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United Urges Flight Attendants to Create “Wow Factor” with Better Service

United Airlines urges its flight attendants to improve customer service by creating a "wow factor" and increasing customer loyalty

by Fergus Cole

April 25, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of United Airlines

An internal memo has been sent to United Airlines flight attendants, asking them to try to provide better service to passengers to create a ”wow factor.”

First reported by Live and Let’s Fly, the internal memo contains several recommendations to the airline’s flight attendants, such as offering to take coats in premium cabins and offer premium passengers complimentary beverages before departure.

“Flight attendants play one of the most critical roles in providing customers with excellent service,” reads the memo. “A recent study shows, ”Service is more important to customers than price.” For our customers onboard, this starts with boarding and ends with deplaning.”

The memo states that passengers prefer high levels of customer service over cheap flights, referring to a previous study on the topic. As a result, flight attendants are asked to reduce gossiping between themselves during flights and the noise in the galleys. Moreover, the airline suggests some instructions to allow flight crew to raise the bar in their in-flight service.

The first of these instructions is relatively simple and something that most passengers would expect – smiling at customers as they board. Explaining how this will create a ”wow factor”, the memo says smiling is a “great way to welcome customers onboard and set the tone for a great flight.”

Photo: Courtesy of United Airlines

Secondly, cabin crew is being urged to offer to hang up passengers’ coats in premium cabins, which United says can provide the opportunity for a “great moment for customer engagement.” Staff are also urged to keep noise to a minimum in the galley and when placing items in the overhead bins to “create a relaxing environment.”

The memo also suggests that passengers should be offered a welcome beverage in polycarbonate glassware and collect and stow away all non-disposable glasses before closing the aircraft’s doors. It also indicates that staff should provide passengers with disposable plastic cups should they choose to keep their welcome beverage after the plane has pushed back.

Finally, the memo urges cabin crew to thank passengers at the end of the flight. “It sounds easy, but this can change someone’s day during deplaning and help to create lifelong customers!”

Overall, these instructions laid out to cabin crew don’t seem too demanding for United staff to apply. After all, receiving a warm greeting when boarding and a simple ‘thank you’ when deplaning is the very least that air passengers expect, no matter what airline they fly with. Pre-departure beverages are also fairly standard in the U.S., especially among legacy carriers such as American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

It’s also unclear what study the memo refers to when it claims air passengers value service over price. However, a 2019 J.D. Power study revealed that “costs and fees are notably less important than in-flight services when it comes to delighting passengers on international flights.” The survey involved over 6,000 airline passengers and found that 36% chose good customer service as a primary driver when selecting a carrier, compared to 31% who said lower ticket prices were their main consideration.

The memo could simply be an attempt from United management to improve the overall reputation of the airline’s customer service. According to J.D. Power’s 2022 North American Airline Satisfaction Study, United was ranked as the second worst airline for First and Business Class service in North America, ahead of only American Airlines.

Photo: Courtesy of United Airlines

It also had the second worst Premium Economy service ahead of Air Canada. Its Economy Class service also had below-average customer satisfaction, with only American Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and WestJet performing worse.

However, this is not the only call to action that United flight attendants have received in recent days. Earlier this month, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) urged its members working for United Airlines to self-report incidences of their own poor customer service. But instead of being used to single out individuals for their underwhelming service, these examples would be used in the union’s negotiations with United management over worker contracts.

This makes the timing of United’s internal memo more intriguing, as it may be perceived by some as preparing staff to offer an enhanced level of service ahead of any potential pay rise. However, although negotiations between the union and senior management are ongoing, there has been no suggestion that United is willing to offer its employees a pay rise or reverse recent staffing cuts.