At the height of the pandemic when we asked people if they were ok, we really meant it. We genuinely cared if friends, colleagues and family were well, coping or in need of help. Recently something has changed; that real empathy seems lost.
It’s hard to teach empathy. The dictionary defines it as “action of understanding, being sensitive, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another”.
In the context of customer service, this means putting yourself in your customers’ shoes but often people just don’t get it. In the aviation context, I empathise with the crew dealing with a rowdy stag or hen do, but even more with those who sit silently wishing their trip was over. Perhaps they are travelling for medical treatment, to see a dying relative or for a funeral?
We just don’t know and too often we don’t even seem to care much. Yet, think of the hundreds of people at the arrivals gate: people hugging, people in tears or full of joy – you see love and empathy in a visceral sense here and it’s an important reminder of the emotions within those travellers we all serve.
Change for good
For me, doing good business today is not purely about money but about empathising with those you serve to create the best possible product experience at every level. Specialising in free-from foods and ‘special meals’, I regularly see a lack of empathy in action. Airlines focus on meeting outdated and much maligned IATA meal code requirements rather than empathising with those who need those special meals for allergy, health, wellbeing lifestyle or religious reasons.
Those requesting these meals need extra attention, love and care. They need real understanding, proper assurances, commitment and honest information. They need insights on meal availability in advance; options to pre-board for seat wipe downs; certainty that crews are trained for announcements and medical procedures, and that medical kits with correct epinephrine auto-injectors are onboard.
These passengers know they could end up fighting for their life on your aircraft. Their allergies are not a fad or a myth, they are a medical need and on the rise. These people need genuine human compassion. They just want to feel safe and less anxious. Special meals now account for up to 20% of a flight and rising. Isn’t it time to engage empathy, show we care, and implement change?