In order to improve the passenger experience (and possibly their images), two airlines are—gasp!— launching new customer service initiatives. One is human, one is not, but both are focused on improving your flying experience.
Delta reinstated its Red Coats program, after disbanding it in 2005. The agents are helping customers resolve problems on the spot in Atlanta and New York, and will soon be found in fourteen airports across the country. The Red Coats are able to issue tickets and vouchers from hand-held devices, so they can handle any problem immediately. In a time when many airlines are cutting labor costs—notably Ryanair, which plans to eliminate check-in counters altogether—Delta may be breaking away from the crowd. If, that is, the Red Coats provide the service the airline promises.
Meanwhile, Continental launched a new "Virtual Expert" yesterday. The feature, named Alex, is human emulation technology designed to provide online support. Basically, when you "talk" to Alex, you are directed to the relevant page on the Continental website. I tried it, and found it pretty useful. With only one exception, I was directed to the most appropriate page and found an answer to my question. For other users, though, it could be frustrating to only ask questions, instead of having an actual conversation with a person. After all, if you are directed to the wrong page, it is up to you to clarify what you want, rather than being able to interact with a human being.
So, readers, what do you think about these new schemes? Are these airlines returning to customer service values? Have you been helped by a Red Coat or Alex? Leave a comment below with your thoughts. Thanks!