AOL Mystery Flyer: JetBlue Report Card

mrkathika, flickr

No hot food, no pillows and blankets, and on some flights, no complimentary water. What's left? The one thing that can turn a long, meal-less coach flight from an ordeal to a joyride is...friendliness: helpful airline personnel and flight attendants with a positive attitude.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be traveling coast-to-coast on ten of our country's busiest airlines as AOL's Mystery Flyer. And I'll be looking to answer one really important question: Is there a price for nice?

Read on to see how JetBlue scored on yesterday's flight to Richmond, VA.

How It Works:

After each of the ten flights I'm taking over the coming weeks, I'll judge the airlines on six areas of customer service, using a scale of one to five. My goal along the way is to be an average passenger with normal travel requests and questions. In no way am I going to bother flight attendants and airline personnel with unusual demands; I know these are very busy people. I'm not looking to push airline staff to the limit, but simply to judge their friendliness during the most common travel interactions faced by the flying public on a routine flight.

Here's how to decipher my 1-5 rating system:

1/5 means a flat out rude reaction to my requests
2/5 means an unfriendly reaction, although not necessarily rude
3/5 means a neutral reaction to my requests
4/5 means a friendly reaction with a smile
5/5 means friendly customer service that goes that extra distance
1. Operator's response to pre-flight requests (such as a seat change) when I called the airline's toll-free number the day of departure.
4/5: It's hard to judge friendliness over the phone, but the operator was apologetic for my long hold time and patiently answered all my inquiries about seat change, in-flight entertainment and baggage allowance with no sign of exasperation and no rush.

2. Friendliness of the ticketing agent during the check-in process at the airport.
5/5: I was subjected to a bit of a wait in line at the full-service check-in counter. But the service was remarkably friendly and, again, very efficient. I asked a long string of typical questions (about food, entertainment, baggage, the gate, my seat, etc.) and was met with eye contact and a complete response, along with a few smiles as well. What's the harm, right? I had the feeling the employee liked his job (or at least didn't hate it), and he made me feel like the valued paying customer that I am. Changing my seat was no problem and I was given an aisle at the front of the plane. Feeling unrushed by the ticket agent meant a lot to me, as I felt at ease to ask any questions I had, no matter how basic they were.

3. Friendliness of the gate agent when I request a seat change prior to departure.
4/5: The gate agent was involved in some paperwork when I went to the counter to ask her for a seat change. She made eye contact then looked for a seat and quickly informed me the flight was full. As I continued with questions, she put down her papers and listened and answered. She wasn't going overboard with the smiles but it didn't matter -- it was clear she was busy preparing the manifest, but she made me feel like my questions were valid and answered them with patience.

4. Friendliness of flight attendants to my requests for a blanket, an extra beverage and anything else I might need during the flight.
5/5: Once I found my seat on board, I realized there was no space in the overhead bin. I started to look around and before two seconds had passed, the flight attendant offered to take my heavy bag for me and find space for it a few rows behind my seat. The captain stood at the front of the plane and talked on the PA to explain our delay; he apologized profusely, saying that there would be a free offering (it turned out to be headphones for the entertainment system, which usually cost $2). His personal tone added to the warm and fuzzy vibes, and I got the feeling he was genuinely sorry we'd been delayed an hour switching gates. Once the service started, the flight attendants (both male) were very efficient and friendly, greeting people with "Hello" before asking for their drink orders. (I liked how they were friendly but not robotic.) And later, when I asked for another drink while the flight attendant was walking down the aisle with a trash bag collecting old cups, he dropped what he was doing and went to get me one.

5. Friendliness of general interactions between airline personnel and other passengers that I observed during my travels.
5/5: It's my job to eavesdrop on interactions with fellow passengers, and everything I observed showed friendliness to others, as it had been to me. While waiting to board, the JetBlue gate staff kept us constantly informed about what was happening with the gate change and delay, and as a result there wasn't a long line of stressed passengers waiting to talk to them. Onboard, the flight attendants seemed laid-back but professional, chatting with passengers about the NFL draft and helping assure an anxious woman who had wandered to the front that a wheelchair would be waiting for her on arrival.

6. Friendliness of gate agent upon arrival when I ask for help finding a connecting flight or the baggage claim.
5/5: When I disembarked from the plane, I realized there was no gate agent outside, as it was not a connecting city. So I went back against the flow of exiting passengers and re-entered the jetway to find an agent to ask a random question. She didn't balk at my re-entry and waited for my request, which was: "How do I find ground transportation here?" (Totally random, right? I mean, surely I could find that out at baggage claim or at some service desk away from the jetway.) Instead, she made eye contact, smiled and told me my options -- all while waiting for the passenger who needed the wheelchair to emerge from the plane.

My journey isn't over yet. Follow me on Twitter as I go undercover to see how America's most popular airlines rate when it comes to service in the sky. Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Join the conversation by ending your tweet with #spyinthesky

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