Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Frontier Airlines sheds light on how to operate a winery

Let me start off by saying Frontier Airlines is a terrible company. From its ownership by Republic Airways and dismantling of Midwest Airlines to current owner Indigo Partners, Frontier Airlines has been run by arrogant, greedy and apathetic people. Even its own pilots think so. Yesterday, the Air Line Pilots Association released a statement blaming Frontier's abysmal operations on "the same executive mismanagement and misplaced focus on cost-cutting that has placed Frontier at the very bottom of the industry in operational performance and customer satisfaction. " No winery should aim to operate like Frontier.

I'll get to what wineries can learn from Frontier, but it will take a bit of ranting to get there.

Yes, Frontier offers rock-bottom fares. However, there's an old saying that goes something like, "you get what you pay for." In the wine industry there is a term "quality to price ratio," or QPR, that is often used to determine the relative value of a wine. I've tasted high-quality inexpensive wine and I've tasted absurdly expensive wine that is wretched. Frontier's QPR would be about as close to zero as you can get because quality does not exist at Frontier.

Let me explain where this rant is coming from and back up to this past Sunday morning. I was in Wisconsin to attend the funeral of a relative. I traveled by myself with my 5-year-old and 9-month-old children. Getting to Milwaukee was relatively easy and having the kids along brightened their aunt, uncle, and grandparents' dreary weekend.

The only option to return home on Sunday was very early in the morning. I'm not a big fan of catching 6:00 am flights, but it is what it is. That is until I received a text message at 3:46 am notifying me that my flight's departure would be delayed eight hours. Eight hours! Well, I worried a bit about having enough milk to feed the baby, but I went back to sleep for a little bit until the little ones woke.

Mid-morning I tweeted to Frontier for an update, but did not receive a response. I called the customer service telephone number, but was unable to speak with a human being until the fourth call. When I finally got through to someone, she assured me that the delay was due to crew issues and that the plane was in the air headed to Milwaukee from Seattle. My new estimated time of departure was 2:53 pm. Not ideal, but at least there was going to be a conclusion to my time in Wisconsin.

Well, when I checked the flight status about 30 minutes later, I saw the delay had been extended for another 85 minutes! I called Frontier again without gaining any information or action to remedy the situation. I was told that these issues must be handled in-person at the airport. Thankfully, we were staying just a few blocks away so I went over to the airport only to be met by a dark, empty ticket counter and a group of angry travelers.

After some time, a Frontier employee emerged and explained that the plane was delayed due to a mechanical issue, was in Las Vegas getting fixed, and would be on its way when/if the repair was finished. I was told to use FlightAware.com to track the status of the plane in order to see when/if it departed Las Vegas to Milwaukee. I was given $10 food vouchers along with the options of cancelling my reservation and getting a refund, being rebooked on an even later flight via Dallas, or being rebooked on the next day's flight. I politely declined and waited hopefully for the plane to depart Las Vegas.

Well, as luck would have it, not long after returning to the rental house (highly recommended by the way) my flight was again delayed another 30 minutes, but the plane appeared to actually make it into the air on its way to Milwaukee. We got packed up and headed to the airport around 2:30 pm. Sitting at the gate the kids started to get antsy. The gate agents notified the weary group of passengers that we'd have to board the plane with a time-consuming manual check of our boarding passes, but that we'd be on our way to Denver shortly.

I was one of the first on to the plane so that I could feed my cranky, hungry baby. After she devoured a mushy banana, I got the attention of a flight attendant a few rows behind me to throw the peel away. I was told a trash can was in the galley and then ignored when I asked if she or a different crew member could get it for me (I was sitting next to the window with two children and a stranger between me and the full aisle). She looked at me blankly and turned her back. Thankfully, the stranger was not so rude and offered to take the peel to the trash for me.

With the plane completely boarded the passengers were eager to take off. However, a flight attendant announced that two people on the plane should actually be on the flight to Dallas. As the gate crew did not scan anyone's boarding pass they did not actually know the identity of the stowaways. Not surprisingly, no one owned up to the misdeed. I over heard one flight attendant joke that they have no way of knowing who the culprits were. I don't know what the resolution to the situation was, but after 30 minutes and only one eviction we finally took off.

At no time during the flight did the crew apologize for, or even acknowledge, the delays. Passenger inquires into receiving complementary beverages were met with dispassionate rejections. As I walked off the plane in Denver 11 hours after the original scheduled time, I mentioned to the pilot and flight attendant that I realize that they were not responsible for the ungodly delays, but overall that was the worst bit of customer service I had ever seen. The pilot simply looked at me indifferently and closed the cockpit door. I just shook my head and walked up the jet bridge in disbelief.

Now, how does a terrible travel experience relate to wineries. First, it drives most to people to drink. Second, I tell wineries that they are not just in the wine business but in the customer service business. Customers are won and lost through experiences and not necessarily products. There are way more options for wine consumers than there are for air travelers, so a winery should never take a customer for granted. Every customer should be treated like the winery needs them to survive. In light of how Frontier has been treating its customers, I offer three pieces of advice for wineries:

1. Don't lie
2. Own your mistakes
3. Make it right

Don't lie. The first recommendation should seem logical, but judging by the political discourse in this country blatantly lying is de rigueur. Frontier was either incompetent or dishonest with the explanations given to customers. Sadly, many political nominees are just incompetent, but judging by the Frontier pilots' union's press release, they think the airline is being dishonest to passengers. I shouldn't have to say it, but wineries should never lie to their customers. Don't say your wine received 96 points from Aunt Linda when you know that doesn't mean squat. Don't try to pass your 16% alcohol wine off as only having 13.9% alcohol. Just be honest, it is really that simple.

Own your mistakes. It is more than ok to admit mistakes. It takes more courage to admit you've done something wrong than it does to pretend it didn't happen (or worse, lie about it). Had the flight crew even acknowledge the frustration felt by the passengers I think most people are able to understand that mistakes happen. Sincere apologies can be very helpful. Wineries need to understand this, too. This starts with what's in the bottle. Winemaking doesn't always go as planned, so when a wine shows problems it is probably better to take the time to fix the problems or take a loss and get rid of the wine. That can be as simple as selling it off in bulk or developing an inexpensive label so as not to tarnish your brand's good reputation. In the long run, selling no product is better than selling a bad product. Also, show empathy to customers who have had a bad wine experience. Apologize and acknowledge their feelings. You may think they have the palate of a yak, but is your pride really worth the loss of a customer (and potentially many more through word of mouth)?

Finally, make it right. Go above and beyond to turn a bad experience into a great experience. Get that bad taste out of that valued customer's mouth. Frontier eventually sent compensation for the delay to the tune of $100 vouchers for my next flight, but only after repeatedly inquiring why they hadn't sent it when the said they would. Wineries should be offering to refund and replace bad bottles. Offer free shipping. Do whatever is required to win back that customer. You never know who that customer is or whom they may talk with about their experience.

So, in summary, winemakers should make a quality product, sell it at a fair price, and do it all with a smile on their face. Don't be like Frontier Airlines.


  1. Sounds like a rough bit of flying. As for the customer service, the more I visit "off" region wineries the more I believe that customer service is rocket science. I never thought that it was all that hard, but apparently it is a challenge and not too many people are good at it.

    1. Yes, sadly for some reason #2 and #3 are the most difficult.

  2. This is what happens when the company treats their employees horrible. It starts at the top and flows down. They dont care so why should the employees.

    1. Yes, that is very true. I know the cost cutting has caused employees to do more for less pay.


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