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McChord Reservist, Alaska Airlines agent targets prime customer satisfaction (Part 3 of 3)

by Jake Chappelle
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

7/11/2014 - MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- Countless travelers - from the university student who sprints and hurdles through O'Hare to catch her connecting holiday flight, to the homebound retiree tapping his foot at sonic speeds, praying for a seat on a military flight - grapple with the frustrations of air travel at some point during their journeys.

Lenny Dewitt habitually remedies these issues as a customer service agent with Alaska Airlines, and in his C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster trade with the Air Force Reserve.

"We're human," said the 32-year-old Spokane, Washington native. "We want the same basic things."

Dewitt would know, seeing that he earned a bachelor's degree in Biological Basis of Behavior from UPenn [yes, "the" University of Pennsylvania] which may contribute to his keen situational awareness and prowess to deter conflict.

"Not quite sure how I got there," he said, regarding his stretch in the Ivy League. "I'm not the brightest person in the world."

The down-to-earth Dewitt said he's been captivated with the study of social interaction, and the specifics of his degree focus on the correlation of human physiological activity with psychological behavior.

In regular-people talk -

"If I see someone who's attractive, it's going to give me a different response than if I see a bear," he said. "It's how your brain allows you to make those decisions."

Dewitt said he challenges himself and pushes his limits. But when it comes to encountering a beautiful woman, his knees buckle like an anxious teen's would.

"I might run like I would if I saw a bear," he continued. "It's really interesting, because the brain is so complex, and we know a lot about it. But in the big picture, we kind of know next to nothing about it."

As a 728th Airlift Squadron loadmaster at McChord Field, Dewitt said wiping away client troubles helps polish his customer relations abilities. Four years of shuttling coast to coast in college gave him the vantage point of a frequent flyer.

"There's a lot of frustration with travelling," he said. "I've been on the passenger side of it; I've been on the operational side of it. We change gates, there are flight delays - cancellations - a lot of nervous, upset people. That's your time to shine. I find an alternative to make their experience better. Even though things go wrong, you don't have to have a bad day. We do our best to make sure you're taken care of."

Lori Anderson runs customer service training for the airline. She said an exhausted passenger's salt in the wound is standing at the baggage carousel expecting belongings that don't arrive. But Dewitt provides a comfortable bandage.

"We have a lot of issues when those bags don't show up," Anderson said. "When someone is upset they want you to hear what they have to say. The biggest thing you can do is remain calm. He's good at that. He's polite, shows empathy, gives eye contact, articulate, and listens. He asks intelligent questions, and walks them through the process," she added.

Dewitt said his talent to mentally tab a scene is a skill he's often recognized for.

"You have to stay ahead of the plane, or else you'll find yourself in some trouble," he said. "It helps counter situations when they go wrong. You're already thinking about how to correct it."

The agent and loadmaster roles aren't exactly apples and oranges, as some may think.

"You're definitely working with the users, the fleet, maintenance, everything to make sure we can go with the aircraft we have, get the passengers on, make sure they're happy and taken care of," Dewitt said.

"One time, the previous loadmasters strapped down some boxes in front of one of the troop doors, which we use as an emergency exit," he said, recalling a Reserve C-17 mission. "So I moved them. The user comes to me and they're like 'we had that there for a reason.' But I wasn't rude about it. 'I can't have it here, but let's find an alternative for it.' We found another place for it, so they got their leg room, I got my emergency exit, and everything worked out."

In addition to helping travelers fly like clockwork, Dewitt, who resides in Seattle's Rainer Beach area, said he's had affection with aviation since high school.

"I was going to be a boom operator," said the Cheney High School graduate, about when he enlisted into active duty. "I told my recruiter I only wanted a flying job. He found a boom operator position, but it didn't go to basic training until the end of summer. He's like 'I've got this loadmaster position.' I thought about it for a second. I was like 'ok, why not?'"

The rest is history. Not a single person from McChord deployed more than he did from 9/11 to 2002, when he was on active duty.

"It was draining," he said. "I was gone nine months out of the year. I'd be home two or three days at a shot."

Roughly 3,000 flying hours later, he stumbled upon a hidden gem in the Reserve.

"I knew about the Reserve probably my third year on active duty," said Dewitt, who's spent all 14 years at McChord. "I had no clue it was out there. We flew with one of our pilots from the Reserve and she started talking about it. I'm like 'that sounds amazing.'"

The part-time element sold the avid outdoorsman on joining the 446th Airlift Wing.

"The Reserve gives you that equilibrium between serving your country and being able to live for yourself," said Dewitt, who's logged more than 5,000 hours above the clouds. "We still fly the same missions [as active duty]. "I try to do my training around my schedule at Alaska - not to let either job affect the other."

When his schedules overlap, the airline doesn't make an issue.

"They've never been like 'oh great, you're gone again,'" he said. "They're accommodating. They've never given me any grief."

His squadron colleagues applaud his noble work ethic as well.

"He's not one to let grass grow under his feet," said Lt. Col. Tim Davis, 728th AS chief pilot, and Alaska Airlines first officer. "He's always ready to jump into the action and get things done, for both Alaska and the Reserve. When he was commuting from college, he'd fly in, spend a day catching up, and the next day he'd fly a weeklong mission in theater like it was nothing - very impressive."

Albeit harmonizing his careers in aviation, Dewitt sets room aside for touring the Oregon coast with his girlfriend - oh, and he recently picked up home beer brewing.

"It's definitely an acquired taste," he said, about his intro to the ale-tasting circuit. "My best friend's like, 'you gotta give it a try,' so I gave it a shot - didn't like it. It was probably four or five beers later, and I'm like 'ok, I can get into this.'"

Relishing his two crafts and leisure time, Dewitt achieved a personal trifecta.

"I don't know if I've been blessed with jobs I've enjoyed," he said. "I work at two jobs where it's like family. I really enjoy the people at Alaska; same for the Reserve. It's hard to give up either."

A 36-year veteran with Alaska, Anderson knows when they discover something special.

"I asked him if he has any brothers, cousins, or maybe clones who can come work for us," she said. "I hope he stays for a long time. I wish we had 10 more of him. He'll be good no matter what area he's in."

*Story at a Glance • The third installment of a three-part human interest feature series about three Air Force Reservists who double, as a pilot, Life path gives C-17 pilot high careers with Alaska, Reserve, an aircraft maintainer, Maintenance SNCO blooms through Reserve, Alaska Airlines careers, and a customer service agent, McChord Reservist, Alaska Airlines agent targets prime customer satisfaction, for Alaska Airlines.