Heart: On a Wing and a Prayer

“Capt. Denny Flanagan is a rare bird in today's frustration-filled air-travel world -- a pilot who goes out of his way to make flying fun for passengers.

“When pets travel in cargo compartments, the United Airlines veteran snaps pictures of them with his cellphone camera, then shows owners that their animals are on board. In the air, he has flight attendants raffle off 10% discount coupons and unopened bottles of wine. He writes notes to first-class passengers and elite-level frequent fliers on the back of his business cards, addressing them by name and thanking them for their business. If flights are delayed or diverted to other cities because of storms, Capt. Flanagan tries to find a McDonald's where he can order 200 hamburgers, or a snack shop that has apples or bananas he can hand out.

“And when unaccompanied children are on his flights, he personally calls parents with reassuring updates. ‘I picked up the phone and he said, This is the captain from your son's flight,' said Kenneth Klein, whose 12-year-old son was delayed by thunderstorms in Chicago last month on a trip from Los Angeles to see his grandfather in Toronto. ‘It was unbelievable. One of the big problems is kids sit on planes and no one tells you what's happening, and this was the exact opposite.’

“So unusual is the service that Capt. Flanagan has been a subject of discussion on FlyerTalk.com, an online community for road warriors.

“Mark B. Lasser, a Denver advertising-sales executive, came off a Capt. Flanagan flight and posted a question on FlyerTalk.com about why the pilot had been so friendly. ‘I don't trust UA at all but can't figure out what the ulterior motive is,’ he wrote.

“Others quickly came to Capt. Flanagan's defense. ‘I've had this pilot before -- what a great guy. He does the same thing on every flight,’ said a FlyerTalk regular.

“Mr. Lasser says he just wishes Capt. Flanagan weren't such a rarity among United employees. ‘Every flight before and most flights since have been so poor in customer service that this guy really came across as representing his own standards more than the company's. He's an outlier within United,’ Mr. Lasser said in an interview...

"’He's a great ambassador for the company,’ says Graham Atkinson, United's executive vice president and ‘Chief Customer Officer,’ who is leading an effort to boost customer service. He hopes more pilots and airport workers will adopt some of Capt. Flanagan's techniques.”

(“To a United Pilot, The Friendly Skies Are a Point of Pride; Capt. Flanagan Goes to Bat For His Harried Passengers; Still, Some Online Skeptics.” Scott McCartney. Wall Street Journal: August 28, 2007. pg. A.1)

HOPING that more employees will catch the spirit, feel deeply, and get in touch, the "Chief Customer Officer" stands in awe of an authentic leader.

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