Home Publisher's Point of View Sustainability Still Takes Back Seat to Customer Service

Sustainability Still Takes Back Seat to Customer Service

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Glenn Hasek

May it be a lesson for all of us: Customer service still comes first. You may have the greenest brand, the most robust sustainability program, and offset every bit of your environmental impact. All of that will not matter in the least if an associate or associates on your team slip up and make a critical mistake that results in injury, death, or scalded reputation.

I am sure you all saw the video of the United Airlines passenger—a doctor—forcibly removed from a plane this past week. United Airlines needed the seat for an employee and asked the passenger to leave. The passenger refused and was dragged off the plane. He suffered a concussion, two lost front teeth, a broken nose and injuries to his sinuses. The incident was a PR disaster for United Airlines. It was not handled well initially with United Airlines initially blaming the passenger. The company’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, was later more apologetic but it really was too late. It was just about the worst customer service moment imaginable and United Airlines’ market value plummeted. Of course loss of reputation, a lawsuit and future business loss could mean many more dollars lost for United Airlines.

Since the most recent recession we have all seen the airlines attempt to squeeze us all for more dollars while reducing flights, amenities and legroom—a recipe for unhappy customers. Was something like what happened to the passenger on the flight from Chicago to Louisville inevitable? Possibly. It was at least the result of bad policy meeting poorly trained, overzealous security personnel meeting one doctor who just wanted to go home so he could see his patients the next morning. Says Oscar Munoz now: United Airlines will never again allow law enforcement to remove “a booked, paid, seated passenger” from a plane.

Airline Recognized for Sustainability Leadership

Ask just about anyone today what comes to their mind first when thinking about United Airlines and they will tell you about the removed doctor. That’s unfortunate because the incident is overshadowing the company’s good works. For example, earlier this year, United Airlines was named Eco-Airline of the Year by Air Transport World magazine. The publication awarded United Airlines with the top honor for multiple initiatives in 2016 and prior years, including becoming the first U.S. airline to begin using commercial-scale volumes of sustainable aviation biofuel for regularly scheduled flights.

In 2016, United began partnering with Clean the World, the nonprofit organization that recycles partially used soap, shampoo and other hygiene products that would normally be thrown away by the hospitality industry. Clean the World collects unused United amenity kits and refurbishes the products into new hygiene kits, which United assembles and distributes to those in need. The kits help prevent millions of hygiene-related deaths each year and reduce the morbidity rate for hygiene-related illnesses, while also eliminating environmental waste.

United Airlines is continuing to replace its eligible ground equipment and service vehicles with cleaner, electrically powered alternatives, with 47 percent of the fleet converted to date. It is becoming the first airline to fly with Boeing’s Split Scimitar winglets, which reduce fuel consumption by up to 2 percent; United is the largest Split Scimitar winglet customer today.

Air Travel Offsetting Made Easier

United Airlines is the only U.S.-based airline named to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s “Leadership” category for its environmental disclosure, with an A- Climate score in 2016. Its Eco-Skies CarbonChoice program provides customers with the opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint associated with their air travel through the purchase of carbon offsets.

These are just a few examples of some good things United Airlines is doing in the area of sustainability. It has an entire section of its website dedicated to its Eco-Skies program. United Airlines’ most recent Corporate Responsibility Report also provides more details.

United Airlines made a huge mistake last week but it remains a critical partner to the lodging industry and an extremely important player and influencer when it comes to sustainable travel.

The Golden Rule applies mightily to the travel industry. Treat your customers the way you would like to be treated—with respect and care. Create the right policies and train every associate in the “care chain”. You will be glad that you did.

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