Posted by: A.R. Cherian | September 16, 2009

The Friendly Skies

I’ll admit it. I have a mild fear of flying. A few recent trips with strong turbulence and watching too many Air Crash Investigation episodes on YouTube probably contributed a lot to it. However, if airlines had more pilots such as Capt. Denny Flanagan of United Airlines, it would probably help alleviate some of those fears.  He goes out of his way to make travelers (the customers) feel safe, secure, and informed at all times.

source: ABC news

Capt. Flanagan (photo: ABC news)

Captain Flanagan is definitely not the norm. From anecdotes in WSJ and ABC News articles, you can deduce that there is something special about him.  I believe his personality also plays a huge part in it. Although it’s premature to judge him, he seems to be extroverted and very caring from the personal recollections of his customers. He approaches his job with an upbeat attitude and desire to genuinely help people. I believe this is a case of a man who has found a good match between who he is and what he is doing and is going above and beyond the requirements of his job because he genuinely loves his job.  Scholars call this organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). You don’t often find disgruntled employees acting like this.

No doubt that many will try to book a flight with Captain Flanagan again. It’s good for repeat business for United. However, I think the challenge for United is to get other pilots to emulate some of the positive things that Captain Flanagan has been doing. Otherwise, the customers may only remember the actions of the pilot and have a hard time recollecting which airline they were on. Also, if Captain Flanagan remains a one-man-show at Untied, his act will leave with him if he ever leaves the airline voluntarily or involuntarily. It would be just an aberration at United and may mean increased business for whoever Captain Flanagan flies with next. As I am learning, the challenge for United will be to create a system and processes where ordinary pilots can step up their game to emulate extraordinary pilots such as Captain Flanagan.

Another pilot that is innovating and helping increase customer satisfaction is Captain Lim, a pilot with Malaysia Airlines, who has created a blog and faq’s to educate customers who may be scared of flying and educate aspiring pilots of the future.

These are people who love doing their jobs and helping others – and it shows. They go above the call of duty and demonstrate OCB.  Kudos to these pilots for realizing that things can be made better (sometimes by the simplest methods) and not settling for the status quo. The challenge for their companies is to tap into this energy, build upon the goodwill, and create processes and systems that will help other employees emulate the good characteristics of these star performers so that it isn’t just a one-man-show or aberration but a company hallmark.


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