Posted on : 15-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service
Tags: Airlines, American Airlines, Customer Service, Southwest, US Air
I originally planned this post to be about the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA – I just really like to say WOMMA, so that calls for a post!). Well this trip was a last minute decision and because of that I had limited selection of flights. This made me realize how far below par service has gone with the airline industry, specifically US Air. It is sad to see how far it has gone since my last flights about a year ago. So lets go over my travel experience in the past 8 weeks:
Well when I was traveling to Blog World, I purposely chose Southwest because of their great efforts in social media (Check them out on Twitter or their corporate blog). It was an okay experience. On the way over I was one of the early people going on the plane and the seat selection was good. Now on the flight over I was expecting to see some of the excitement on the flight that I have heard about and also seen on the A&E show. To be honest I did not see it, and I was very bored on the flight, but it was okay. Now this flight had a connection in Phoenix. During the short hop to Vegas the crew was great and it was a fun hour, but my opinion was probably driven from the initial flight. So I would label it an okay first trip on the airline. The way back was another story. First I was unable to check in early (lack of printer) so I was one of the last to load. It did not help that I was late getting to the airport. When I was getting on the plane I saw many couples who could not sit with their loved ones due to the boarding process without seat assignments. This made me think this was probably not the perfect approach. The way back the crews on both flights did help create the Southwest experience. Unfortunately I had an older couple (that did not appear to know each other prior to the flight) create a much different experience for me that I will never forget, and wish I could. That is as far as I will go into now. So overall Southwest was okay but I really prefer to pick my own seat. My experience was mainly impacted by the Customers sitting next to me on the flight back and that was the reason I did not select them in future flights. I have since learned that they do offer preferred boarding for business Customers at a fee of $25. What they do not have is extra baggage fees and I did get a soda!
US Air Trip 1
My next trip was to Scottsdale/Phoenix for the Marketing Profs conference. I actually booked through the work travel agency and I select United since it was listed as preferred. I did not realize when I did this that it was actually US Air. I have had a few poor experiences with US Air in the past and I do sometimes hold a grudge. Well I went with it. Because I did not realize it was US Air, I then had trouble checking in on the computer, they really should make it easier when flying a partner. So I go to the airport and the first thing I was greeted with was a $17 fee for a checking my bag. Not a second bag, but a first. I found this to be irritating, but okay I will go with it (not like I have a choice). The flight itself was okay but I did not think to eat prior to getting on the flight. I do remember hearing about the fees for food and soda but I did not think of it. So anyway I get on the flight and the attitude presented during the announcements, particularly about food pricing was ridiculous. “We have limited supplies so if you do not get your choice do not blame us.” As the representative of the company who else would I blame, the person stuck in the seat next to me? So true to their word they did run out (I was not even sitting far back) so I did not have my choice but instead a lousy salad ($7) and a soda ($2). My message here is if you are going to charge, it should be better and have the right quantity. But to me it was all in the attitude of the employees and the approach. The return flight was similar too.
After the first 2 experiences I decided to try a different airline for my trip to Dallas to attend the Forrester Conference. Just like US Air, they were just as irritating over the fees. At the same time they were great with allowing us to go standby for an earlier flight. In fact they made it easy to do at the kiosk. The flight over was good. I enjoyed the movie. On the way back I did not have an issue, but others did. There was a problem with the video system, but they did sell headsets before hand. They did this even though they later admitted to knowing that it was broken based on feedback from the prior crew. I also did not notice them proactively reimburse for the now useless headsets. To their credit I will say they did replace a broken one for a Customer that had a problem with his prior to getting onboard. I did notice on both ends of the trip that they were announcing exactly what to expect with other flights for those with connections. I did not have a connection, but I did notice this and thought it was nice. Overall it was an okay trip but for the same price I think I will go back to Southwest.
US Air Trip 2
Well this is where I really began to see the disconnect with Customers. At the last minute I was asked to speak with Pete Blackshaw at the WOMMA conference. I had limited availability of direct flights. In fact the only real choice was US Air. I booked the round trip ticket leaving only a few hours later. This time I was smart. My wife picked up a small carry on and I had something to eat at the airport before taking off. I actually slept most of the way there. So on the way over I immediately noticed something strange. When going over the preflight instructions they did not use the video. Instead they were going over the seat belt think in a similar fashion (although not as fun) as Southwest. I immediately looked up and noticed the flight had screens, but they did not come down. I then pulled out the book to see what movies they would have. When I turned to the page there was notice that effective November 1st not entertainment will be provided for any destinations except international and Hawaii. This was the only reason to chose this airline over one like Southwest.
Well on Friday I decided to try to take the earlier flight home. I thought it would be better than a red-eye I was scheduled for. I went to the airport and went up to ask about flying standby. Unlike American, I was directed to speak with someone instead of the kiosk. I waited in line and I watched someone being helped being told about a $50 fee. He was very irritated. So anyway I get up to the counter. I ask about flying standby. The woman responds “The flight is not filled, so that would be a $50 fee.” So I respond “So let me understand, the flight is not filled, so instead of having my seat available at a later flight, and you might be able to sell it, I will be charged $50.” She responds “yes.” Well I made it clear that I will not be flying US Air in the future. She then reviewed the ticket and said, “Oh you have a fully refundable ticket, so there will not be a charge.” Gee thanks, but you already made clear how you and the airline feel about me and other Customers. So I did not have to pay the fee but it did influence me for a long time to come. It is obvious the leaders of the company are okay with irritating Customers and that is not her fault. But I can make my choice with my money.
So anyway, I get on the flight, which was running close to an hour late. When we got on the plane the faces of the crew members made it clear that they were not very interested in being there. I also found I was seated in the last row window seat. Okay I guess my reaction penalized me by the privilege of being the last off the plane. The pilot made a number of announcements throughout the trip. He sounded like he was a fun guy, but in each of the announcement he kept making clear that yes we are late, but do not worry about your connections, because it is Philly and there are going to be many of delays of other flights. That is a great confidence builder in US Air. I did not care because for me because Philly was my final destination. Another aspect to the announcement was he was very clear to not ask any of the crew about connections because they do not know and will not know. His instruction was when you get off the plane see a Customer Service agent. Isn’t Customer Service everyone’s role?
I know that I will have to find the right airline for me. It is probably going to be Southwest, at least if I can figure out the seating thing much better. The one thing that is clear is US Air is not a good premium, standard or discount airline. I think it is imperative for them to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, or else I would not expect them to be around much longer. I know I do not plan to fly with them. I know I will try Southwest again, and I am sure I will give others a shot. Does this industry even care about Customers? Which ones will be able to lure you back based on Service?