Are Rude Employees More Effective?

737 MAX 8 artwork SWA Southwest Airlines
737 MAX 8 artwork SWA Southwest Airlines

A website called AirfareWatchdog asked about 1,000 travelers which airline has the rudest employees. The sample size may not be any good, at least based on the science of polling, but the results were widely covered. AMR's American Airlines has the rudest employees, which for the bankrupt airline may be a good thing. Rude employees probably move customers along more quickly. The customers may not like that, but it does create efficiency.

The survey showed that 25% of respondents said the AMR had the rudest employees. It was followed by United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL) at 21% and Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) at 18%. It may be no coincidence that these are the three largest airlines in the country, based on revenue, and dwarf all others.

The carriers with the best scores were Alaska Air Group Inc. (NYSE: ALK), Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU) and Virgin America, tied at 2% each. Each is relatively small.

Small airlines have made a virtue of customer service. Fliers get amenities like free TV and low-cost fees for baggage. The ability to provide those virtues may be lost as airlines grow larger and the ability to control employee behavior dissipates.

Alternatively, the cost to treat customers well can be high. It usually involves giving a little extra time to the questions or concerns of passengers. That "little extra" can add up to hundreds or thousand of hours spread across a big carrier's ticket and ground crews every day. Flight attendants who force people to turn off electronic devices are not as nice as those who let people keep them on, even if those devices undercut the ability of pilots to fly planes without interference with flight instruments.

Rude may be the most cost-effective methods for airline personnel to save time and, thereby, probably margins as well.

Douglas A. McIntyre

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Airlines Tagged: ALK, DAL, featured, JBLU, UAL