How would you rate your airline? Right now mine is getting a big fat goose egg.
The call came about 8:30 at night. My mom, a stroke, hospitalized. Siblings out of pocket. We decided I’d fly up as soon as possible.
If you follow this blog, you know I’m a long-time premium frequent flier. But while AA was perfectly happy to take the revenue associated with the 50,074 miles I flew on them in 2007 and the 971,296 miles I’ve flown with them over my lifetime, they didn’t seem to have the same interest in me when my mother was striken.
The premium agent didn’t seem to care much; OK, maybe she’d had a thumper of a day herself. But her fares didn’t show much compassion, either. Since I didn’t know when I was returning, she checked one-way fares. To fly to Raleigh, N.C., the one-way fare would be $1,000-plus, and the first flight she could find would put me there 24 hours later….less efficient than what I was finding myself on American’s website.
“I’m having trouble remembering why I flew 50,000 miles on your airline last year,’’ I told her, thinking to myself “but I doubt I’ll have a lot of trouble figuring out whether to give the miles to your airline next year.’’
Compassion fares, you see, are all but a thing of the past on all airlines. American, I was told, limits the number of compassion fares per day -- the implication being that if you’re going to have a family emergency, you better schedule it wisely.
Alternatively, I was told I could use “anytime’’ miles to get a ticket -- a whomping 50,000 miles rather than the “regular’’ tariff of 25,000 miles. Like the compassion fares, the “regular’’ FF tickets were gone.
Before I go off on a rant about any number of things American could do to better serve their long-time loyal clients in such unhappy circumstance – and if you read far enough, you’re gonna get to that rant – let’s talk about other airlines.
NOT JUST AA
Yes, legacy carriers have faced a tough financial picture in recent years. But travel has rebounded like a roundball that’s been slammed by D-Wade. Yet most U.S. airlines still treat passengers like cattle rather than people paying hard-earned money for a service. Yes, a service. Airline seats are now a commodity, and so, apparently, are those of us who fill them.
Consider the report this week from Florida's Attorney General's office that said travel-related complaints rank No. 2 among Florida consumers, just behind the dreaded violators of the Do Not Call list, and just above communication providers (that's the cable guy and the phone companies.) Granted, many of those travel complaints relate to billing and scams, but some have to do with ... you got it ... service.
Case in point: Former Miamian Karyn Herterich called the other day with a sadly familiar tale about her son, a Delta flight to Miami to catch a cruise, lost luggage. Her complaint was less about the lost luggage than poor service by the Delta representatives handling the matter. A dozen calls to Delta's offshore call center left her furious. You know the drill; someone who speaks English by language but whose cultural orientation leaves him/her completely unprepared to deal with American expectations, habits, idioms, even geography. (One agent even suggested they’d send the luggage to her son’s next shore call at a port in S.C., not geographically adept enough to understand that his next call was at a town by that same name – in the Caribbean.)
Herterich has an advantage: she serves on a national board with a top Delta executive and has shared the details with his executive assistant. “But what about normal people?’’ she says.
Good question. “Normal’’ people are likely in a rough ride. And apparently, being a platinum flier doesn’t mean a darn thing, either.
So let’s get to the part where we talk about the common-sense steps airlines could implement that would make them seem like they care about something besides $$ (like, say, brand loyalty).
A few ideas:
- In emergency cases, airlines could put supervisors on the phone, who could check the long-time loyal flier’s record and find out if they’re a habitual “dog-ate-my-homework, my 25th-grandfather-died’’ abuser, or if they’re really what they claim to be: a flier with a lifetime mileage total of 971,000 miles whose family has suffered a crisis.
- They could authorize supervisors to waive the “anytime’’ double mileage requirement in favor of the regular requirement but require some sort of verification letter from a doctor or hospital.
- At the very least, they could train their personnel to act like they’ve got hearts, even if they can’t do a lot to help soften the pain of a stupidly costly airline ticket.
Or they could actually have reasonable fares.
As for Herterich's off-shore call problem, let's just say that I vote with my feet. If I can't get reasonable service most of the time for ANY reason -- from my airline, bank, drugstore, mechanic -- I vote with my feet. And I do what Herterich is doing: I let them know why I'm voting with my feet. Enough people do that, and whatever ridiculous practice of the moment sometimes gets changed. (Yup, I'm Pollyanna.)
NOT ALL OINKERS
Before I tell you how this story ended, I want to take a moment for fairness.
Like any big company, American does have some wonderful employees. Like Keith, the purser on my New Year’s Eve flight from Boston to Miami. We were delayed by mechanical failure; Keith was cheery, helpful – even let me use his cell phone to call reservations. And he had a sense of humor.
And Bill, the purser who works First Class on the Miami-Dallas run. Sure, it’s First Class (I snag the occasional FF upgrade) but he’s still nicer, more attentive, than any other First Class server I’ve seen on any AA flight.
The problem is that for every noticeably positive experience I’ve had on AA, I’ve had a noticeably unpleasant one. Let’s call that a 50 percent average. That’s isn’t so bad in baseball, but on a math test, it would earn you an F.
Yes, I did get to Raleigh.
Southwest, the airline of humor and reason, had several flights available at acceptable pricing. I snagged one for early the next morning. Yes, I had to drive to Lauderdale when I live 15 minutes from MIA, but it was worth it.
When I got here, I explained to the agent, Karen, at Alamo that I wasn’t sure how long I’d need the car. “If you need to stay longer, just call us. There’s a $10 fee for extending the rental, but I’ll make a note, and we’ll waive it.’’
Now that’s compassion.
How’s your airline? Share your stories, good and bad; just CLICK TO COMMENT below.