The Olympia, Washington-based firm has been around for more than 50 years and has designed and printed inflight safety information cards for more than 600 airlines.
The important and information-rich seatback safety cards have been around for decades but only became mandated in the US aviation industry in 1977. And while it may seem like all the cards are the same, they vary from carrier to carrier, aircraft to aircraft, and have evolved in graphics and design.
“Many of the earliest versions were booklet-style pamphlets that were all or 90% text,” says Ferguson. “The content was unfamiliar to the average passenger. And many of the phrases, words, and terminology were only understood if you were an industry professional.”
Over the years, much has changed in the look of the illustrations in terms of style and culture. And some creative ways airlines tried to get passengers to pay more attention to the cards.
“One of my favorites was Sun Country Airlines,” says Ferguson. “We hid seven different characters in the illustrations, including a construction worker, a gentleman in a tuxedo, and a ballerina. And the crew would tell passengers that if they found all the characters, they’d get a little prize.”
Holiday Travelers face bad weather and bad service
A frigid arctic blast is threatening to derail holiday travel this week. But even those who reach their destinations on time may have reason to grumble: Some will have to make their own hotel beds, wipe their own in-flight tray tables and wait in lines at airport lounges — or pay more for a smoother experience.
While travel demand is roaring back, many hotels, airlines, cruise operators and airports are still racing to hire and train workers. Some companies are tightening access to perks and amenities, in a few cases by raising prices. That means the level of customer service will likely take a hit, industry experts say.
Nearly 113 million Americans are forecast to take to the roads and skies between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, according to AAA, up 3.6 million from last year and just shy of pre-pandemic numbers. But employment levels in the leisure and hospitality sector are still 5.8% lower than in February 2020, when the industry employed around 980,000 more people than it did last month, federal data shows.
“Everyone is jumping back onto the travel wagon again, but in some cases, these wagon wheels may still be a bit wobbly,” said Corey Green, a travel adviser with AAA in Wilmington, Delaware.
The good news: While holiday airfares remain high, ticket prices are inching down and the labor crunch is easing.
“After a summer with numerous problems with flight delays and cancellations, U.S. airlines have been successful in hiring a lot more pilots and flight attendants, and getting them trained,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “They’ve also been hiring people to work at airports, reservation offices and elsewhere. So I anticipate that from the airline side, we’ll have a good Christmas and New Year’s season.”
What to expect at airports
But some fliers say the customer experience remains rocky.
“Since summer, when I’ve flown between the U.S. and the U.K., lounges have been so packed that it is sometimes impossible to find a seat,” said Rachel Franklin, a geography professor based in the United Kingdom. She added that she’s seen “used dishes accumulate in teetering piles on tables, so you can’t sit there either.”
To address overcrowding, some airlines are tightening lounge access and limiting or eliminating day passes.
Starting Jan. 1, Delta Air Lines’ Sky Club memberships will be available only to “Silver Medallion” and other elite-level fliers, and fees are going up. By Feb. 2, members traveling in basic economy will be cut off from lounges unless they pay with certain cards.
Alaska Airlines will also raise lounge membership fees starting next year. And beginning Feb. 15, the carrier will grant complimentary lounge access only to passengers with certain long-distance, first-class tickets.
Delta, which expects its 2023 earnings to nearly double thanks to strong demand, pointed to an earlier statement by Dwight James, senior vice president, customer engagement and loyalty: “While we’re thrilled to see so many customers enjoy the fruits of our teams’ hard work, our goal now is to balance the popularity of the Clubs with the premium service and atmosphere for which they were designed — and that our guests deserve.”
Seattle-based Alaska said its lounges “have become so popular during certain times of the day, we’re making adjustments to our complimentary First Class access policy to allow for a bit more elbow room.”
For now, Harteveldt said, “you don’t want to plunk money out in advance for a lounge pass only to be told, ‘Sorry, we’re not accepting them.’ Instead, wait to buy a lounge pass until you’re at the airport and are confident you will be able to enter.”
Many airport employees say they’re overworked and their teams are understaffed, making it hard to maintain quality service for so many passengers.
Earlier this month, Service Employees International Union members working as baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, ramp agents, wheelchair attendants and janitors demonstrated at 15 U.S. airports, calling for higher pay and better conditions. “We’re so short-staffed, they make it almost impossible for you to take a sick day,”Omar Rodriguez, a ramp agent and cabin cleaner for contractor Swissport USA at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport,saidin a union statement. “We get blamed for delays, but we’re only given a few minutes to clean and don’t have enough people to do the work.”
Swissport said it “denies any unfair labor practices” and “fully complies with applicable regulations and provides competitive wages and benefits.”
Inside terminals, concessions operators are also struggling to hire and keep staff at shops, restaurants and bars. So passengers should be prepared for longer lines, limited operating hours and some commercial spaces that have yet to reopen.
