Captain Chesley Sullenberger and his incredible flight crew saved a lot more than 155 USAir passengers last month when his ditched his disabled plane into the Hudson River. He also seems to have saved the image of the deeply damaged airline industry.
As anyone who has flown in recent years can tell you, air travel has turned into a major crap shoot, and an expensive one at that. First you pay an arm and a leg for tickets, extra baggage and even a cup of water, as the industry copes with fuel prices it can only pass onto its customers. Then there's the endless delays, re-routings, missed connections, and non-existent customer service...not to mention the numerous nightmare stories of passengers literally taken hostage by airlines as they are forced to sit inside a packed airplane on a tarmac without explanation, service, or hope.
No wonder passengers are angry long before they get to the airport.
In fact, these are precisely the reasons a brand new consumer rights group, the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, was formed last week, with hopes of not only improving customer service but also passing a federal Passenger Bill of Rights in Congress.
But all the lobbying, PR and marketing in the world can't do what Sully did in one frozen moment last month. And I know this, because I saw the difference during two long cross-country flights I took during the past four days.
Flying from SF to Vegas, to Philly, to Pittsburgh to Chicago and back to SF with my family.....I saw evidence of a drastic change in passenger behavior. Despite suffering through major delays, re-routings, and three boardings while stuck in our seats --- I saw customers reaching out to the flight crew and attendants with a kindness that's been absent for years.
Passengers were going out of their way to thank the captains and flight crews. And even though flight attendants still had nothing more than pretzels and soft drinks to offer during a 9 hour flight....the passengers were curteous, pleasant and extending, even cleaning up after themselves after the long flight.
I have no direct evidence to attribute this change in attitude to Sully and his crew. Frankly, I didn't have the guts to ask the crews on all my flights if they thought there is a connection. But considering the still crappy management of the airline industry, the continued flight delays, missed connections and what-nots --- I can only assume that one crew's heroics has given fliers a renewed sense of appreciation for the people who we trust to fly us from here to there without a second thought.
Now, the airline industry just needs to live up to the example Capt. Sullenberger, his crew, and numerous other employees, have set.