept. Through a proprietary hotel app, guests can access useful information such as local entertainment venues, tourist attractions, event calendars, and medical facilities and services. In-room entertainment continues to be a key factor, as guests insist on the capacity to plug in their own mobile devices to customize their entertainment choices. Mobile technology also allows for greater marketing opportunities. For example, many hotels have adopted the use of “push notifications” - sending promotions, discounts and special event messages to guests based on their property location, purchase history, profiles, etc. Near field communication (NFC) technology is also being utilized to support applications such as opening room doors, earning loyalty points, renting a bike, accessing a rental car, and more. Finally, some hotels have adopted more futuristic technology. Robots are in use that have the ability to move between floors to deliver room service requests for all kinds of items - food, beverages, towels, toothbrushes, chargers and snacks. And infrared scanners are being used by housekeeping staff that can detect body heat within a room, alerting staff that the room is occupied and they should come back at a later time. The January Hotel Business Review will report on what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in this exciting mobile technology space.