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Editor's Note: Lessons from the air

Editor's Note: Lessons from the air

Becky Schilling, Food Management Editor-in-Chief

I spend a lot of time on planes and in airports, so much so that when my friends and family call, the first question they often ask is, “What city are you in today?” Because I don’t like to spend any more time than I must in the airport, I’m always looking for a quick option to grab a bite to eat, and I often know what terminal has my go-to spot for something (for those of you traveling through George Bush International Airport in Houston, terminal E has a Pappasito’s if you need a Tex-Mex fix).

This summer is a busy travel season with three of the four big associations having their conferences. On the way home from the School Nutrition Association’s conference, my first flight was delayed so I barely had time to get on my connecting flight. That meant I had to purchase food onboard, something I try not to do as the selection and quality normally isn’t great. After running through the busy airport with all my bags, I’m sure I looked slightly frazzled when I got on the plane. I’m not sure if it was my crazed look or perhaps the flight attendant recognized me from this magazine or as a frequent flier on that airline, but when I went to pay for my sandwich, she handed me back my card and said, “I didn’t charge you.” The sandwich wasn’t great, but the customer service on a less-than-pleasant travel day sealed the deal.

I’ll contrast that with my most recent airport dining experience at one of New York’s flashy, recently redesigned food hubs. This is the kind of place travelers dream of—unless you have access to one of the airline frequent flier lounges. There are all kinds of options for grab-and-go items and a whole slew of stations where you can get something made to order. Compared to the stark, take-it-or-leave-it options of most other airport food venues, this is heaven. Because I normally fly out at some zero dark thirty hour in the morning, I’ve never given this location a try. But I did last month—and I wasn’t impressed.

The food was fine, and for “airport food,” it was on the verge of great. But my customer service was terrible. It took 25 minutes to get a cold sandwich! There were five foodservice employees working this particular station and not one of them seemed to have any pep in her step—another foodservice employee who was working the front of the house was visibly frustrated with the lack of enthusiasm from behind the line.

To me, all the bells and whistles in the world don’t make up for poor or disrespectful service. My sandwich at the fancy place might have been much better than the soggy airplane one, but it sure left a sour taste in my mouth. I say it all the time, how you treat people means so much more than anything else.

Contact Becky Schilling at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @bschilling_FM

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