Yesterday I wrote a post with tips for becoming a travel blogger. In that post I mentioned how I write the blog for myself. That’s to say that since day one I’ve been writing as if I was the only reader. And at the beginning that worked great, since I probably was the only reader (okay, perhaps I’m doing a disservice to my mother).
As my readership has grown, so has the number of times I’m contacted by travel providers after writing a review. When I write a positive review I sometimes get an email from the GM of a hotel thanking me for staying with them and for the great review. If it’s a negative review I occasionally get an email with actions that will be taken to correct the situation. Again, it’s still only the case for a very small minority of my travels, but it does happen.
It makes me smile when positive feedback I posted in a review gets passed on. I’ve received about a dozen Facebook messages over the years from specific employees I mentioned in my reviews (both in the airline and hotel industry) thanking me for mentioning them, since their boss gave them a pat on the back because of my review. Nothing makes me happier.
My favorite was possibly this one (it was a non-US property, as you’d expect based from the English):
Thanx for the compliment in your blog!
Thanx to ur blog, I got to rub my face into the seniors who gave me crap about my customer service.
But at times it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that my reviews can have negative implications for employees as well.
As you guys know, I had a rather disappointing flight in first class on China Southern from Los Angeles to Guangzhou. As always, I tried to write an honest review sharing both the good and the bad.
The truth is that it was mostly just bad, though.
Apparently my initial thoughts on the flight went somewhat viral on Weibo, which I’m told is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Within a couple of days I received an email from China Southern’s “Assistant President” of Airline Products & Services Management. I appreciated that they were following up, and thought an “internal discussion…on how to improve our premium passenger service” was perfectly appropriate. That seems like the kind of action a company would want to take after receiving negative feedback, and I didn’t think much more of it.
More recently, though, I’ve received a lot of comments on the blog regarding an internal memo that was leaked on Weibo. Now, you have to be a member to read Weibo, and since I don’t speak any Chinese I couldn’t quite figure out how to find where my post was being discussed. Fortunately a couple of blog readers offered to find the posts and translate them (thanks ZR and YW!).
So basically part of an internal China Southern memo was posted:
The first picture/paragraph is basically a summary of your blog post:
“In this blog post the passenger has reviewed First Class cabin’s service, food/beverage selection and hard product. He has pointed out 5 issues with China Southern’s A380 first class cabin:
1. 5 cabin crew members occupied first class seats to rest
2. $5 dollars sparkling wine is served in first class instead of champagne
3. Cabin crew’s poor command of English
4. Poor management of first class lavatory
5. Inferior class and selection of first class food, no snack menu
This blog article has been widely circulated online both inside and within China.”
The second leaked photo is “improvement number 4.” Apparently improvements 1, 2, and 3, are not leaked:
“In recent week a first class passenger has reviewed CZ328’s A380 service. This blog post has been widely publicized and provoked strong reactions in social networks both within and outside China, and severely damaged company’s brand and reputation. All cabin servicing units must learn from this lesson, use effective measurements to improve international routes’ services. Company headquarter will intensify auditing process and implement stricter responsibility rules.”
The same source that posted the internal leaked memo also notes that the entire first class crew has been reprimanded and demoted, and that the purser has been demoted to a “common” flight attendant in economy class. I’ve also received several comments and emails suggesting that even the pilot may have been “punished,” which I can’t even begin to imagine.
While I appreciate that China Southern took my feedback so seriously, this leaves me feeling really sad. Like, sitting in my bathtub with a pint of Ben & Jenny’s sad.
I tend to take for granted that if I’m reviewing a US airline and the service is bad, there’s a chance it will be noted in the flight attendant’s record, but ultimately nothing bad will happen. After all, that’s partly what unions are there for. Like them or hate them, they protect you when you have a bad day.
It’s easy to forget that the same isn’t true at some non-US airlines. I mean, breaking down the most serious “failures” on my China Southern flight, the blame distribution between the flight attendants and management is as follows, in my opinion:
- The flight attendants shouldn’t have slept in first class seats (or allowed others to sleep in first class seats).
- The flight attendants should have kept the bathroom more tidy, and maybe not used the first class one for 90% of the flight.
- Management is responsible for the $5 sparkling wine they serve in first class, which is possibly the cheapest sparkling beverage served by any airline, anywhere, in any cabin.
- Management is responsible for the sub-par catering, which is business class quality at best.
- Management is ultimately responsible for the language barrier.
- It’s not the flight attendants’ fault they didn’t speak English well, but rather management’s fault that they’re not hiring flight attendants that speak English better, if that’s a priority.
- China Southern actually has Dutch and Australian flight attendants that work flights to those destinations, and I don’t see why it should be any different for US flights.
But more than anything I believe the experience I had was more or less the norm for Chinese airlines, and it’s not the fault of the crew that a travel blogger happened to be on a flight that is realistically probably representative of the China Southern experience as a whole.
It’s kind of like when everyone is driving 15 miles over the speed limit, and you just happen to be the person that gets pulled over by the cop (not that I like to think of myself as the “cop,” but in this example it kind of works). I believe what I experienced goes on a large percentage of the time on Chinese airlines, but it just happened to be that I reviewed this flight.
So yeah, it makes me really sad to think that my review could have resulted in multiple people being demoted. I mean, yes, there were what I would consider to be service failures, but at the same time it is the responsibility of the airline (or any company, really), to be setting the service standards and communicating those standards to their employees.
There are different cultural norms when it comes to appropriate “punishment” for bad service. I wouldn’t feel bad if this was put in the flight attendants’ records, but if they’re getting pay cuts and their quality of life is being seriously altered as a result of my review, that makes me feel like a horrible person.
Along similar lines, I’ve linked to the “expose” on Qatar Airways, and how easily they fire flight attendants simply by freezing their bank accounts and giving them a one-way ticket out of Qatar. So if I were flying Qatar Airways and had horrible service, should I still write a review about the flight, or should I skip it out of fear of what could happen to the flight attendant providing the bad service?
So please help me out, guys — should I feel guilty for the potential actions that were taken against the crew? Going forward should I not review negative flight experiences on airlines that are quick to take action against employees?
Like I said, I feel guilty, not because I don’t believe my review to be accurate, but because by my standards that seems like really harsh punishment, and I’m not sure it addresses the root causes anyway.