I left Boston yesterday (Sunday) to make sure that I was in Kansas for a business meeting today at noon. That seemed like a pretty straightforward proposal, but it turned out to be impossible on American Airlines (AA). Despite going from Boston to Chicago without any problems, AA could not figure out how to get me to Kansas City (KC) today.
I’m writing this post from KC, early on Monday morning, thanks to Southwest Airlines — more on that later. But this experience reminded me of an earlier post I wrote called The Tale Of Two Airlines: Southwest And American.
AA’s ineptitude could fill up a sizable post, but here are some highlights:
- Chapter 1: The impossible standby
- I tried to get on an earlier flight to KC, but there was no agent at the gate 40 minutes before it was scheduled to leave.
- When an agent finally arrived, he refused to even talk to me. I finally got him to put me on the wait list, but he was very ornery and wouldn’t tell me how many passengers had checked in (so I could gauge my chances).
- No surprise, I didn’t get on the flight. Why does AA keep such a long standby list when they know that there are so few openings?
- At this point, I had to rush to my actual flight.
- Chapter 2: The mysterious wait
- The plane was at the gate and there were a bunch of AA employees at the desk — a good sign.
- I waited and waited, 5 minutes passed loading time, 10 minutes past loading time, 20 minutes passed loading time. The board still said that my 6:00 flight would leave on-time. No announcements.
- Finally, a little before the scheduled departure time, the agent made an announcement that there were some mechanical problems on the plane. Obviously they knew about it long before they told us.
- After about 90 minutes (and only one status update during that time), we were able to load the plane.
- Chapter 3: The hostage situation
- We pulled away from the gate and stopped before getting to the runway. There were no announcements, but we sat for about 30 minutes.
- Finally there was an announcement that we had mechanical problems and needed to go back to the gate.
- When we go to the gate, they told us that we would be able to leave.
- At the gate, they told us to sit back down because we could not leave.
- As the plane started to get warm and stuffy, the flight attendant could be heard pleading with the captain to let us out (our hostage negotiator).
- The negotiations went well, we were finally released.
- Chapter 4: The black hole
- We were not told anything about our luggage or next steps; and there were no agents at the gate to help with the situation.
- All of the passengers left the plane and stood around, we had no idea what was going on.
- No announcements or instructions. Just needless confusion and frustration.
- Finally, an hour later, there was an announcement that our flight had been cancelled. We were given a number of options for rebooking.
- Chapter 5: The useless 800 number
- Since there was already a long line at the desk, I chose the option of calling AA’s 800 number that the agent had announced.
- The first lady just hung up on me after telling me that there was nothing she could do.
- On my second call, I asked for the supervisor.
- She explained that she could only get me to Kansas City on Tuesday (I was going for a meeting on Monday).
- When I explained my situation, she just didn’t care. She said that there was nothing she could do.
- I asked about other airlines or other airports closer to Kansas and she told me there were no other options — all airlines were completely booked.
- So she booked me a flight back to Boston the next morning (gibing up on my meeting in Kansas). When I asked about upgrading me (I’m a Platinum customer), she asked if I wanted to pay for it or use my miles.
- That’s right, she wanted to charge me for a flight that I didn’t want to take in the first place.
- Chapter 6: Alas, Southwest Airlines
- Luckily, I had did not trust what I had heard.
- I checked on line and actually found a 6:00 AM flight on Monday to KC on Southwest Airlines. So I boooked it myself.
- That’s why I’m blogging from Kansas City, with plenty of time for my meeting.
- Chapter 7: AA’s one ray of hope
- Now that I had a Southwest flight to KC, I needed to reinstate my flights from KC to Boston.
- I walked up to a random gate and luckily found Shaista Shaikh at the desk.
- She went out of her way to rebook me on my flights home. She was very pleasant, and was the first AA employee that displayed any empathy for the frustrations of a weary traveler.
Here’s how I’d rate AA’s performance with my ”CARES” model for customer service:
- Communication: E (we were left in the dark for most of the time)
- Accountability: E (everyone except Shaikh was quick to say they couldn’t help)
- Responsiveness: E (there was nothing but waiting)
- Empathy: D (only Shaikh seemed to care)
- Solution: E (they couldn’t get me to KC)
The bottom line: While there are some things you can’t control (weather, mechanical troubles), you need to control how your firm CARES.