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March 19, 2013

Buyer Beware! Airlines might be the devil

by angadw
Ya blew it!

Ya blew it!

And no matter how many sweet old ladies they put at the check in counter, it cannot by any means come close to countering their terrible customer experience.

Allow me to spin a quick yarn of one of my recent flight experiences. Being originally from the west coast, I make quite a few flights back and forth across the country. And most of the time, I tend to fly a particular airline because of the lower fares and availability of flights directly in to Cha0rlottesville. Since I respect anonymity we’ll hid the brand’s identity. Let’s call them United Airplane Flying Company (United for short).

Well, the last time I flew United from California to Virginia, I had a stop over in DC, normal for cross country flights. Unfortunately there was a mechanical error in my plane, so United was kind enough to put me in to a cab to Charlottesville. Time passes and my opinion of United had increased to slightly bearable, all else (five or six delayed flights in the past few months) aside.

So when I planned to return to California for this Spring Break, ever as ever to see the sunshine, I strode in to CHO airport with bags packed expecting like any normal person to get on my flight home. But see, that’s where I went wrong. I expected United was aware enough about what they were doing that they would still have a ticket with my name on it.

What reality told me at 4:30am that day was that I did indeed purchase a return flight to San Diego. However, since I did not board the flight out of Washington-Dulles to Charlottesville back in January, I was considered a no show, and the rest of my trip had been cancelled.

Take a moment to comprehend that. I was booted off of a flight because I was a no show on a flight that didn’t exist. Even with years of background in philosophy and logical modelling, I honestly still cannot wrap my head around this.

So I booked another flight on the spot in order to get back home before next Wednesday. This of course necessitated I (1) rent a car, and then (2) drive up to Reagan International in DC. And once I arrived in DC expecting a direct flight, the selfish five year-olds that run the airline tapped me on the shoulder. Not only did I have a layover (which under normal circumstances are definitely bearable), but I had (3) two layovers. One in Philadelphia and one in Phoenix. That’s three strikes United. Now I may not be getting my M.S. in Geography, but Philadelphia does seem to be a little bit in… how do we say it… the opposite direction of my destination?

And so ended my horror story once I showed up in San Diego, a full twelve hours after I was slated to arrive. And I still haven’t gotten the money back for the flight I purchased on the spot.

The one bright spot in this entire situation was that all of the staff I interacted with were very compassionate and empathetic, and tried their very very best to get me where I needed to go. I mentioned earlier my flight from DC to CHO was cancelled for mechanical errors. Well another UVA student had her flight cancelled for weather conditions, which, for some reason, does not get you a taxi ride to your final destination (maybe the bad weather was her fault?). The woman at the customer service desk very sympathetically turned a blind eye to me offering the other stranded student a ride down to Charlottesville, even though it was very strictly against company policy.

But even the best employees in the world can only do so much for your company if the processes that it is comprised of are absolute garbage. A company is a network, and like all chains and connections, they’re only as strong as their weakest link.

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