Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Destination - SUK

In the interest of full disclosure, H works for a regional airline. He is a pilot. I am very aware that airlines are businesses, but seriously, something has to change. If the business model is not working and ALMOST every single customer - even your really, really loyal ones think you do a pretty crappy job delivering the service they pay for, it has to make you think that, um, I don't know you are doing it wrong. Don't believe me, go check out this travel watch dog website. I have yet to read a story that talks about Airlines getting it right.

Let's play word association - I say Airline(s) and this is what ten people said just now at the local farmers market:

1. Suck
2. Stupid fees
3. No fun
4. Rude service
5. No customer service
6. Lost baggage - always
7. Not getting what you pay for
8. PIA (pain in the ass)
9. Bloated CEO's
10. Out of touch

Wow. No one at the farmers market had anything nice to say. Not a one. Zippo. (ok, in all fairness #4 said Delta first and then followed up that remark with "rude service")

I conducted this informal poll, after reading this story, posted to Twitter by a friend. Seriously. Charging for carry on bags. Charging for drinks, charging for seat assignments. The bathroom? Ben Baldanza the CEO of Spirit Airlines must be high from inhaling too much Jet Fuel.

Feeing people to death has gotten the banks nowhere and it will get him nowhere too. It will I predict lead to his airline being grounded. While on its face, the idea of a la carte pricing makes sense. Ruth's Chris has made a mint doing it. The difference between Ruth's Chris and other steakhouses' ala carte menus and the airlines - at a great steak house - you really DO get what you pay top dollar for.

At a fine steakhouse, they will not lose the baked potato you ordered and will likely pay $7 for when it is all said and done, they will not tell you that your medium steak, which comes to you black is your problem. No they will serve you the meal of your dreams and then bill you handsomely at the end and you will gladly pay it - becasue the food is fantastic and the service is divine and their a la carte model - does allow you to build the meal of your dreams.

The airlines' a la carte model only serves to annoy the hell out of consumers. Pure and simple. I pay $50 for my checked bag, which the airline loses and then has the gall to tell me, it is my problem and when or if they find it, I can come pick it up. Seriously. What did I just pay for exactly?

Another example. My trip to Cancun on Continental. Per their own website children 5 and under may not travel alone. Naturally fees apply when children 5-11 travel alone. So on the Houston to Cancun leg, an international flight, they busted us up. Now believe me, I had to put in our ages when I booked, passport numbers, the whole deal. I selected seats together, cuz duh, we are traveling together. Still they had E sitting in the rear of the plane, me in the middle and L up ahead of me. Seriously? I called to fix this oversight and was told to address it at the airport after she reseated L and I together, but told me there was nothing they could do for E. At the local airport, I was rudely told, by a grunting gate agent to deal with it in Huston. It was not "his problem to fix." In Huston, I have never, not ever been treated so rudely and told it was my problem and the gate agents were busy dealing with important work. I should be happy I have seats, I pay to be flown to my destination, everything else is not their problem.

Um, hello - isn't customer service part of their work?

The airline had totally created an unaccompanied minors situation, a safety risk, and to make matters worse, a possible flight delay when my five year old freaks out, becasue he is 10 rows behind me.

The flight crew sadly was of no help. They were more interested in up selling me on direct TV than helping us get reseated together where we belong.

I paid well over $400 for those tickets. I was not flying cheap. L dealt with it. She up sold the guy next me to the emergency exit row, explaining that he would get more leg room and she would get to sit with her mother and brother. She had bravely taken the other seat, but was very tearful about it.

I also happen to know - that becasue the flight crew was too busy and the gate agents were too busy, I could have created a situation where the flight was delayed leaving. I told the lead flight attendant about my issue, upon boarding. He told me he would send someone back to help us. Which never happened. Had L and I not dealt with the issue, I am not sure who would have and I will, in the interest of full disclosure, state, I authorized her to throw a fit to end all fits, if it came to that.

While I can totally see the advantage to the fee model, from the perspective of the balance sheet. It makes sense, on paper. The problem is for consumers, it makes the fee bearing items/services a premium item and then you actually have to deliver. I pay $50 for my checked bag, you damn well better have it waiting for me when I get to my destination. I pay for my seat assignment, you better have provisions in place to ensure I get exactly the seat I request. You charge me for carry on, you better be prepare to let me have my pick of the overhead bin.

The bottom line - airlines are not just providing carriage, the sooner they realize that, the more likely they are to find consumers willing to pay more per ticket.

Some customer service would go a long way here boys and girls. Airlines, your customer service attitude from CEO down to baggage handler sucks and no fee can fix that.

Do you really want that list of ten words to be what defines you? I surely wouldn't.

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