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Taking customer service to a whole new altitude

2014-03-05 12:35:00.0

What makes United Airlines’ invitation to "Fly the Friendly Skies" so appealing? Many will tell you it's veteran pilot, Capt. Dennis Flanagan, who takes customer service as seriously as he does the panel of instruments in the cockpit.

Flanagan, whose efforts to go the extra mile have been featured by media outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal and USA Today to the CBS News, will discuss the importance of customer service and the returns it can offer to companies, when he is hosted on campus for the H. Peter Burg Personal Leadership and Development Speaker Series. His talk, which will be held Tuesday, March 18, at 2 p.m., in the Student Union Theatre, is free and open to the campus community and the public.

Seizing opportunities

A U.S. Navy pilot before joining United Airlines nearly 20 years ago, Flanagan calls Cleveland home. His brand of customer service includes: 

  • Writing personalized thank you notes to first-class passengers and frequent fliers on the back of his business card;
  • Calling the parents of unaccompanied minors during a flight to assure them all is well;
  • Ordering food or serving coffee for passengers during flight delays;
  • Walking pets during those long flight delays; and 
  • Holding drawings mid-flight for discount tickets or bottles of wine. 

"It's part of our job to take care of our customers," Flanagan said when interviewed by CBS News. "It takes seconds, really. It's working from the heart."

Flanagan's successful approach to customer service can be applied in any business or industry, notes Dr. William Hauser, interim assistant dean, director of graduate business programs and associate professor of marketing.

Lessons everyone can use 

"Whether it is in business or achieving student success, knowing your customers and meeting/exceeding their needs is at the heart of any successful and ongoing relationship," says Hauser. "Capt. Denny Flanagan has been able to achieve this in the airline industry, one of today's most challenging areas for meeting customer satisfaction. We invite everyone who interacts with customers to come listen, learn and apply."

The H. Peter Burg Personal Leadership and Development Speaker Series was created in 2012 to provide an opportunity for University of Akron students to learn from highly successful alumni, local business and community champions, and nationally recognized leaders. The guest speakers exemplify the qualities, ethics and sense of public service demonstrated and valued by the late H. Peter Burg, former CEO of FirstEnergy and a UA alumnus.

For more information, contact Sarah J. Cupples at 330-972-7429, or, or Kristina Floyd at 330-972-7043 or

Captain Dennis Flanagan

To better the customer experience, United Airlines pilot Captain Dennis Flanagan has been known to serve coffee or order pizza for passengers during flight delays.