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Raising the Bar Down Under

Annie Walton represents both the best of United and the best of Sydney to her customers

Author A. AVERYL RE

CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE Annie Walton likes to tell the story about one particular customer on a canceled flight whose wife said to her, in a thick Texas accent, “Annie, you’ve got to get Bob on the plane because he’s got to go to a lunch.”

Wondering what could be so important about a lunch that the man’s wife would be so adamant, Walton found him a flight that day, and he made it on time for his appointment. Walton later saw the man on television: He was in a rocket blasting off from Cape Canaveral. “It wasn’t a lunch,” she clarifies. “It was a launch.”

Getting an astronaut to the launchpad on time is all in a day’s work for Walton, who’s based in the Star Alliance lounge at Kingsford-Smith International Airport in Sydney, Australia. United has two flights arriving at the airport every morning, with one going on to Melbourne and returning that afternoon, and two more flights departing to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“I look after 4,000 people a month in that lounge,” Walton says. And while her station may be only a small desk with three drawers, “I make that little counter of mine into something that everyone remembers. There are so many other carriers in that lounge, but I make sure [my customers] know exactly who we are in Sydney.”

Making sure everyone knows all about United Airlines is a job that Walton believes she was born to do. She was working in television and public relations when a headhunter recruited her for United’s Red Carpet Club some 23 years ago. When the airline later closed the Red Carpet Club, all the products — and Walton — moved over to the Star Alliance lounge. She didn’t miss a beat in taking care of 150 to 200 customers a day, five days a week; many of those are repeat customers who remember Walton because she makes a point of remembering them.

“I know everyone’s name,” she says. “I have a photographic memory, so I never forget faces.” Remembering names and faces, Walton adds, is part of a bigger effort to respect the fact that “every single person in front of me is different. I have learned not to judge and I realize that sometimes I cannot give them what they request — but I can try.

“They are individuals, and to the best of my ability I try to understand what each person needs.”

Walton’s compassion and understanding come through loud and clear to customers, who have written hundreds of letters through the years praising her. Part of her attitude comes from being a native of Sydney, where, she says, people are welcoming and laid-back. She and her United co-workers want to relax at the end of the day and know they did a great job.

“It’s not just about flying. It’s about everything. It’s about giving the best customer service you can and making everyone feel important,” she says. “I also let people know I’m glad they chose us. I tell them, ‘I realize you have to make a choice, and I hope you will choose to stay with us. But don’t forget — if you don’t, you won’t get me!’ A little bit of humor goes a long way.”

11 Responses to “Raising the Bar Down Under”

  1. James Salter Says:
    February 1st, 2012 at 9:08 am

    We’ve visited Sydney 13 times since 1999- one of the few things that can make leaving a bit less depressing is knowing we’ll see Annie on the way home!

  2. Benjamin Lewis Says:
    February 5th, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Wonderful article! I know her and she is one of the best Red Carpet Club agent. She always make sure that I have a good seat on my way back to the states. Glad that Hemispheres magazine recognized her. Kudos to Annie Walton! Ben

  3. Dave Weisman Says:
    February 10th, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I have been flying United Airlines for over 35 years. In all that time, I’ve never met an employee who was so memorable as Annie. She TRULY offers the best of United to her customers !!!!

    Thank you for sharing this profile of a genuine RockStar!!!
    Dave

  4. Jim Says:
    February 26th, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    As a frequent traveler from Australia to the USA on United, I have to say that Annie is a wonderful person to represent United in the Sydney lounge. She does remember my name and welcomes me and everyone else with a broad smile and clear guidance as to what to do; come in, get something to eat, enjoy the lovely lounge and I will make an announcement when the flight is boarding. She goes out of her way to assist with upgrades and is very helpful with connections. United needs more people like Annie.
    2-million mile flyer

  5. Chelsea Ackland Says:
    February 26th, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Annie is a star… That about sums her up!

  6. Eduardo Says:
    February 29th, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Annie spent about 2 minutes with me facilitating a smooth check-in, but made me feel like a rock star on my flight syd-lax. btw, I’m not a rock star…Thank you Annie

  7. Dave Garvis Says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    The article about Annie Walton at the Club in Sydney, Australia (Feb 2012) was delightful. I travel through Sydney several time per year and have experienced Annie’s professionalism first-hand. She is always a smiling and cheerful ambassador for United and I have never met a more skilled customer service representative. Good on ya, Annie and thanks for making a stop in Sydney so enjoyable.

  8. Ron Daigneault Says:
    May 26th, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    I read the Hemispheres article on a United flight in Feb 2012 and knew I would be flying United out of SYD in May 2012 and I knew I wanted to meet this woman. What a treat! This woman is a flight and travel enthusiast, and it shows! I did want to fulfill a boyhood dream of flying upper deck on a 747 and spoke with Annie about a move to the Upper Deck but she did all all she could with no avail! She still made me feel like a top notch flier and assured me the seat I have is a seat she chooses when she flies! Thanks and hope to meet again in the lounge!

  9. Philip J. Picott Says:
    October 15th, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Attn: Mr. Jeff Smisek – President of United Airlines

    Upon the completion of my 1st of what I hope to be many more trips to Australia in July 2011, I was fortunate to have seen such noticeable sights as the Sydney Opera House and of course the Sydney Harbour Bridge! What I never expected to see or experience on my last day at Sydney Airport was a true example of high quality Customer Service, as her name is …… Ms. Annie Walton! I spoke with Ms. Walton on the possibility of moving my seat from Business Class to First Class on-board United Airlines’ Flight # 840, bound for LAX. Well Annie as she prefers to be called made it happen! Annie explained to me that it was her personal goal to make “her” customers happy and satisfied, which is something that is so often said, but never deliver upon. Annie’s commanding presence and polite tone gave me the sense that her commitment toward excellence was no act, but action that came truly from the heart! In fact, I asked Annie as to what I could do for her in my appreciation for her help. Annie just smiled and said “absolutely nothing, it’s my pleasure to serve you!”. She added, “if you ever come back here to the Land of Oz, I always love chocolates!” Well Annie, I don’t know when or if I will ever get back to Australia, but those chocolates will be waiting for you! WOW!!! Thank you Annie & United Airlines for excellent customer service and a very memorable trip!

  10. Chris Brasler Says:
    October 9th, 2013 at 6:10 am

    I fly the UA870 almost monthly and I have so much enjoyed reading this article and the comments to follow as I, along with my family when they travel with me, have been touched by the absolutely stellar customer commitment Annie Walton has shown us every single time we have flown. As a small business owner, I cannot always afford Business class seating although typically having to go to important meetings upon arrival on the East Coast of the US. Although I do not always get an upgrade using my points or global upgrades, Annie leaves me with the impression that she has done all that she can do to assist me and I have always left the Lounge in a better mood then when I entered. Hats off to a command performance. I’ll be there this Saturday hoping that Annie is working and getting the continued accolades she deserves.

  11. Warwick Greville Says:
    November 9th, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    My trips from USA to Australia and back are not the same without Annie at the club. She is wonderful, and has been wonderful for so many years. I have travelled that route so many times, I can’t count. Now it’s much less frequent than before. She even remembers who I am when I walk in. Love her ! Her dedication to service is far above anyone else whom I encounter on my travels. Raise her compensation, and give her an office !

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