It happened some 10 years ago. I boarded an Asiana Air plane on my way back to Seoul after visiting New York in 2008. A nonstop flight to Korea from New York City is approximately 13 hours. With a long flight ahead of me, I closed my eyes and fell fast asleep as the plane took off.
When I woke up, I noticed a small slip of paper in front of me. It read, "I hope you enjoyed your nap. A meal was served while you were sleeping. Please let us know if you are ready for your meal. We will prepare it for you."
As I often traveled for work, I experienced this several times before. However, this time, I felt the staff was treating with significantly more care and concern. Already tired and jetlag from the frequent international trips, their kindness moved me. I enjoyed the meal they prepared and afterwards, decided to write a letter to the President of Asiana Airlines about my positive encounter. I requested for a pen and paper, and began detailing my quality experience on the flight thanks to these three Asiana employees.
I first met the Asiana Airlines President, Mr. Kang Joo-An, in 1992 when I served as president of New York Chapter of the Korean-American Scientists and Engineers Association (KSEA). Asiana Airlines has just begun a direct route to New York, and Mr. Kang was a manager at the Asiana headquarters at the time. Together we created a cooperative agreement to support international roles of Korean-American scientists by providing discounted flights on Asiana Airlines.
Since then, 16 years later, Mr. Kang moved on to become President of Asiana Airlines. I wrote to him, conveying my regard for his three employees and their quality service. I included the names of the three stewardesses with the intention of bringing their performance to light of their managers. When I completed the 3 page letter, I asked one of the stewardess to deliver it to President Kang. Unexpectedly, the three employees came over with a look of concern and asked if they did anything to inconvenience me. I realized they mistook my letter as a complaint against them. I explained I was a friend of the airline President and the letter was meant to be a compliment. No matter, they continued to show nervousness as they walked away.
At the end of the long flight, we finally landed in Incheon Airport. The stewardesses came to my side and expressed their thanks to me as I began walking towards the exit. I suspect they took a peek at the letter and saw I wrote largely about my appreciation for the stewardesses' thoughtful gestures for me as a customer. It really highlighted their strengths as employees.
I find writing letters of gratitude and appreciation to be more important than letters of complaint. It encourages and supports individuals to grow more positively.
There are two ways to write these letters: with your head or with your heart. I find the best letters of gratitude are written with the heart.
About two weeks after the flight, and 16 years since we last met, President Kang and one of his executives visited my office. When President Kang received my letter, he said he was really touched and had it posted in the bulletin board at the headquarters for employees to read. He also said the three stewardesses mentioned were awarded and received promotions.
Today, I cannot say I remember the faces of those kind stewardesses, but the experience has certainly left a lasting memory of how kindness can impact people and spread so widely to others.