US Air’s disturbing practices

In recent months I’ve flown US Airways a few different times, and learned a valuable lesson about pestering people.

Unless I go out of my way to make it so, there are few places in my day-to-day world where I have complete, quiet alone time, largely without interruption. Airplanes are one such place, which is why, when I fly, I enjoy my alone time to the fullest, and I prefer not to be pestered. So that I don’t get in the way of a row-mate’s bathroom excursions, I always select the window seat even though, at a leggy 6′ 4″, the aisle would be far more accommodating. Before longer flights, I cut my water intake so I don’t have to get up myself, and I generally don’t take a beverage from the service cart when it makes the rounds. I use my time to escape into a book, catch up on my magazines, or work. US Air, however, isn’t on board with my plan.

Over half-way through every flight, just when I’m deep in either thought or sleep, the way-too-loud passenger communication chime grabs my attention for what I assume is an important announcement. Are we about to hit turbulence? Is it time to begin our descent? Neither nor. It turns out US Air has a great rewards program tied to their own MasterCard. Hurrah! Not only does the flight crew proceed to pitch us the card benefits and loyalty program over the loudspeakers, they are then forced (I’m sure US Air Corporate mandates this, and the flight attendants absolutely hate doing it) to walk slowly down the aisle, ask passengers if they’re interested in learning more, and offer a brochure with more information.

I do understand that passengers on a US Air flight are ideal candidates for the US Air credit cards (they also offer a Bank of America debit card). And talk about a captive audience–there’s no way to get out of it. To my way of thinking, this is customer abuse. We’ve already paid them for the flight, and now we’re subject to another sales pitch that we can’t walk or click away from. (And don’t get me started about the product itself. Not only does it come with high yearly fees, but the APR is either 15.99% or 24.99%, depending on credit worthiness.)

So not only am I being disturbed for something non-essential, it’s for a sales pitch, and the product is terrible. Here’s how it could have been better:

  • Combine the sales pitch with another disturbance, like the notice that we’re approaching our destination.
  • Change from a pitch to an offer of more information. “If you’d like to know how you could have earned 10,000 miles for this flight, ask an attendant for a brochure on our rewards program.”
  • Include a brochure in the blue vinyl seat back pockets, along with the world’s worst magazine and glossy handout on evacuation procedures.
  • Put a quick pitch on the boarding pass, which I already read at least five times because I can never remember my gate or seat number.

Clearly, there are many other options. And I suppose someone did their homework and found that annoying the entire cabin is a more effective way to get people to on-board with the program. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. And it certainly means I’ll avoid flying US Air in the future.

An important lesson from this experience:
There are different ways to communicate a message, and when the message is difficult (or annoying), exploring multiple options may lead to a more positive experience. There’s a big difference between delivering a message in person, sending an email, and putting it in a report.

For minimum damage, group your disturbances together. In the workplace, that means saving all your questions until you have a scheduled meeting with whomever has the answers. Some people claim to have open-door policies, but that doesn’t mean they like it when coworkers pop on by every 20 minutes. The people who do it most start to look under-confident and incompetent, and it gets annoying. If you don’t have a regularly scheduled meeting with The Answer Person, and you have more than 5 minutes of questions, look at their calendar and sign up for 20 minutes. It’s more respectful of their time, and the structure of a meeting will ensure you have full attention and get the answers you need.

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