US Airways Recovering from PR blunder – Customer Service rules at HP Conference


This past week, I returned from a conference where I spoke about corporate social responsibility and environmental PR to a group of Hewlett Packard Indigo print partners. The staff treated everyone like VIPs. Every event team member made it a point to smile and offer assistance. This was public relations at its best.

Contrast that with the experience I had on the flight to the conference. I paid my upgrade fee for the aisle seat. Then, I paid for my tomato juice in flight. Since I did not check luggage I avoided the new fee to check a single bag. While not thrilled with this evidence of “tough times” for the airlines, I was holding my own. That is until a flight attendant called out my bag in the overhead compartment, loud enough to be heard by four rows of travelers. I sheepishly admitted ownership, though I had tested the compartment door to ensure that my bag fit. A brief, curt interaction left me alone in the aisle responsible for closing the compartment before takeoff. The attendant walked away. I quickly assessed that a strap from another passenger’s bag prevented the door from latching properly. Nearby passengers applauded my efforts as I clicked the door shut, took a bow, and returned to my seat.  The attendant scowled at me from her position at the front of the plane, as if to say, “I’ll get you next time you ‘wascally wabbit’!”She was probably just having a bad day.

However, mine was not an isolated incident, as other passengers complained about how they were treated. One person dubbed the carrier, “useless airways.” To the credit of US Airways (oops, I said the name), they just announced that I won’t have to pay for my tomato juice going forward. The PR whiplash of paid drinks brought them to their competitive senses.

Would it not be wonderful to live in a world where everyone treated others with respect and greeted them with a friendly smile? When companies/people go out of their way to help me enjoy their product or service, I feel great. So, why is it that some companies and organizations treat us well and others don’t?

            One answer is incentive. Some people, and I really like these people, treat us well just because we are human. For the rest, a little training, potential bonus or special recognition may make the difference in customer experience. With the economy flying south for a long winter, we find employees feeling unappreciated with frozen or reduced wages. New, creative ways to lift and inspire people are in order to keep the customer service flags waving for our businesses. Until we dig deep for the “higher purpose” of treating each other well, we can look forward to less friendly skies.

            What tactics have you seen inspire staff to treat customers well?



About the Author:

As founder of PilmerPR, John Pilmer, APR serves as a PR and marketing communications advisor for both emerging and established companies. He offers customers more than 20 years of results-driven business PR and marketing experience. John and the firm have provided PR consultation and campaigns for clients such as Mozy, Novell, AdvancedMD, Certiport, NextPage, ElectraTherm, Altiris, Avamar, EmergeCore Networks, FSLogic, INVISUS, 10x Marketing, MWI, Project Insight, REIC, Seastone, US Synthetic and Funding Universe (now Lendio), among others.


  1. Clarissa @ Get HP Online  November 2, 2010

    Hello there, just stopped by doing some research for my HP website. Can’t believe the amount of information out there. Looking for something else, but cool site. Have a nice day.

  2. Allison  February 24, 2009

    Interesting – perhaps they can’t control their costs, but they CAN control how they treat you.

    People wouldn’t mind paying for all of the extras of the flight attendants were a bit more friendly and helpful. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve traveled alone with children, and the good airlines offer to help. But many of them don’t.


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