Since 11 September 2001, various travel industries have financially suffered. Although the fear of traveling as decreased, the difficulties involved have increased, especially for airlines. Difficulties with large crowds and closed in spaces prevents me from from bothering to overcome other potential anxieties, but I still have friends and families who travel.
On 11 October 2010, I made arrangements to pick up a friend flying to Ohio from Louisiana at the small Dayton airport. Nearly a straight shot West on 70, the drive from Columbus is a pleasant exchange for the hassles of the larger Columbus airport. With but a handful of airlines running through it, there is only one way to get into the gates and out of them.
As I waited for my Cajun friend to arrive, I stood at this portal to the inner airport patiently observing the travelers passing through security. The wall of glass gave me perfect vantage and the hour of patience allowed me to see many types of travelers.
Doing most of my traveling by automobile, I was unaware of some of the newer hassles of airline travel: Although I knew toiletries were scrutinized, I noticed most travelers carried them in small bottles tucked inside on large plastic bag that could be easily removed. I watched infant formulas tested with a strip insertion. The more experienced travelers appeared prepared for the removal of shoes by all fliers, even babes in arms.
After over an hour of strained patience, and noticing the baggage claim had changed flights, I went to the information desk to find out what to do about my missing Cajun. Apparently, everyone has a cell phone that works indiscriminately; the man at the information desk said he could page her, but I should call her on my cell phone, which does not work in that area. I was then told to ask the airline without even bothering to go ahead and page her.
Perhaps he was aware that paging someone in that small airport was of no use: if you didn’t see them come through the gate, they weren’t in the airport. Although she scheduled her flights through American Airlines, it was the American Eagle desk that I needed to visit.
I calmly explained that I was in a panic, and I needed help resolving the whereabouts of my friend. Apparently there are rules that prevent the airlines form giving anyone passenger information, however, the helpful clerk did “Suggest” that she was still at the location of her layover in Dallas. This being a significant problem, I needed to talk to someone in authority. She gave me a dot com.
That must have been when the wildness in my throat reached my eyes, because, in spite of the other clerk insisting the dot com was the only information they could give me, the first clerk wrote down the name and number of the manger for me. Although still disproportionately upset, I stepped outside with some relief that I would be able to speak to someone who could actually get me answers.
Then I actually spoke to him. Although this individual gave me the necessary answers to be able to connect with my Cajun in Ohio eventually, he again referred me to the dot com to express my concerns. If you cannot connect with your travelers by cell phone, make sure they do not fly. It is “against regulations” for them to give you any information, however, if they think there may be media stink, you can arrange a ht on someone apparently. Yes, the information given was necessary, but the inconsistency was scary.
Especially when I discovered, the reason my Cajun was delayed had less to do with the extremely late arrival of her plane from New Orleans to Dallas, and more to do with the second plane leaving 6 minutes early! It doesn’t sound like much until you factor in the extra gas to go between Dayton and Columbus again, the unexpected and ridiculously expensive airline meal in Dallas, and the inability to visit Grandma Vi because we spent the day waiting on planes instead.
What do you do when the airline has made a mistake that has cost you not only money, but precious time spent with family? Apparently, you go to their dot com. One irate conversation with the Manager of Dayton’s American Eagle branch got me the information necessary to be able to meet my Cajun, but several calm conversations and messages inquiring for a phone number to the legal department got me nothing except even more frustration.
No one wants to deal with irate customers, but who on Earth thinks giving someone angry a dot com will resolve anything? When you give an angry customer a dot com for further assistance, you are telling that person you do not care. Although I am certain the manager I was able to speak to was very much concerned about my unpleasant experience, he was apparently completely impotent to actually be of any further assistance. How does the airline expect him to be able to do his job thoroughly without the appropriate tools?
Here are a few suggestions that can make a significant difference in customer satisfaction:
Provide management with information! More often than not, just hearing a sympathetic voice from an individual who at least wants to help is enough to dissipate most aggravation. A complaint line, even if the person on the other end is only logging the complaints for the appropriate people to review later and then address in the regular attempts to change their procedures to cultivate more clientele, is enough. We just want to feel like we are being heard.
Make available contact information for your legal department! Obviously this isn’t something for just anyone to find, unless you have arranged for your legal department to be your complaint center, but if management is at least able to give an irate customer this kind of contact information, the customer not only believes that the manager genuinely cares about their complaint, they now feel empowered to do something about it. Most people won’t. Once the immediate problem has been address, they would rather enjoy their visit or take care of business, and the contact information for your legal department will be shuffled to the bottom of the “to do pile” until they forget why they needed it, or at the very least, it no longer seems as important.
Although adhering to one’s own schedule would be of singular advantage, however knowing unexpected events often impede expectations, provide information sharing between traveler and their pick-up. This can be done through a simple code word that allows the airline to know to whom they may give information on missed flights and expected arrivals. This not only protects the traveler’s privacy, but allows those waiting to receive information without requiring aggression.
No one should have to experience what we did. Although I hated flying long before 9/11 I have been trying to convince myself that I could manage traveling my plane if I needed to. I will never fly again because of my experience with American Eagle and I will not pick anyone up at an airport again, which means that my friends and family will not be as likely to fly either. Does this jeopardize the industry and therefore many jobs? Yes. So the challenge now is for the airlines to actually do something about it. I may be one person who cannot hurt a big company, but one person leads to many.
One person also had the ability to make this a glowing report on what an excellent experience I was in the midst of having when this incident occurred. Step up to the challenge. Airlines: create new jobs for increased customer satisfaction. Not everything goes right all the time, even when your individuals employees genuinely do their best and care for your clients. Individuals: understand that, whatever industry you work in or groups you take part in, you are a representative for all you present! If you don’t care about the company you work for, that will show to your customers. The bumper stickers on your car as you cut off another driver creates an opinion of that group.
Each of us can make a difference to someone else no matter how big or small our position. Do you assigned tasks well, and be genuinely caring of the other person when things go wrong. Not only will you represent your group well, but as an individual, you will leave behind a refection of the goodness you truly want to be inside.