Monday, August 4, 2008

The Airlines

The attitude of airline employees is rivaling those at the DMV. Pathetic.

I have been a loyal customer on United Airlines and have flown over 40,000 miles with them in the last 7 months. Last year, I wrote to them about some serious service breakdowns that violated their own service commitment and as a service recovery gesture, I received 3 credit vouchers to use for a future flight. The vouchers cannot be used with an online reservation so I called them. A nice woman took my phone reservation and explained that the vouchers could not be redeemed via phone, plus I had an additional amount to pay so I would need to present them with my credit card at a local ticket counter within 24 hours to secure my reservation.

The next day, I went to my local airport in Manchester NH where I found a long line of passengers waiting for an agent. Apparently all of the Chicago flights were severely delayed due to weather, and so I waited in line for 30 minutes behind passengers trying to rebook. I came prepared with my reservation number and payments in my hand and foolishly thought how happy they would be to have such a quick and simple transaction to do. I walked up to the agent, explained that I just needed to ticket an existing reservation and was dismissed! He told me that they were too busy with passengers trying to reschedule flights, that he could not sell me a ticket and to come back in 2 or 2 1/2 hours! This is an airline whining that they don't have enough profits, refusing to provide essential needs like air and water to passengers, asking the government for a bailout to offset fuel costs TURNING AWAY A PAYING CUSTOMER.

The airlines have blamed everything else on their sad state of business - the FAA, the pilot unions, the pension funds, 9/11 and oil prices. Everything but their own deplorable service level. I cannot imagine any other company doing something like this to a customer. Can you imagine walking into a Lexus dealer and being told to come back because they were too busy helping other customers in the service department? Or going to Nordstrom and being sent away because all of their sales people were helping customers with product exchanges? Why are the airlines allowed to treat customers who spend thousands of dollars a month with them like this?

The post script to this story is that I did come back later that day only to find the ticket counter closed. I was forced to call and rebook my reservation and return to the airport a third time the next day. When I got there I was told that I could only use one of the three vouchers I had, contrary to what the phone reservation agent told me. When I mentioned that I had conflicting information from their own employee, the counter agent shrugged and implied "tough luck". Nice.