Great, Airplanes Are Cleaner. Do You Care?

No longer distracted by high oil prices, airlines now claim that they’re starting to focus on customer service. Two of them, American and United, think that their biggest issue is dirty planes. Wouldn’t it be great if that were true?

Among them, United Airlines is starting to pay greater attention to its planes, after scoring last in a J.D. Power and Associates survey of airline customer service in 2008 and tying with Northwest Airlines for the lowest consumer ranking of its aircraft interiors.

Starting last fall at O’Hare, United overhauled both how it tackles dirt and stains on its jets and how often it does so, a process it has since rolled out to 13 other cities.

American Airlines, which along with United dominates flights out of O’Hare, has seen passenger complaints about dirty planes fall by 40 percent since it stepped up its cleaning last year, said spokesman Tim Smith.

At a time when airlines are scrambling to attract passengers, ridding an aircraft cabin of grime is a business necessity. Cleanliness “absolutely” affects passenger loyalty, said Jack Smith, senior vice president for customer service with AirTran Airways. “People don’t normally return to a restaurant if they think it’s dirty.”

The Chicago Tribune thankfully realizes that it’s ridiculous to blame the airlines’ customer service woes on dirty planes. Citing “jaded travelers,” the Tribune acknowledges that the clean up might just be a coverup to distract from addressing “deeper underlying service problems.” You think?

It’s great that the airlines are cleaning their planes and all, but maybe, just maybe, they should spend more of their time focusing on actual customer service issues. If they need ideas, we have plenty of stories about United and American that will hopefully inspire them to clean up their act.

United, others get serious about clean planes [The Chicago Tribune]