A holiday surprise from the travel industry

Sometimes when you travel, it’s the little gestures of compassion that make the biggest difference — especially during the holidays.

For Becky Brand, it was the bus driver on Washington’s L2 line who went out of his way to help her during Thanksgiving week. “While I was struggling with a heavy suitcase in the rain, he made my day by stopping to let me on instead of having me run to the bus stop a block away,” says Brand, who works for a legal advocacy group in the capital. “Although a small and random act of kindness, it made my holiday week and definitely gave me something to be thankful for.”

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group. Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Jenny Block remembers the nameless American Airlines employee who answered her plea on Twitter. Her cousin had been left in a coma after a traffic accident, and she needed the airline to bend a flight change rule. Block, a writer who lives in Dallas, received an immediate reply: Of course the airline would help her.

“You won’t believe this part,” she told me. “It happened on Thanksgiving morning.”

Oh no, that part I would believe.

See, that’s the funny thing about the travel industry. For a business that, with a few notable exceptions, thinks nothing of offending its customers most of the year, the short-lived transformation during the holidays is incredible. It’s as if someone turned back the clock and made common courtesy and customer service important again.

And it cuts both ways. This is the time of year when you hear about customers committing random acts of kindness, too.

When Natalie Caine, a counselor from Toluca Lake, Calif., saw the woman in front of her at the airport coffee shop come up a few dollars short as she tried to buy snacks for her children, Caine covered her tab. “I know the stress of parenting and travel,” she says.

Joellen Freeman, an administrative assistant from Lexington, S.C., was flying from Cleveland to Atlanta when she witnessed a remarkable seat switch. “A gentleman came up to a soldier,” she remembers. “He introduced himself and then asked the soldier about his seat assignment. He then traded seats with the soldier — giving up his first class seat for one in coach as an expression of his gratitude for the service of the young man. It was very touching.”

Not all these gestures are spontaneous, but that doesn’t make them any less remarkable.

Jessica Langley, a flight attendant based in Columbus, Ohio, spends the year collecting soaps and shampoos in hotels. She recently drove from her home in Palm Beach, Fla., to Orlando to deliver 55 pounds of toiletries to a charity called Clean the World, which is dedicated to helping stop the spread of fatal diseases worldwide. “To me, it’s a no-brainer,” she says. “A few extra ounces in my carry-on luggage can have a big impact.”

At the Sheraton Kauai, employees donated 1,000 pounds of food to the Hawaii Food Bank for Thanksgiving. Then, for good measure, they threw in the keys to the van. “This effort has led to the resort designating a Food Bank Table in the hotel’s restaurant each day where proceeds from that table will be donated to the Hawaii Food Bank,” says Jonathan Pappas, a spokesman for the resort.

I don’t know about you, but I love hearing about how the travel industry goes out of its way to be charitable year-round. As a consumer advocate who deals with complaints all the time, these stories give me hope. Because charitable giving and good customer service often go hand-in-hand, they make me believe that one day, this industry will again compete on customer service and not just price.

But the niceness can also make me feel a little awkward, particularly when it comes from a place where you’d least expect it. Hearing about an act of compassion from an employee of a discount airline or from an online agency that routes all customer complaints to an overseas call center can be downright jarring.

Or even, from the TSA.

But there I was, just a week after Thanksgiving, waiting curbside for my family to pick me up at the airport. When they arrived, I brought one bag over to the car, and when I turned around, I saw an off-duty Transportation Security Administration agent standing there with my second bag.

I don’t think he knew that he’d just assisted one of the agency’s most vocal critics with his luggage. It made the gesture all the more meaningful.

I was speechless. All I could manage was a timid, “Thank you.”

The agent smiled and said, “Welcome home.”

(Photo: asenat 29/Flickr)

18 thoughts on “A holiday surprise from the travel industry

  1. I couldn’t really cast a vote.  There should be a 3rd option.  They should encourage their people to try to go the extra mile all year long.

    I remember once I was boarding a plane and the two outboard seats were occupied by kids in the 7-10 year old range.  I had the aisle seat.  Their mother was hovering over them when I approached and I offered to switch seats so she could sit with the kids.  I mean, it was a little thing, but I know she appreciated it.

    I’d love to see it become a trend to switch 1st class seats with a soldier, like in the story.  Considering their sacrifices, it’s the least any of us could do.

  2. The question for voting should really be “Should travel companies encourage their employees to be extra nice during the whole year?”  While it is nice to get this so call “extra nice” service during the holiday, the extra nice service is really just the basic customer service that is deserved the entire year!

    And the second option in the vote I feel is really out of place and uncalled for.  It is not a false advertisement.  They are not advertising anything.  A change in internal policy is not advertisement.  Are they putting out radio/TV/newspaper spot about the change?  I don’t think so.

