Two Airlines Whose Customer Service Delivered Christmas Early

For the amount of flying I’ve done in my life, my airline loyalties were, until recently, fairly weak. I was more loyal to my favorite moisturizer and cod liver oil supplement than any airline. Sure, there are a few airlines I will avoid, but in general, price wins. But after a recent incident with Alaska Airlines, I’m starting to reconsider.

alaska airlines prop plane.jpg

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For the four years we lived in Seattle, Alaska Airlines was our go-to airline. It was a no-brainer. Despite its name, Alaska is based in Seattle, so there were ton of flights everywhere. Its prices are reasonable, while its credit card and frequent flyer program are routinely lauded by personal finance magazines as being among the best. The fact that its customer service is ranked among the top by multiple parties, including Temkin Group, J.D. Power & Associates, and others, actually wasn’t that important to me at the time.

But after we returned to the Bay Area, Alaska lost its convenience factor. We started flying them less and less. I even switched my spending to that credit card that heavily advertises how you can get cash back from flights on any airline. In fact, we chose to fly Alaska on our recent Thanksgiving trip to Canadian in-laws in part because we wanted to use up our Alaska miles and start afresh in 2014.

Our return flight to San Francisco was a disaster. 30 minutes into the first leg of our trip, our plane had to return back to Calgary due to low cabin pressure. We sat around for two hours before learning that repairs were impossible and our flight was cancelled. Because it was right after the Thanksgiving holidays and because Calgary had been hit by a blizzard the day before, all alternate flights were fully booked until 6 am the next day.

This is where Alaska stepped up. First, they booked us into a pet-friendly hotel for the night. Then their gate agent who rebooked us also gave us vouchers for 3 meals (worth $48 each), a round-trip taxi ride to the hotel and back (about $130), and vouchers for 4,000 frequent flyer miles (worth between $40 and $80). That’s about $500 right there. Not bad. This made us feel much happier about the flight delays, which we knew were out of Alaska’s control.

After returning and facing the pre-Christmas work crunch, I quickly forgot about our flight issue. Then a week later, we got an e-mail from Alaska customer service apologizing for the flight delay and offering the four of us each a $300 discount code. Wow! The only way they could’ve topped that in my mind would have been if they included a 5th $300 code for our dog. Seriously, our plans have changed. Alaska once again becomes our go-to airline whenever its flights are available. Some people might say Alaska is buying my loyalty, and I agree, to an extent. It’s also the fact that not once did their agents use the holidays or the weather as an excuse for my plane/travel woes.

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Another airline that delivered an early Christmas is Canadian discount airline, WestJet, though this time to more than 250 of its customers, reported Buzzfeed. On a recent flight to, coincidentally, Calgary, passengers were set in front of a ‘Santa Box’ (really, a videoconferencing kiosk of the kind that we offer and some of our customers, such as Bank of Moscow, use) to whom they could ask Santa for a Christmas gift. Scarves, Android tablets and socks were among the items that the fliers asked for. After the passengers got on, WestJet employees ran to the mall, where they purchased and wrapped up the requested gifts.

When the passengers arrived at Calgary and waited at the baggage claim, down came the wrapped gifts. Santa even showed up to give them out. Watch the five minute video produced by WestJet and hosted on YouTube by clicking on the picture below.

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(Note: I have no idea whether Alaska Airlines or WestJet are Avaya customers, though odds are yes. Nine out of ten of the world’s largest airlines use Avaya.)

While some might balk at the slick video and obvious planning behind the WestJet promotion, you can’t deny that a lot of the kids in the video seem genuinely pleased to see Santa. And the adults also appear touched by this random-y act of corporate kindness (though I didn’t notice if they showed a reaction shot of the guy who asked for the socks).

As I was the recipient, I still think Alaska’s customer service in this instance tops WestJet’s. But I’m biased. I’m curious what my readers think: are you more impressed by Alaska or WestJet’s move?

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