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Now We’re Talking

I DON’T KNOW ANYONE WHO WOULD SAY that flight cancellations are any fun. When you, our customers, book your travel with us, you select the travel experience that best suits your needs, and you expect us to follow through. Aside from destination, departure and arrival times are two of the most critical choices you make, and we know that any deviation from those plans is a frustration, plain and simple.

When the weather’s bad and we cancel flights, it is always in the interest of safety. But at times like those you don’t need to hear, “It’s beyond our control.” You are frustrated and have every right to be. At that point we have choices to make, and how we decide to handle these situations can make or break our long-term relationship with you.

We’ve always done our best to react to service interruptions quickly and efficiently. Many of our customers, however, tell us we can do better—that they expect better. So we’ve decided to take a more proactive approach.

For instance, today we are more frequently adjusting our schedule in preparation for bad weather, rather than waiting for it to strike. We believe it’s the responsible thing to do, and that it’s better for our customers, because as long you provide your contact information when booking your flight, we can reach out to you ahead of time and work out a new travel plan so you don’t get stranded at the airport, or trek all the way out to the airport only to turn around and go back home.

It works like this: We take a look at the locations where we fly that we expect to be hardest hit, check the number of scheduled flights and the number of customers on each, and figure out a way to protect as many as we can while easing air traffic in light of the expected weather. Then, as we did in record numbers this past holiday season, we’ll consider adding segments that normally are not scheduled for the following days to help accommodate our customers as quickly as possible after the bad weather subsides. If the weather that we anticipated dissipates or takes an unexpected turn, we have the flexibility to reinstate those flights and more quickly return the operation to normal.

It sounds like a simple solution, but pulling it off is pretty complex. We need expert opinions—and constant updates—from meteorology. We need guidance from dispatchers and load planners to ensure we are compliant with federal regulations and aircraft limitations. We need approval from Air Traffic Control. We need scheduling and flight planning to ensure we’ll have the required aircraft in the right place. We need maintenance planning to make sure the required parts for aircraft repairs will get where they are needed. And we need customer service and reservations agents to alert customers and help them work out a new plan—and our ProTeam to reach out to those customers who did experience extreme delays to offer good-will compensation.

Until recently, many of these key people worked in separate offices across the country. Now, most of them operate in the same room. They literally get up and talk to each other. They listen to each other, overhear each other, and make and adjust their decisions accordingly.

As a result, we respond more quickly and have a much more nimble operation. We also hold three calls a day, every day, for representatives across all of these departments, so everyone knows what is happening, can ask questions on the spot, and can relay accurate information to their teams and to our customers.

Irregular operations take a toll on our employees too. When we are able to help them prepare and plan for disruptions in advance, we show them how much we value them and the work they are doing for our company and for our customers.

Apparently we’re moving in the right direction, because our customers rated us far higher this past holiday season than last, even though weather conditions were nearly identical.

Communicating effectively doesn’t require some magic technology. It requires having the right people in the right place making the best decisions they can at the right time. Our customers demand and deserve clear, accurate information, especially when their travel has been disrupted. The only way to deliver it is to get it right on the inside. And that’s where we’re focusing our efforts.

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