Sunday, January 11, 2009

Customer Service Gone Awry

Have you ever had one of those days where you start to wonder if you should just go home and go back to bed?

It especially sucks when you try to be in a good mood but someone else that you depend on, someone who is providing you a service, continually makes it more difficult for you to get on the right track.

That happened to me today which is why I’m telling you about it. Let’s start at the beginning…

I fly American Airlines. A lot. In 2008, I had about 150,000 miles towards my elite status. Executive Platinum again for 2009 and a free Admiral’s club pass. Overall, I’ve been a pretty happy client. I get fairly regular upgrades to business, even on my international trips. And late last year, American announced PriorityAAccess to permit clients like me to check-in faster, get through security faster and bypass general boarding. It all sounded great.

Obviously, it was too good to be true.

Only a few months after announcing this “better” service for those that spend so much time – and money – traveling with them, I was shocked back into reality that marketing or advertising customer service is not the same as receiving it.

Fast forward to day, January 11, 2009. I’m running a bit later than normal, but get to the terminal 45 minutes before my flight departs. As I walk into the terminal, I see that there is nobody in the PriorityAAccess line. “Score,” I’m thinking. The lady at the counter is helping a family that is obviously having some issues with their travel plans. I have no idea what it is – maybe that new “pay for baggage” policy. The ladies at the other counters – one tagging bags and the other handling booking – ignore the PriorityAAccess line so I stand and wait.

Ten minutes later, the PriorityAAccess lady is still working with the family. I step up to ask how far in advance of the flight do I need to check my bag. I’m told 30 minutes. The father of the family apologizes telling me that they don’t know why they were flagged over from the general boarding line. I reply that they will often do that when there is no one in the PriorityAAccess line. “Too bad they don’t reciprocate when there is someone in that line,” I ponder.

Finally, the lady handling booking is open. I decide to dash down to her to see if I can get my bag checked. Nope. Too late. By her watch, I missed it by a minute or two. Does she care? Nope. Her suggestion is for me to check the bag for arrival in New Orleans about 6:30pm or to do carry-on. I’m thinking, “Why? I was here in time in the priority line.” Now the flight is boarding, so I have no choice, I need to do carry-on. Crap!

Thankfully, being a guy, I don’t have a lot of liquids. I don’t like carry-on, but obviously I have no choice unless I want to wait another three hours at my destination for my bag to arrive. I get through security, which was thankfully very light, and head to my gate.

Imagine my surprise to arrive at the gate, Gate 14, to discover that general boarding is not being done via the general boarding line, but instead through the PriorityAAccess line. Great! Can we call this adding insult to injury. Not wanting to be a jerk, I queue up to board. Of course, now I’m thinking, “I flew so much with these guys last year to earn their elite status and they said I’d get priority service, but this is strike two… or is it three?”

Finally, I’m on the plane and seated in first class on the MD-80 for the short hop to DFW. Alas, all the overhead bins in first are full. My bag, the one that I wanted to check-in, is now resting in economy. For anyone that has flown, you know that if your bag is behind where you’re sitting, you’re going to have to wait for people to clear out before you can get it. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised. I knew when I stepped on the plane that it was one of those days I needed to go home and back to bed. I knew before I even turned the corner by the galley that my bag and I would be separated. It was fate and there was nothing I could do about it.

Well, nothing except to write a blog entry and hope that others have better luck. The next time you get in a priority line, just remember that you’re only as special as the customer service representative permits you to be. That bag of honor you worked and paid for is worth about as much as the plastic it’s printed on.

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