Friday, October 23, 2009

Airline Rant

I realize that I am particularly sensitive to quality customer service having owned a small mail-order company back in the zenith of high quality customer care when L.L. Bean set the standard for stellar service. This was just prior to the explosion of the Internet, web sites and online marketing, when you actually could get through to and speak with human beings who, if as a business owner you remotely cared about your business, were trained to be courteous and work by the axiom, “The customer is always right.”

Well clearly those days are long gone in many respects, and one of the first places to take the hit were airline companies. I lump these into a broad generalized group because my experience, barring a few exceptions, has been that airlines do nothing for the customer in need of care.
 (And please do not talk to me about vouchers and “free” meals or tickets as I have found these to be fraught with conditions and microscopic print that in many cases leave them unusable and unused.)

This was reinforced the other day when my daughter was shut-out at the Iberian Airline gate in Milan, Italy. Now one might think that the oft-heard tale of someone oversleeping and missing their flight had occurred as my daughter is a college student and not immune to oversleeping. However, this was not the case. She was on a shuttle bus from the train station, caught in traffic and arrived at the airport with limited time to get to the gate forty minutes in advance. She was flying a subsidiary of Iberia so was sent from the Iberia desk to a number of other counters at lengthy distances from each other before arriving at the correct one only to find out that by this time, although the plane was still there, she was not able to board (even though she had NO luggage) as it was less than forty minutes to take off.

Needless to say, my daughter burst in to tears. Well this did not soften any hearts and she spent the next three hours trying to find another flight. The customer service people at Iberia were less than satisfactory and I had one man be down right rude on the phone and said this wasn’t his fault, but my daughter’s… hmmmm….well at that point I took a deep breath, said goodbye and hung up. They wanted to sell me another ticket for over 600 euros (about $900 with today’s exchange rate) which I declined.

Finally a kind and efficient woman at the counter in Milan found my daughter a flight to Barcelona for 160 euros, a bargain by comparison. The flight ended up leaving almost 50 minutes LATE, and so she took a later-than-hoped for train from Barcelona finally arriving to me not at her original arrival time of 1:00 pm, but rather almost twelve hours later after midnight.

Now as if all of that weren’t excruciating enough, some one – who I would like to know – came up with the absurd airline rule that if for whatever reason, you do not use the first leg of your round trip ticket, you forfeit your return ticket.


Don’t tell me it is a 9-11 security measure. The ONLY things that rule thwarts are the travel plans (and pocket books) of honest people. If you don’t use the first part of your train ticket you can still get on the return train!

And why are these conventional airlines so struggling for money when they must be pocketing HUGE sums of money from unused tickets due to this ridiculous rule? There are thousands (possibly millions) of stories on the web about individual travelers who had to forfeit their return tickets. Why is this being allowed?

As travelers and consumers our hands are somewhat tied, but I propose some sort of media blast about this issue so that possibly this policy can be changed in this travel-filled world, where flexibility is a valuable commodity. Write about it on blogs, in comments on posts and in newspapers, -- share your stories of forfeited return tickets and voice your outrage. It is the only outlet for the customer since customer service has become a thing of the past.

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