Working is customer service for an airline is a job that I always enjoyed. The airline industry is quite dynamic. I never knew what type of situations I would be dealing with when I punched in, but I always knew that the day would be interesting. Working with people can be fun and rewarding or a total pain in the neck depending on whom you’re dealing with. I always tried to approach each situation with a clear head and not allow the events earlier in the day affect the way that I would handle each customer, but that is sometimes difficult.
“I couldn’t do your job” is something that I would hear daily from passengers and co-workers from other departments. Customer Service, especially for an airline is not for everyone. Whenever a flight attendant would tell me “I couldn’t do your job” I would say the same thing right thing back to them. At least I could walk away from the customers if I needed a moment to decompress, they would be stuck with them at 30,000 feet for several hours. But I guess we are all more comfortable doing certain things than others. I was fortunate to find a profession in an industry that I loved, and enjoyed the work I was able to do. (Most of the time) If you think that you would want to be in airline customer service then take a look at some of the situations and conditions that we would deal with on a daily basis. If you could handle all of the madness and keep a smile on your face then this might be a good job for you!
- The Hours
The airlines are always up in the air, literally. If you work for an airline expect to work strange hours. Days, Swings, Overnights, and sometimes a combination of all of them, you can also expect to work holidays. It’s a 24-hour a day operation and Airlines need people working on the ground whenever the flights are taking off and landing. I’ve always been a night person myself, so I liked working the late afternoons into the evenings, but I often got stuck doing early mornings, which was tough for me sometimes. One of the problems that a lot of new employees had was not being able to get common business hours (9-5) If these shifts were ever available they were usually taken by more senior employees. (Employees with more time with the company)
- Seniority Rules
If you’re joining an airline then you will get to know seniority real quick. Many airlines are union and assign things like shifts and vacations based on how much time you have with the company. When you hire on you’ll be at the bottom of the seniority list. That means you get the shifts that are left over, they’re probably not the most desirable. Senior employees also get preference on which work areas they want to be in. You definitely won’t get some of the best assignments when you start. Make sure your schedule is flexible when signing up, and stick with it. Your seniority will get better as you accrue time.
- Hurry Up and Wait
This is a term that you’ll hear a lot when working in the industry. There are often times when you will be tasked with a time sensitive job requiring immediate attention. Sometimes things change quickly and what was supposed to be a quick task turns into a waiting game due to a delay. Things are always changing in the airline industry, and you need to be prepared, but also ready to wait for things to happen. There is a lot of standing around involved with the job.
- Didn’t I Just Answer That?
Get ready to answer questions, lots of them. You can make all of the announcements you want, but the fact is that some people don’t listen. There may be no stupid questions, but there are certainly redundant ones. When are we boarding? Why are we delayed? Can you change my seat? Where’s the Restroom? Where is my gate? What baggage claim? When is the weather clearing out? You will hear all of these questions many times every day. It’s your job to answer them!
- Fighting with Baggage
The airlines have strict size and weight requirements for checked baggage these days. Customer service agents are the ones enforcing them. You will always have people who are trying to get away with checking bags that are overweight or oversize without paying fees. You will have people try to bargain with you and justify the reasons that they shouldn’t have to pay extra. Some of these discussions can get heated and make customers angry, but the baggage rules have to be enforced.
Since bag fees have been introduced, people have started carrying more baggage with them to save money. Size requirements also apply for carry-on bags, and these rules are also enforced by customer service. Bags that are too large to fit on an aircraft have to be checked. It’s not fun taking someone’s carry-on bag from them forcefully, but space limitations often require this. You’ve probably heard announcements from agents asking people to check their bags ahead of time, this is to avoid forcing people to check their bags, but it happens all the time.
- Race the Clock
Airlines are constantly striving to be on time. Leaving at the scheduled departure time is not always easy, especially when the inbound aircraft is delayed. Customer service agents need to rush passengers off of the plane and board as fast as possible to make sure the flight departs on time. All of this has to be done while answering questions and keeping eyes on people’s baggage to ensure compliance. It’s not easy moving hundreds of people on and off of a big metal tube. Customers typically don’t like to be rushed, but you’ll have to crack the whip to help their flight go on time.
- Shutting the Door
In line with attempts to keep flights on time, all major US airlines have implemented a policy of closing the boarding door 10 minutes prior to the aircraft departure. This is to ensure that the flight crew can get final customer counts, weight and balance, and final departure information prepared. Adding passengers after the final numbers come in can cause delays.
In customer service you will have to shut the door 10 minutes before departure. Sometimes people will be running to the gate and you can’t let them on. “The plane’s sitting right there, and it’s not my fault I’m late!” You’ll hear that a lot. Passengers who miss their flight are not happy campers, especially when they can still see the plane at the gate. You’ll have to deal with them and rebook them as they watch their flight roll away. Make sure to get the door closed on time. You may face discipline if the flight becomes delayed because you let passengers on inside of the 10-minute cutoff.
- Oversales, Downgrades, Weight Restrictions, and Downsizing
All of these things make a customer service representative’s job harder. All of these terms mean that there are not enough available seats for all passengers holding reservations on the flight. Someone is going to lose his or her seat and be delayed. Most of the time you will be able to find volunteers to take later flights for airline issued compensation, but if no one volunteers their seat then people will be involuntarily removed. It’s not a pretty situation when you tell someone they have to take a later flight against their will because the airline sold too many seats.
- Irate Passengers
When people miss their flights because of airline delays, they are never happy. Some will be more disgruntled than others, and some will be excessively angry, or very sad. People are generally stressed out by travel, missing flights only compounds their anxiety. You’ll have to deal with them and help them the best you can. Sometimes flight options are not available for multiple days, and the airline won’t pay for meals or hotels. Telling people this is not fun, but it has to be done. Be prepared to look angry people in the face and say no. You’ll have to do the best you can, knowing that the customer will not be satisfied with the outcome.
- Know It Alls
These are the type of people that make your job harder as soon as they open their mouth. They think they have all of the answers when things are going wrong, or they may just want to try to impress you with their knowledge and experience with flying. Know it alls will at best distract you from doing your job and take up space at the gate when people with real questions and problems are queued up behind them. You may have to just tell them to walk away and sit down if they become really annoying. There are times to have conversations with customers, but it’s definitely not when it’s time to prepare a departure. The know it all will always find you at the worst possible time. Keep your answers short with these people, stay focused, and don’t let them interrupt your job.
If you think you can handle all of the things mentioned above then you would probably do just fine as a Customer Service Representative for an airline. The key to success is to not let all the little things bother you. Give each customer the attention they deserve, listen to their issues, be honest, and help solve their problems. Sometimes you will be able to brighten someone’s day by helping them out, and that is very rewarding.
Any customer service agents out there? What are some of the problems that you deal with every day? I’d like to hear about your daily challenges, feel free to comment.
Thankfully, working in Customer Service for an airline is not always full of all of the tough things I mentioned above. There are many great aspects of working in customer service. Check out part two of this article and see some of the great aspects of working for an airline. You’ll always have to deal with some negatives in the workplace, but for me the positives always outweighed them and kept me hooked on the airline industry!