One of my regrets of 2012 is not being able to fly along with the Star Alliance MegaDO 4 - despite the fact that I didn't have the $1,000 to play along. What is a MegaDO? Its an excuse for a bunch of travel aficionados like me to charter a jet airliner on their favorite airline alliance, and see all the workings of the airline operation. This includes behind-the-scenes looks at airports, tours of terminals, flying awesome aircraft with the people who know them best (this year, those travelling the Star Alliance MegaDO got to take a trip on a brand new 787 Dreamliner), and have face time with some of the most important people in travel.
And I may have forgotten to mention the fact that attendees also had an informal Q & A session with the CEO of United Airlines, Jeff Smisek.
Lucky for us who didn't get to go, the nice people at Milepoint recorded the entire 30-minute session for us to analyze. While it isn't the same as being in the same room as one of the most powerful men in travel, its certainly a start. You can watch the entire presentation on their website by clicking here.
Throughout his presentation, Mr. Smisek provided some very interesting insights to how the travel industry runs. Interesting to me is how, despite everything going wrong at times, they still keep focus on eliminating travel delays or trip interruptions. After watching it twice, here are some of my key takeaways from his presentation:
- Airlines hate trip delays, too
Despite what we may think about the airlines and their various routes, airline companies hate dealing with trip delays just as much as we do. A plane doesn't make money if its stuck on the ground. And the longer a trip delay runs, or if a trip cancellation happens, the lesser chance you will return as their customer. "Running a good operation - making sure that we're on time - making sure that you get there when you need to get there with your underwear," Mr. Smisek said. "Making sure you make your connection. That makes it easier on you as our customers, easier on our co-workers, and makes for a much more pleasant flight experience."
- Customer service runs both ways - to and from your destination
Airlines, at their core, are a service industry. The service they provide is getting you from point A to point B. And the idea that customer service is paramount to that is not lost on them. "We all know you can be on a brand new airplane with the coolest stuff, and if that plane is late and you're not treated well by an agent or flight attendant that flight can be absolutely miserable despite a fine product," said Mr. Smisek. So when a trip is delayed, cancelled, or otherwise interrupted, the airline understands that it ultimately rests on the gate agent to make (or break) your relationship with that airline. That being said, don't forget to be nice to your gate agents and flight attendants, too - as they can help you immensely if you allow them to.
- Irregular operations are just that - irregular
We saw a lot of trip cancellations and travel delays this last month, with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy and the winter storms that came afterwards. The airlines call it irregular operations - and they are, in fact, just that: irregular. "Safety is always paramount, and you're also dealing in situations where often have imperfect information and changing weather forecasts and particularly changing wind forecasts, which are important." said Mr. Smisek. "Its important for us to make sure we get not only our passengers and crews to safety, but we stage ourselves for picking up promptly as soon as we possibly can afterwards." So when traveling during storm conditions, or other irregular situations, know that safety is the first step to deciding whether or not a trip delay is necessary. And during those situations, travel insurance may be able to cover your expenses throughout the situation.
Overall, I found the presentation to be interesting, entertaining, and a fascinating peek behind the curtain at one of the wizards that makes air travel possible. Now, I'm definitely planning on saving my pennies to go on the next MegaDO.
If you were in a room with an airline executive, what questions would you ask? Let me know in the comments below!