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The combination of such broad language and the paucity of any significant enforcement tools meant that these initiatives were largely ineffective.
Not surprisingly, complaints from passengers increased by 200% within the year; furthermore, flight delays continued to increase 12% faster in the first five months of 2000 than in the same period in 1999. "Indeed, in the twelve months following the airlines' voluntary promises, flight delays cost business travelers 5 billion dollars and 1.5 million hours" (Rosenthal, 2002, p. 1859). The number of delays caused National Business Travel Association Executive Director Marianne McInerney to conclude that "[w]e are at a point where our nation's airline system is in need of triage" (Rosenthal, 2002, p. 1859). Some observers would suggest that radical surgery is required rather than triage, and these issues are discussed further below.
Security Issues and Passenger Satisfaction. When people travel on an airline, they have a legitimate right to expect that they will arrive at their destinations in a safe and timely manner; however, the various security initiatives implemented post-September 11 have adversely affected the commercial airlines' ability to deliver on the latter, while some are questioning the efficacy of these approaches as to the former. According to Gips (2004) "Passenger profiling is not merely a response to 9-11. Northwest Airlines began developing a system for assessing passenger risk in the early 1990s, receiving funding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the project in 1994" (p. 63). This system operates by comparing data that is collected in the reservation system to established parameters, such as whether a passenger paid for a ticket with cash; the system also cross references such information with a government-supplied terrorist watch list. According to Doug Laird, an aviation security consultant who helped Northwest develop its system, the prescreening helps airlines determine how many "slices," or views, the x-ray system would take of a carry-on bag. As a result, all carry-on luggage is still imaged; however, the luggage associated with passengers considered higher risk is subjected to more views (Gips, 2004).
The program was noted and its expansion was recommended by the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security (otherwise known as the Gore Commission) in a 1998 report; in response to that report, the FAA mandated that all airlines must adopt the program (known then as CAPPS, and now as CAPPS I and II), the following year. This author points out that CAPPS I assesses risk and categorizes passengers into two groups: 1) those who require further scrutiny (these travelers are called "selectees"), and 2) those who do not require such review. This system is still in place today (Gips, 2004, p. 63). Following the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001, though, the U.S. Congress requested that the Transportation Security Administration assume responsibility for the CAPPS program and improve it. "That was the impetus for CAPPS II, which was first officially announced as a concept on January 15, 2003, through a proposed rule that was published in the Federal Register (Gips, 2004). Following a period for public comment, the concept was then refined to its current form as presented in the interim rule issued in August 2003 (Gips, 2004, p. 63). The author notes that the program was scheduled for implementation in November 2004 (Gips, 2004). The recent targeting of an infant by the CAPPS II system because of a similar name with that of a terrorist on the watch list highlights the constraints inherent in this system though. While the need for improved security procedures was highlighted by the terrorist attacks on September 11 and the further attempts that were thwarted, the fact remains that these procedures have all adversely affected the airlines' ability to deliver their services in a manner perceived by many travelers as efficient and customer oriented; these issues are discussed further below.
Industry Responses to Customer Satisfaction Issues. While the foregoing issues remain a sore point with many travelers today, and security analysts expect this and comparable systems to remain in place in the foreseeable future, there are some indications that some carriers are taking note of the increasing dissatisfaction among their passengers concerning other aspects of air travel and have taken steps to address them.
In this regard, Kundu and Vora note that consumers' perceptions of service quality are influenced by five distinct gaps in organizations; these so-called gaps describe differences in:
1. Consumer expectations and management perceptions of consumer expectations;
2. Management perceptions of consumer expectations and service quality specifications;
3. Service quality specifications and the service actually delivered;
4. Service delivery and what is communicated about the service to consumers;
5. Consumer expectations and perceptions of delivered services (p. 42).
The authors add that the fifth gap is related to the size and direction of the first four gaps, and that it should be to narrow these gaps to the maximum extent possible; however, quality service is not delivered by aircraft or tarmacs or terminals, but rather by people (employees) to people (customers) (Kundu & Vora, 2004). Therefore, the human resource function has a critical role to play in satisfying the expectations of shareholders, employees, and customers alike (Kaplan & Norton, 1996). For airlines today, the human resource function can contribute to improved economic performance by building organizational capabilities, improving employee satisfaction, and improving customer satisfaction (Kundu & Vora, 2004). This point is also made by Neff (2002) who advises that "customer satisfaction is inherently dependent on employee satisfaction. Employee attitudes can mean the difference between a repeat customer, and one who discourages their friends and family from going back" (p. 386).
This advice has clearly been taken to heart by Delta Air Lines, Inc. For instance, Salopek (2003) reports that Delta has implemented a number of initiatives designed to improve the perception of value among their passengers, including a "Business Elite" class. "Business Elite was Delta's U.S.$100 million move to meet customer demand in merging first-class and business-class service on international routes into an upgraded business class called Business Elite. The new product missed cost and quality targets but became the leading business-class product on Atlantic routes" (p. 24). The author also points out that many of these initiatives predate September 11, 2001, but the impetus has gained momentum in recent years. For example, in May 2002, Delta announced its award-winning, "Our Airline, Our Business" campaign in response to the September 11 attacks; this campaign served to fuel a fundamental shift in the entire aviation industry in the United States (Salopek, 2003).
The program has since enjoyed wide recognition from Training magazine and SHRM, and has been featured on CNN and in USA Today (Salopek, 2003). According to Kundu and Vora (2004), while the aviation industry attempts to reconcile the need for security with their profitability, customer satisfaction must also be taken into account if these companies are to survive in the long-term. "Service quality has become essential for the survival of service companies in the emerging world without borders," they advise. "Effective delivery of quality services involves finding customers, identifying their needs, and meeting or exceeding their expectations" (p. 41). To achieve these goals, airlines must address traveler expectations and perceptions as being fundamental components of excellent service.
Likewise, Southwest Airlines, the self-named "symbol of freedom," has enjoyed significant successes where other carriers are struggling because of its emphasis on employee satisfaction. According to Neff (2002), Southwest was founded in 1969 by Herb Kelleher with only 195 employees and 3 planes. Today, Southwest has grown to 29,000 employees and 332 jets. In 1998 Southwest reached number one on Fortune magazine's '100 Best Companies to Work for'" (p. 387). The emphasis on employees at Southwest has focused on improving teamwork because of the "high demands of service work" in the airline industry today; in addition, Southwest believes that "teamwork helps employees to better support each other to continually provide high quality service in an otherwise stressful job" (Neff, p. 387). Furthermore, Southwest allows its front-line employees to make their own decisions concerning customer wants and needs. Southwest Airlines' Manager of Culture Activities, Sunny Stone, reports that many of the positions at Southwest require employees to work in unsupervised areas, which "gives people more of a sense of ownership and pride in what they are doing. They feel that they are entitled to make a decision, even to step outside the boundaries, if necessary, to help someone" (Neff, p. 387). This emphasis on providing employees with the tools and authority they need to deliver quality service has paid off in major ways; Neff reports that turnover has been drastically reduced, and Southwest has the lowest number of customer complaints in the industry, with 0.47 complaints per 100,000 customers carried. "Southwest Airlines is a leader in the airline industry in part because of its emphasis on employee satisfaction and motivation. The executives at Southwest know that satisfied employees translate into better customer service and…[continue]
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