TRAVEL DAY: destination, Houston Hobby Airport. I boarded my flight first, which is typical for me. I get to the gate early so I can stow my carry-ons and get settled into my seat.
As a traveling consultant living in Denver, direct flight choices boil down to United or Frontier. Unlike my experiences on United, Frontier’s planes are new and their staff actually enjoy their work! For six years I’ve been a top-tier Frontier frequent flier: a “Summit” member.
This flight was full, and staff were begging fliers to get into their seats so the plane could push away from the gate on time. We taxied out to our runway. The plane lined up and the pilot boosted the throttle. Jets screaming, we began rolling – and immediately the pilot slowed the engines and taxied us off the active runway.
In my experience, this doesn’t happen often. Once a plane is in position to take off, the crew doesn’t give up that position casually. As we taxied to a waiting area, the pilot announced that a passenger was having medical issues. Rather than take off and have to deal with that issue at 35,000 feet above sea level, he felt it was best to check on the passenger on the ground, close to medical personnel, if they were required.
I was up front and couldn’t see which of my fellow passengers was in distress. I figured it’d be awhile before we knew anything, so I said a little prayer for the passenger, cranked up the iPad, and began reading.
Within five minutes, the pilot was on the PA updating the situation. He explained that the passenger’s doctor had evaluated his condition and approved him flying today. The pilot had a call in to Frontier’s medical staff to see if they were OK with going ahead with the flight. The pilot said we could use our cell phones to notify family or friends that our arrival would be delayed into Houston.
The frequency of communication was unusual. Normal behavior by flight crews is to focus on solving the problem; informing passengers about what’s going on is WAY down the to-do list. This pilot was proactively sharing status of the issue while demonstrating sincere concern for the ill passenger.
Ten minutes later the pilot announced that we’d gotten clearance to fly on to Houston and our ill passenger was comfortable. The flight computers indicated we’d arrive only fifteen minutes late, for which he apologized. We were next for departure; the jets were restarted and we headed to Houston.
As we reached cruising altitude, I reflected on the pilot’s behavior. It is clear that Frontier’s culture encourages staff to do the right thing, in the moment. The pilot’s proactive communication enabled us passengers to know what the cause of the delay was and what the team was doing to resolve the issue. He kept us updated, simply and efficiently.
Companies should take heed: with purpose and values clear, let players do their jobs on their playing field. They’ll be inspired to do what this pilot did, keeping customers fully informed rather than simply focusing on the issue at hand.
One more thing. As we approached Houston Hobby, the flight attendants came through the cabin and handed every frequent flier a personalized business card from pilot David Starkes, thanking us for our business and our patience during the flight’s delay. That’s amazing customer service.
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