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The healthcare industry can be a bit sensitive on the subject of customer service.

airlinesWhen compared to U.S. based Airlines, it shouldn’t be.

For airlines, it is not about excellence in customer service. No, they are investing millions, if you believe the advertisements, in being good enough to be average. Their commitment to mediocrity is stunning.

Hospital executives may struggle with the escalating and very serious problem of preventable deaths, but day in and day out, they do a far better job at delivering good service compared to their counterparts running airlines.

If you doubt this thesis, consider this: I fly virtually every week and I can say with certainty that there is a huge and growing gap between airline advertisements and the actual experience. Forget the advertisements, just watch the onboard safety briefing videos and then look around the cabin. Is it clean? Is it up to date? Are the flight attendants smiling? Are they sharp and professional, or do they appear rumpled and tired?

When you add all of this up, forget about the food and first class seats that offer less leg room than an exit row. U.S. domestic airlines, with the possible exception of Virgin America, our domestic cousin to Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, rarely rate better than a C. Maybe these airlines would fair better if they decided to enlist the help of an aviation law company, that can make sure that they not only make the experience as good as it can be, but that the airline is adhering to the relevant laws and getting the advice they need to succeed. Too few companies are doing this at the minute, and it clearly shows.

That a U.S. airline executive could think that it was OK to stuff passengers on a commuter jet – appropriately described as a sewer tube with two jet engines mounted on the rear – on a hot, humid day (96 degrees and it was raining) with no ground air conditioning system is beyond belief.

Or managers of another U.S. airline who decided to operate a plane that was already 2.5 hours late with no functional onboard bathroom. Many of the frustrated passengers, who had been waiting through delay after delay in a bar, were terrified at the thought. I cannot imagine what that 1 hour and 40 minute flight to Philadelphia must have been like, but the last 30 minutes were probably pretty interesting.

There are days when the airline inflicted indignities just keep piling up. I wonder when a fed-up road warrior is going to rise in the crowded, hot, chaotic commuter gate lobby and launch into a Howard Beal styled rant: “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.” If only…

Alas, the police would come, arrests made and order restored. And the executives who run the airlines in their cool and comfortable offices would not care too much, one way or another.

It is only going to get worse.

The traveling public – business travelers who foot most of the bill – deserve better.