Checking into a hotel?
Hotel guests may also find some service reductions still in place.
Many properties that suspended daily housekeeping to maintain social distancing have been slow to restore that amenity, said Jan Freitag, the national director of hospitality analytics for CoStar Group, a commercial real estate research firm. “They say, ‘Of course, we’re here if you need a towel or something,’ but they will not automatically clean your room.”
Some labor groups say hotel operators are taking advantage of pandemic policies to make long-term cost cuts, and they encourage guests to demand housekeeping during their stays — especially since many are now costlier. Room rates were up 15% in November this year over November 2019, according to Freitag. “That’s just the national average,” he said. “If you are in a 4- or 5-star property or resort, you are paying much higher rates, in some instances 30% more than in 2019.”
At most 2- and 3-star properties, he said, guests generally must request housekeeping, and while pricier rooms are more likely to include it, “some high-end properties may not have enough staff to offer housekeeping either.”
There are currently more than 100, 000 open hotel jobs nationwide, including nearly 20,000 housekeeping roles, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. “Recruiting workers continues to be the top challenge for many hoteliers,” said Chip Rogers, the trade group’s CEO.
Going on a holiday cruise?
One potential bright spot can be found at sea: During the summer, several cruise lines had to cancel voyages due to staffing shortages, but major disruptions have been largely resolved.
“It’s highly unlikely your holiday cruise will be canceled due to lack of staffing,” said Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, a travel site run by Tripadvisor. “But just like so many other industries, you might notice some staffing or supply chain-related effects onboard.”
That could affect service quality a bit. Many cruise lines are adding fresh staff en masse, and a lot of those crew members are new to the industry, she said, “so training is ongoing and is critical to the onboard experience.”
Passengers across the board should “be prepared to pay a little more than usual if you want the vacation of your dreams,” Green said. Or be flexible with timing to avoid the busiest periods most prone to service snags.
“This year, I moved my annual holiday travel to earlier in December,” said Abby Rhinehart, an educational researcher in Tucson, Arizona. “It was a little strange to celebrate so early in the month, but I think it was worth it to avoid all the stress.”
After being grounded by the pandemic, most folks are pretty darn excited to go to the airport to fly to just about anywhere.
But once at the airport, the excitement seems to fade.
That’s what the J.D. Power 2022 North America Airport Satisfaction Study, released on Wednesday, tells us.
According to the study, satisfaction is down 25 points (on a 1,000-point scale) this year because travelers are disappointed with fewer flights, more cancellations, crowded terminals, limited food and beverage offerings in the terminals, and limited places to park.
“The combination of pent-up demand for air travel, the nationwide labor shortage, and steadily rising prices on everything from jet fuel to a bottle of water has created a scenario in which airports are extremely crowded and passengers are increasingly frustrated—and it is likely to continue through 2023,” said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power.
“In some ways, this is a return to normal as larger crowds at airports tend to make travelers more frazzled, but in cases where parking lots are over capacity, gates are standing room only and restaurants and bars are not even open to offer some reprieve, it is clear that increased capacity in airports can’t come soon enough.”
That doesn’t mean travelers are more pleased with some airports than others.
In the ‘mega’ category – Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport ranks highest in passenger satisfaction, followed by San Francisco International Airport. Both Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport land in a third-place tie.
Among large airports, Tampa International Airport ranks highest, followed by John Wayne Airport, Orange County and Dallas Love Field.
And in the medium airport category, Indianapolis International Airport ranks highest, with Pittsburgh International Airport in second place and Jacksonville International Airport and Southwest Florida International Airport in a third-place tie.
The 2022 North America Airport Satisfaction Study measures traveler satisfaction by looking at six factors. In order of importance) those factors are terminal facilities; airport arrival/departure; baggage claim; security check; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail.
Where does your favorite airport land in the ratings this year?
My most recent “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY explores the “Experience Hub” at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Take a look and let us know if you think this model can make a difference in passenger happiness at other airports.
Like most airports, Dallas-Forth International has an operations
center to monitor everything happening out on the airfield.
But for the past two few years DFW has been beefing up another
type of behind-the-scenes center.
This one is called the Experience Hub and its role is to keep
watch over everything happening inside the terminals, to respond as swiftly as
possible to any sort of passenger issue and to solve problems before they
Every airport will tell you it has people and departments to
do all that. However, DFW officials believe their customer experience hub is a unique
and more effective way to serve its more than 69 million passengers in part
because it has centralized many functions that were previously spread out
across departments and locations.
“Everybody here has responsibility driven by making
the customer experience the best it can be,” said Julio Badin, DFW’s Vice
President of Customer Service during a recent tour of the windowless,
7,000-square foot room in Terminal D that houses representatives from just
about every customer-facing agency or department at the airport and dozens of monitors
streaming data and live terminal feeds.
