Fly With Us? US Air Grounds Itself With This Passenger

As many of you know, the airline industry is at a difficult cross roads:  vying for customers, increasing fuel costs, profitability eroding, some airlines even emerging from bankruptcy filings.  Seems like a time when focusing on the customer would be a top priority, no?  Well – not for every airline, apparently.  Perhaps US Airways needs to communicate that imperative more effectively to their front line staff.  Here’s what it was like trying to be a US Air customer last week.

The situation begins at Continental.  I had an initial flight with Continental, which was delayed, causing me to miss my connecting flight.  So, Continental re-booked me on Delta (they have an agreement with them) to get me out on their next flight.  I went to Delta to check in, who claimed not to have the reservation.  A set of flight vouchers and a copy of the reservation showing me booked on the flight didn’t seem to impress them.  They still said they didn’t have me in their system.  Go back to Continental, they told me.  But Delta did have my luggage – which was transferred to them by Continental.  I told Delta that, who still insisted they never had my reservations or bag.  I was exhausted after a long week, and frankly didn’t want to get caught in between airlines.  I needed to get a flight out. So I decided to see if I could get a flight at US Air. I had vouchers that would allow me to fly on any airline.

So off to the US Air ticket desk I went.  The US Air agent looked at my vouchers, said there was a flight, started to book me, and then informed me that I would have to get my bags back myself, and have them rechecked before being put on the plane.  One small problem:  I didn’t have my bags. They were already in the baggage loading area, having been checked at Continental, and then transferred to Delta.  And I was not quite sure where they were currently.

So I tried to explain the situation, and the US Air agent kept interrupting, his voice getting louder and louder. I was not successful in explaining – so I took a deep breath and said “We’re not communicating well here.  Can you let me explain the situation and the help I need?”

He interrupted me, stated that he was trying to help me, but that I was being rude.  Given his treatment of my request for help with locating my bags, I found that a bit ironic.  I tried to explain again that I didn’t have access to the bags and needed his help.  Could he call down to the baggage area (which I had no access to) and ask for my bags to be located? He kept telling me I had to get them myself. This wasn’t possible because they were in an area which is not open to passengers! He cut me off again, tossed my vouchers onto the counter and said:  “You know what? You’re not my customer.  Go back to Continental.”

Needless to say, I was pretty shocked by that – and asked him, “Is this how US Air treats someone who is trying to be a customer?”  He got very angry at this point – put his head down, raised his arm and waved me off.  “Go!  You’re not my customer. You’re Continental’s problem.”

So I asked to speak to a supervisor.  He told me that he was the supervisor.  I then asked for his name (his badge was turned so I couldn’t read it).  “I’m not going to give you my name.” he said.  So I asked to speak to someone above him, which of course, he refused.  I told him that I was shocked that I was trying to buy a ticket and ask for some assistance and that he had treated a potential customer that way.

His response was to snatch my vouchers from the counter, come from behind the counter and march away with them.  No explanation or word to me.  He just took them and left.  I followed him – and told him that I would be speaking with Customer Relations at US Air.  He looked back at me, and said, “I don’t give a damn who you talk to.”  And then he marched up to the Continental desk, which was empty, and he walked behind the desk and threw my tickets onto the counter.  The tickets slide across the counter and hit me.  Then he slammed the door and marched back to the US Air desk.

US Airways’ current tag line – displayed prominently on their website – is “Fly With Us.”  Apparently this ticket agent didn’t know that US Air actually WANTS more passengers.  If asking for some help, and wanting to be heard until you’ve finished a sentence is unacceptable – then how many of us will fly with someone else?  I know that this passenger now believes what the US Air ticket agent said is right – I am not their customer.  Not now. Not ever.

Oh – and I did make it home the next day with the assistance of an amazing, helpful and thoughtful ticket agent at Continental.  She tried to book me on the US Air flight – since it was the only and last flight out that night.  Unfortunately, my friend at US Air noticed the reservation, called her back and said, “We don’t want her.”  So he canceled the booking.  The last flight out – and he knew it.

My Continental agent felt really badly.  She even apologized for the behavior of the U.S. Air agent.  Apparently, my friend at US Air has a bit of a reputation at the Charleston Airport.  A ticket agent, a gate agent, AND a TSA supervisor there told me that he does this to people all the time.  Mary, the Continental agent, apologized for him – even though he was not with her company, and not her co-worker.  She still apologized that I had gone through something so awful in “her” airport.  Mary Platt, ticket agent with Continental, was fabulous. She booked me a hotel room without being asked, arranged for a shuttle to pick me up – and got me a tooth brush!  Oh yes, she went to find my luggage and confirmed that Delta was wrong.  They did have my bags – which flew off to my destination without me.  God, I love to travel!  I can say that in over 20 years of flying for business – I have never experienced the kind of customer “service” that US Air had to offer me.

So “Fly With You?”  Not a chance.  Continental got it right.  Empathize with the customer’s problem.  Anticipate the help they will need.  Do it without being asked.  Cover all the details.  Own the problem – even if you didn’t create it.  Make it all better!   And she did.  Thanks, Mary Platt.  The more you helped me, the worse Jeff, the U.S. Air ticket agent looked.  He obviously doesn’t know what a repeat customer looks like – and it’s clear that you do and you will!

— Lisa Dennis

One Comment

  1. Aaron
    Posted January 11, 2007 at 3:43 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Oh dear. I knew US Airways service was pretty bad, but that has got to be the most shocking story I have read about US Airways. I do agree that Continental Airlines agents are very friendly compared to most other domestic airlines.

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