18 October 2010

Frontier Airlines Chief Bryan Bedford goes incognito as Flight Attendant for 'Undercover Boss'

LA Times

How much would you pay to have an airline's chief executive hoist your carry-on into an overhead bin or fetch you a cold Diet Coke? Frontier Airlines top dog Bryan Bedford did just that working incognito as a flight attendant during his star turn on the TV reality show "Undercover Boss."

In his high-altitude role on sold-out flights between Denver and San Diego, he got to schmooze with passengers ("I was happy to be in the air, happy to be helpful") and suffer their frustration when the flight was late ("I suspect I may have been the reason for the delay").

"When you’re doing a job you’ve never done before, you make a lot of mistakes,” says Bedford, whose job performance will be featured in an episode airing Sunday (9 p.m. PST/8 p.m. CST on CBS).

For the uninitiated, "Undercover Boss" each week features top executives who receive training and work side-by-side incognito with their employees. Recent episodes have featured other captains of industry from the travel world: Stephen Joyce of Choice Hotels and Kim Schaefer of Great Wolf Resorts water parks.

In addition to playing flight attendant, Bedford cleaned planes, emptied jets of waste and served as an all-purpose customer service agent who had to cover baggage claim areas as well as the ticket counter.

Bedford, who says he hadn't seen the TV show prior to being contacted about appearing on it, said his time in the trenches provided an opportunity to meet some of the 6,000 employees that were added after a three-way merger of Frontier, Republic and Midwest airlines earlier this year. (His airline is branded under Frontier, though the parent company he heads is Republic Airways).

Among the lessons that Bedford says he learned from his TV stint:

-- Airlines put a big emphasis on courting "high-value" business customers. But for the 70% of customers who are leisure travelers, flying is indelibly linked to whether they're having a good or bad vacation.

"Those leisure customers, we tend to take for granted," Bedford said. "We can’t do that."

-- He has a better appreciation for his front-line workers. After his TV experience, he instituted "town hall"-type meetings each week to better communicate with employees.

Despite his goofs and gaffes, Bedford says he enjoyed learning about his company from beyond the boardroom.

"The in-flight job was my favorite ... when I can sit with customers and have quality one-on-one time with them. It's rare," he says.

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