“This group is focused on all the things that
touch the customer from the experience perspective,” said Badin, pointing out
staff checking on everything from the weather and airline load factors to TSA
lines, baggage room operations, custodial schedules, restroom maintenance needs
and mentions of DFW on social media.
The hub, located on the non-secure side of the
airport, in Terminal D, is staffed 24-hours a day and has a conference table in
the center and low-lit work stations (to avoid monitor glare) for about 20
people around the perimeter.
Two officers from the Transportation Security Administration’s
planning department are chatting about what they see on the monitors at their work
station. Their job: to study projected passenger numbers from the airlines, observe
the wait times at the airport’s various security checkpoints and decide how and
when to open additional lanes, move staff around and send in teams of bomb
sniffing canines with their handlers to help speed things up.
“The planning team is the guts behind how well the TSA
checkpoints work,” said DFW’s Badin, who was pleased that TSA accepted the
airport’s invitation to locate this team here.
Sitting nearby the TSA planners are customer care specialists who
spend their days answering passenger questions, solving problems for travelers and
monitoring and responding to social media messages or mentions.
“People call wanting to know if their car will be towed if
their flight gets back late. They want to know where they can get a mimosa at 8
a.m. And, of course, we get lots of calls from people who need help finding lost
items,” said Clara Meyer, an Experience Hub Specialist whose shift starts 4:30
“We once got a call about a man flying in on a flight from
India. He didn’t know that his travel agent had put him on a flight to Dallas instead
of [Washington] Dulles and his daughter called us asking for help,” said Meyer,
“We sent someone to find him to explain what happened and had them stay with
him until he got onto a flight to Dulles. We also helped him on the way home.”
The computer screens at the work station next to Meyers are filled
with live streams of messages tagged with #DFW on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
and other social media streams.
A hub staff member responds in real time to just about anything
that pops up on social media relating to DFW customer service. Sometimes it’s a
“Welcome to DFW,”
or “Sorry your flight is late,” message. But often the response is a tweet
filled with specific information a customer has requested, such as a list of
airport restaurants open before 5 a.m. or a shop that might sell a replacement
for a left-behind hair straightener.
And because the social media monitoring desk is in DFW’s
Experience Hub, if there’s a tweet from, say, a frustrated mom who’s run out of
diapers during a flight delay, there’s someone at the next desk who can call or
text one of the airport customer experience specialists (ACES) out in the
terminals and have them bring supplies over.
Make a playlist and
Back in the hub, each day begins with the building of “playlists,”
said DFW Experience Hub Manager Ricky Griffin, “We look at expected passenger
loads, weather, and other factors so we can give the ACEs a detailed list of
tasks they should complete and check off in the terminals that day.”
To predict the day’s passenger flows and identify areas that
might need extra attention, Griffin’s team looks at what TSA has planned for
staffing and holds conference calls with American Airlines (which has a main
hub at DFW) and other departments at the airport to find out what they may be
expecting that day.
“Then we draft an email that goes out to our team to let
them know what’s happening,” said Griffin. As the day progresses, everyone in
the hub continues monitoring and watching out for everything from such storms
in the area to baggage hiccups, unattended luggage, fire alarms, and anything
that might cause a glitch in the terminals.
The time, energy and resources DFW is putting into enhancing
the customer experience for passengers seems to be paying off.
The airport has won some major customer service awards and in
the past year other airports keen to raise their level of customer service,
including Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Seattle-Tacoma International and a
few international airports have sent teams out to see DFW’s Experience Hub in
Here are some snaps from a recent tour of the 540-seat lounge capping off a fast four-day visit to London and Paris that included a ride on the Eurostar as part of the #LondonParisNow campaign.
The bar – called “Le Balcon” – was designed by Mathieu Lehanneur and is self-serve much of the day, but from 6:30 p.m. to about 10 p.m. there’s a bartender on duty mixing up a menu of specialty-created cocktails.
Photo _ Harriet Baskas
The wellness area include restrooms with saunas, 20-minute complimentary Clarins spa services, a ‘detox’ bar with healthy potions and a quiet rest area with day beds.
Detox bar at CDG Air France lounge . Photo _Harriet Baskas
Detox potions at Air France CDG lounge. Photo Harriet Baskas
There’s also a special play for kids and a ‘Petit Salon’ area offering extra privacy for special guests:
Air France lounge at CDG – Kids area. Photo-Harriet Baskas
And then, of course, there’s food. In addition to a self-serve buffet, there’s a “Gourmet Table” where a chef prepares a ‘dish of the day’:
Air France says this is what passengers can look forward to in other cities where the lounges are scheduled to be upgraded as well.