    Chris, while your work as an advocate for consumers is really great, it looks to me like you need a lot more work with your skills as a pollster.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. The polls are really meant to provoke further discussion. (I’m not trying to be the next George Gallup.) If you don’t like the question or the answers, please wait for the next one.

      1. You don’t have to try to be the next George Gallup, but I have been noticing that a lot of the responses in the questions have been pretty leading.  As you suggested, I didn’t bother voting on this particular one.

        When the available responses are way out in left field, like I feel the no answer is on this one, it really makes the poll useless for further discussion. And when you add terms like false advertisement, something that wasn’t even hinted at in the story, that can lead to a non-constructive type discussion.

      2. Chris are your polls really limited to just two options? Because the world is definitely more that black and white-which is what your polls are. Yes, some of them do deserve a black and white/yes or no answer. Should I mediate or not for example.

        But in this instance and some others I can think of in recent memory, the issue is a lot more complex than yes or no. Or in this case-encourage employees to be nicer at the holidays or false advertising. Could you have offered a third option-like “No, they should encourage a sense of niceness all the time.”

  3. I still believe in truehuman kindness. Not false advertising. I witnessed multitude of acts kindness of which the givers don’t expect any return. And I encourage people keep remind us what’s Thanksgiving really means not just a Shopping Holiday or Black Friday.

  4. I voted no – they should direct their employees to be nice all year round, not just during the Christmas season.

    My youngest son leaves for the military next August, I hope people will remember to treat him nicely as well.

  5. My greatest fear traveling to Orlando from Minnesota this October was getting my 4-year-old through security.  The TSA in Minneapolis were kind, patient and offered my preschooler a big high 5 for walking by himself through the detector.

  6. I didn’t vote for either choice because I think that people in the service industry-and in general-should strive to be nicer. Period.

    Drivers letting that person merge in traffic or go first at the intersection. Holding the door open for someone takes only a second but is a sign of common courtesy that is lost today. Smiling at the grocery store cashier and telling them to have a nice day instead of talking on your cell phone-it only takes a second but it can brighten their day as well.

    We’ve all gotten so caught up in our busy lives that sometimes I think we forget to interact with people in real life because we are either too rushed or too busy interacting with the people at the other end of our electronic tethers. Is it a wonder sometimes that people on the other side of customer service interactions have a tendency to be rude or abrupt? When you have more and more customers coming through treating you like you don’t exist or are a computer? You tend to tune them out as well. Keep in mind I am not talking about out and out rudeness or the flagrant abuses perpetuated by the TSA here. But the general apathy and lack of perceived niceness of the general customer service rep. It ends up becoming a bad feed-back loop. Customers are  less inclined to have any interaction with customer service people, some have bought into the “customer is always right point of view”, or are just too busy to want to or be able to interact with CSR’s. CSR’s are under pressure from their bosses to produce more (sell those credit cards, book those add-ons, etc.), get frustrated when they tell the person exactly what they are booking, buying but the person isn’t listening or have to deal with those people that doe buy into “the customer is always right” BS. It is a vicious cycle.

  7. I vote for being extra nice during the holidays.  The
    holidays can be a very stressful time by themselves and traveling during the
    holidays, especially if you don’t do it often or are traveling with kids, older
    relatives, etc., can be a nightmare.  A little extra help can make the
    world of difference.

    Would it be nice if we could turn back the clock and receive the quality of
    customer service we did when I first started traveling (40 years ago) or even a
    consistent level of polite, informed and helpful customer service, YES. 
    But I’ll take it  now even if it is only during the Holiday Season and be
    grateful for the bit of respite from the stress of traveling.

  8. These are acts of human kindness by individuals. I don’t think an airline actually tells its employees to be extra nice or for that matter just nice during the holiday seasons. It is sad that things are so price driven and the only goal is shareholder equity that we forgot all about the people who make it happen, the PASSENGER and the staff.

    Happy Holidays

  9. I have always been surprised by the kindness I’ve received from the travel industry, both during the holidays and not. A few months ago I lost my grandmother and my flight from Dallas to White Plains took me through O’Hare (rather notorious for thoughtless staff). I was exceptionally distraught and stressed out and, even standing at the gate, missed every boarding call and the call for me personally. I guess I was a little out of it.

    Looking up to see my plane pulling away from the gate, I rushed up to the gate, bawling and freaking out. I’d spoken to them earlier so they knew my situation and were so nice to me. Told me not to worry, there was another flight leaving in 45 minutes and it wasn’t full, they’d rebook me no problem. They could have easily forced me to buy the walk-up fare, but sometimes human beings can surprise you.

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