Monday, April 22, 2013

An Open Letter to the Airline Industry

I didn't think it was appropriate last week, in light of the tragedies our country was experiencing, to complain about my recent air travel. But now the bad guys have been taken out, victim assistance is underway, and the recovery process has begun.

God bless Boston.
God bless Texas.

So now, and I am confident that thousands of you (or the three or four who actually read my blog), will agree with this sentiment to the airline industry.

Y'all need to get your shit together.

I am including y'all, even though my recent experiences were with Alaska and United, because I think very few of y'all have a clue what you're doing or what we want from you or even give one iota of a shit.

Do you remember when flying used to be fun? When you got actual meals and the flight attendants were friendly and handed out pillows and blankets and cared about your comfort? When flying was half the fun of a vacation? It seems like so long ago, doesn't it?

Now, I understand that the events of 9/11 fucked up air travel. A mockery was made of air travel safety. Huge financial losses were incurred by the airlines and we're paying the penalty. I get that. It sucks, but I think most of us have resigned ourselves to these facts. What I can't and won't resign myself to is the complete lack of customer service that now exists. The fact that we have been stripped of our dignity as living souls and are now just pushed around, lined up, and re-sorted, prodded along like moronic cattle.

I flew to California with the wife, JP, nearly two weeks ago. Most of the spring break crowd seemed to have abated; the reason for the full flights had more to do with the reduced number of flights rather than the actual number of persons traveling.

What first irritated us was the fact that the price of the plane ticket did not include seat assignments. This was extra. Since when do you not get a seat with a plane ticket? We found ourselves rows apart on the flights into California. How does this even come into being? Obviously, if someone buys two tickets, they expect those two seats to be together, right? Unless they prefer the closeness of strangers to their friends. How do families fly with small children? Are they expected to pay extra so that their three-year-old isn't seated 20 rows away?

It's a stupid policy.

Now let's look at the actual people we encountered. Because we were seated so far apart, we thought we'd take a stab at asking someone at the gate if we could change seats. There were two women at the counter, apparently bitching about their jobs or customers they had dealt with or where they wanted to get their nails done. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that we stood there politely and when one of the women deigned to pay us any mind, throwing her hand out impatiently for JP's boarding pass, she only let JP get through half of her question before curtly replying, "It's full. Full flight. No." Mind you we still had about half an hour to board, we were the only two people at the counter so we weren't taking up precious time that needed to be spent boarding an actual plane. There was no "I'm sorry" or any other shred of attempt at human decency or communication. "Peasants. Don't even think of talking to me."

On the return flight, it got worse. Different airline, same ungodly hour of the day. The kiosks at Orange County don't allow baggage check-in like the kiosks in Redmond. As happy as we were to figure out how to print out boarding passes by ourselves at 5:30 a.m., we were equally discouraged by the fact that this wasn't enough. And we were so nicely informed by the shrew harpy handling baggage check-in.

Shrew Harpy began by barking at people in our line. "This line is for people who have paid for their baggage. ONLY those people." Oh. Hmm.... Because we tried that at the kiosk. "No. No. You can't do it there." (Read in the tone of "How absolutely stupid and simple-minded are you?!?") Oh. Hmmm...

So JP uses her phone to access the site online and pay for the bags. Done. Check. Get back in line to wait to use the second kiosk at the counter. Where there is mass confusion because Shrew Harpy is barking at everyone up there. One man tried to ask a question, "Uh, I don't know what number..." She shrieked back at him, "YOU NEED A CREDIT CARD NUMBER!!!" I don't think that was even what he was asking.

When it was our turn, she snatched my boarding pass out of my hand, asking if we had paid. We answered yes, we had just done it online. Her response? "Well! I will find out in just a minute if you paid or not." Like we lied about it and she was going to catch us in that lie. When our confirmation numbers went through, she grabbed our bags, threw them onto the scale and then turned back to scream in my face, thrusting her finger behind me. "You go that way!! Don't stand here now. Go, go, GO!!!!"

We ended up discussing this psychotic individual with the couple behind us in the security line. Even the TSA agent who overheard us was appalled. A TSA agent. A TSA agent thought we had been treated badly.

I know the travel industry is more stressful than it used to be. I know flight attendants and ticket agents deal with some real assholes. But I am fairly docile at 5:30 in the morning. After having the stomach flu  for the 24 hours prior, I just wanted a nice, quiet place to sit. I just wanted to get home. I wasn't asking to be yelled at. Asking questions of unclear procedures does not make one an asshole.

So, airlines. Get your shit together. Take a course on customer service or fire all of your staff and start over or fire your executives and replace them with people that might actually care a little bit about how your businesses are represented. I don't care what you do or how you do it. What you're doing right now is bullshit. Fix it.


Nicholas Wood said...

Hilarious to read (you make a clearly unpleasant experience highly entertaining), and spot on. I think it speaks to the larger problem of poor customer service in general, everywhere. There are some people who just shouldn't be in CS, and it's mind boggling how they continue to be.

Kat said...

I really wish that poor customer was limited to just a few places, like the airlines. I'd like to think it isn't more symptomatic of a decline in our society overall.

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