As airline crews increasingly are facing tension-filled interactions with passengers, Delta is working to ensure they don’t damage its reputation.
On Tuesday, Delta announced that it would put its 23,000 flight attendants through diversity training in 2017’s second quarter. The training was made mandatory for the airline’s executives last year.
Delta’s classes will use “real and relevant scenarios” and discuss unconscious bias and so-called microaggressions, said Keyra Lynn Johnson, managing director for diversity and inclusion. “This goes well beyond the typical cross-cultural training.” Delta already requires such cross-cultural training.
The move comes after the airline faced PR headaches after two incidents in which passengers said they were discriminated against.
In October 2016, a female passenger posted on Facebook that she was discriminated against by a flight attendant who was seeking a physician for a medical emergency on board.
In response to the situation, Delta issued a statement which read, in part:
Delta’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and respect of all of our customers worldwide is rooted deeply in our company’s values and culture. As a global carrier with a diverse workforce, serving a diverse customer base, we are committed to treating all passengers with kindness and respect.
In November 2016, the airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastain, permanently banned a passenger from flying on Delta planes after he went on a post-election political tirade aboard a flight.
Delta was criticized for the way it had initially handled the situation, so Bastain issued a memo to employees, banned the traveler and issued refunds to the other passengers on the flight.
The statement from the Delta CEO concedes that airlines have to balance remaining committed to providing safe travel for their customers, while also treating those individuals with dignity and respect. That can be a tough balancing act to achieve.
“The heightened tension in our society means that now more than ever we must require civility on our planes and in our facilities,” Bastian said. “We must stay true to Delta’s core values and treat one another with dignity and respect. We also must remain committed more than ever to the safety of our customers and our crew members. We will not tolerate anything less.
Delta’s decision to train its flight crew underlines the increased focus organizations have on customer interactions and how it can affect their brands.
“Their brand reputation is critical, and you don’t want that reputation to be damaged,” said Jason Wingard, dean of Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies and a consultant on diversity issues. Success for consumer-facing companies such as airlines is “tied to customer loyalty and emotions.”
Tumultuous customer situations are affecting more airlines than just Delta.
“What we have seen is a higher sense of emotion across the board, and that’s something that flight attendants have been aware of, and put on their checklist,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents crews at several airlines including United.
These situations are happening across customer-service departments in other industries, as well.
PR pros should be aware of the importance of educating employees on the proper way to handle such situations and how to best put forth the brand’s voice when interacting with consumers—both on- and offline.