Unfriendly skies might get a bit friendlier | AspenTimes.com

Unfriendly skies might get a bit friendlier

Flying the friendly skies might be more than just a catchy airline jingle when it comes to service into Aspen this ski season.

United Express, Aspen’s top air carrier and an affiliate of United Airlines, has vowed to improve its quality of service one year after customer and community anger reached the boiling point.

“I think they basically stepped up and said `We can do a hell of a lot better than we’ve been doing,’ ” said Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Pat O’Donnell.

United Express hired Doug Horn, a 30-year veteran of airline customer service, to head its efforts in that department last March. Horn said he and the company have focused on improving service on the Aspen route.

“The Aspen market is unique and deserving of special attention,” said Horn. He noted that Aspen is one of the top ski destinations in the world and a high-volume route for United Express.

To show its commitment to boosting Aspen service, United Express has taken over a concierge program at Denver International Airport that was run by the Aspen Skiing Co. and local resort associations until this season.

The air carrier will have paid personnel at its gates, answering questions and assisting travelers to and from Aspen in any way they can, said Horn.

To guarantee consistency and familiarity with the market, the air carrier will assign the same ticketing agents and concierges to the Aspen service for the entire ski season, Horn said. That means between 22 and 24 key personnel will be on the same team throughout the winter, he said.

And to make sure they deal with effectively with the Aspen clientele, United Express workers at Aspen and DIA have received additional training from their company and have sat in on the Aspen Skiing Co.’s training, according to Horn.

“That’s a big breakthrough,” said the Skico’s O’Donnell. “Their people have been over here in our customer-service training and we’ve been up at their customer training. We’re trying to work as a partnership.”

O’Donnell acknowledged that while he is giving up the cost of the DIA concierge program, he’s also surrendering direct control.

“Yeah but the thing is, when they came forward with what the program was, it’s almost too good to be true,” O’Donnell said. “It’s way beyond what we were doing with the ambassadors.”

United Express’ Horn said the key to improving customer service is providing better information to customers. The agents can and will be more truthful with passengers and that, Horn said, “lessens the burden and anxiety.”

But communication was only one of three areas of complaints against United Express last ski season. Customers and the hospitality industry were also fed up with chronic overbooking of flights and inexplicably canceled flights.

United Express’ performance greatly influences perceptions of an Aspen ski vacation. The carrier typically provides about 75 percent of the airline seats into the market.

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