At most U.S. airlines if a flight attendant provides great service it’s because of their own inner drive. It’s not because of any training program or incentives that the company has set up.
One of the most frustrating thing I hear from cabin crew all the time is about the small percentage of their colleagues who are slackers, who perform poorly and do as little work as possible (increasing the workload for everyone else). This is frustrating because there’s usually very little consequence. And seeing poor performers do just as well as those who provide exemplary service is demoralizing.
This isn’t strictly a union versus non-union issue. While in general Delta’s non-union flight attendants have seemed happier with their jobs and friendlier to customers than American’s, Southwest Airlines unionized flight attendants are generally more than pleasant too. Southwest does, however, manage to push out disgruntled employees, about 1/7th of 1% per year.
U.S. airlines mostly discipline for attendance, not poor service, and there’s little they can do to change this culture – or so it seems. United Airlines is actually trying something new: sharing passenger feedback from each flight directly with cabin crew.
United surveys passengers on their flight experience – satisfaction with service, whether they were thanked, whether cabin crew were visible throughout the flight, and whether they were friendly. You might think that only people who complain fill out surveys but “In 2020, United flight attendants received over 20,000 compliments.”
- United is starting a test April 1 to share survey feedback with Chicago and Honolulu-based cabin crew flying certain routes
- The airline will roll out surveys in-app and via seat back entertainment screens.
The question – and it’s a really interesting one – is will direct customer feedback (anonymized, after a flight) be taken constructively, causing employees to try to do better? Will positive feedback reinforce an employee’s desire to perform well? It’s still not a monetary reward. Their position in the company isn’t necessarily enhanced. But we all like positive feedback, and to do those things which garners it. And if it’s clear how to avoid negative feedback, that could shape behavior as well.
This could easily go wrong and I wonder whether United will actually censor some of the comments. Feedback provided anonymously via a keyboard can be mean-spirited and foul-mouthed. Believe me, I get some every day!
Still, in a world where U.S. airlines have few tools for encouraging good service and competing forces that demoralize crew into working as little as some of their colleagues get away with, this is an interesting experiment.