A tale of two pursers…

A couple of weeks ago I flew from Chicago to Anchorage to San Francisco, and had a downright awful crew. I won’t get into the details of that here, other than to say that it made me realize how good service usually is. Of the 150+ segments I’ve taken this year on United, this was the first time I remember having bad service. I’ve had indifferent service and I’ve sure had excellent service, but nothing memorably bad.

Yesterday, however, I saw the greatest contrast I’ve seen between two pursers in a single day. The rest of the flight attendants were excellent on both flights, but I had two extremes of pursers. Both segments were on 757s, and actually, both segments were on the same exact aircraft.

On my first flight I had an awesome purser. He was smiling the whole flight, had a great presence, couldn’t have had more professional announcements, and all around seemed to love his job. I don’t think he sat down once during the flight. The audio at my seat wasn’t working, and as soon as I made him aware of this he showed up at my seat, knelt down, and sincerely apologized as he handed me one of those “appreciation” cards. He explained it was only a small corporate apology token, but that he would be sure to report it and make sure it was fixed. It was a short enough flight, but he honestly made it memorable. He was easily one of the ten best pursers I’ve had on United. I of course wrote him a “Going the Extra Mile” certificate, which he seemed to be very familiar with.

Then I hopped on a transcon, where I had an awful purser. While the flight attendant working the aisle was quite friendly, the purser’s announcements were monotone and came off as indifferent. I don’t think I saw her crack a smile once during the five hour flight. Not even a fake one. As she took meal orders, she simply said “salad or sandwich?”

I try to be one of the more overly friendly passengers, by saying “thank you” and “please” literally every time I interact with crews. Usually that results in good service even from a not-so-great crew because most passengers just aren’t friendly, but not once did she say “you’re welcome” or ask “may I get you anything.” Towards landing she came around to offer drinks again. As she came to each passenger, she simply said “drinks?” Towards landing, instead of asking passengers to please lower their headrests, she’d tap them on the shoulder and just say “headrest.”

It just pains me to see someone so disinterested in their job working in a customer facing position. And at the same time, after flying with the first purser, I’m happy to be reminded that there are still some great customer service professionals out there.

Filed Under: Travel, United
  1. You never know. She may have found out her husband cheated on her, or her mother has terminal cancer, or her house is being foreclosed upon. You may have caught her at a very bad time (granted, no excuse for simply lousy service).

    Or, she just may be a c***!!

  2. Actually flew in F ORD-LGA last week and had an awesome F/A work a full A320 cabin. Went to give F/A a GTEM before landing and the F/A apologized to me that h/she was distraught because his/her relative just died a few hours ago.

  3. I wonder how Swiss and Singapore keep the service going, up to the very last minute.

    I had breakfast (a full breakfast served to me 30 minutes before landing) on both Swiss and SIngapore – the coffee cups collected, literally 5 minutes before landing.

    I think US carriers would perfer to keep their pax seated at all times, no service (if they can get away with it)

  4. 1. A veteran flyer like you should realize that she was there primarily for your safety.

    2. She came around to do a second drink service?!

    3. Touching customers is usually considered friendly. (Hitting them isn’t…)

    Sounds to me like you had the perfect flight attendant and didn’t even know it!

    Seriously, not only do we owe the flight attendant profession to United and its then-President Pat Patterson, we owe airline unionization to him as well. He was a big proponent of turning over scheduling and work rules to the unions, because they were ‘in a better position to know the individual needs and circumstances of their members.’

    Thanks, Pat, in your name this purser just keeps on giving!!

  5. I flew IAD-DEN yesterday in Business on a 777 (that originated in Europe, so international configuration)

    Both my seatmate and I were extremely impressed with a FA who handled a cranky, demanding passenger (“I PAID for Business, I want service before all those upgraded coach folks.”)

    We asked if she had a comment card, but there were none on board (if ever?) I used the back of my boarding pass (printed at home, full page) and wrote a nice note, gave it to her and then asked if it would matter. She said she’d turn it in and it would hit her file after a few managers saw it.

    I hope they do a bit more, but probably not. If UA (or any other airline) actually rewarded good service they might see some improvement in morale.

    When I was first starting out in business (40 yrs ago) I was a very frequent PanAm flier. I don’t remember if they had the status tiers, but I do remember getting a set of luggage tags and a coupon like the “Going extra mile” cert that 1Ks get. When I gave it to a FA once on a short hop (shuttle, I think), she acted as if I gave her a major gift. Next flight, I asked the FA why the overwhelming positive reaction. I was told that flights are assigned based on seniority, but one who gets that cert becomes the most senior FA the next month. Given the flight that I gave it out on, that FA was probably near the bottom of the seniority list.

    That’s a reward that costs nothing, but would surely work as an incentive.

    SteveK (Techauthor, on FT)

    I was a very frequent flyer (60-80K/yr) on Pan Am, Braniff, Northwest and most recently USAir, before going to Continental last year when they joined *A.. (I’d vote USAir as the airline most likely to disappear next). Good luck to UA, as I’ll be UA Gold after the merger. (Don’t take stock advice from me either. Same trend.)

  6. I had one of those great pursers on a flight a few weeks back and it was the first time I was really sorry that I don’t bother to carry the GTEM certs. I did call Customer Relations and gave my positive report on this purser, which they confirmed in writing later. Even the Customer Relations rep was thrilled to receive a call with a compliment. You know why it was easy to do, she actually had her ID displayed where you could clearly read it. It was never turned backwards or hidden in a pocket. I just made note of her full name and had it for the phone call. 94 segments so far this year and it was the first GETM worthy FA I’ve flown with.

  7. I can assure that rotten FA was an AFA. I hate people taking advantage of other, complain about the benefits they are not getting, chatting too much with other FA, give bad service,lazy and pay union due so they would protect their job. No company would like to hire such as these


  8. I think I had that same purser on a recent UA flight — or at least one like her. Like you, I make it a point to say “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome” on my flights (as well as in the rest of life). So when someone doesn’t say them back to me, I notice. When they don’t say them back to me for a five-hour flight, I really notice.

    God how I hate the seniority system for FAs. Hate, hate, hate.

  9. If an FA tapped me on the shoulder saying “headrest”, I would simply point to behind my head and say “It’s over here” 😛

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