Some airlines need a lesson in Common Sense 101

August 20, 2013 — By Justin Peeper

I came across an article a few weeks ago about the airline industry and how satisfied passengers are with the customer service they receive when traveling.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that most U.S. passengers are not too fond of domestic airline carriers.
The U.S. airline industry earned a score of 69 on a 100-point scale following a survey of 70,000 Americans. Such a score would convert to somewhere in the D range at most schools — unless, of course, someone in a position of authority decided to alter that grade, but I digress.
The article also pointed out that the airline industry scored lower than hospitals, banks, the soft drink industry and the U.S. Postal Service. You’ll be glad to know,  however, that the airline industry does rank higher than cable television companies and Internet providers, but just barely, according to an article published in the Los Angeles Times.
My overall experience with the airlines has been satisfactory, but I have become more dissatisfied the last few years. From less leg room to extra fees for almost everything, air travel has become more like herding cattle.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not too fond of being treated like a bovine.
Like most passengers, however, I keep my mouth shut and try to make the best of what sometimes is an unpleasant experience.
A few weeks ago, however, I found myself scratching my head at an airline gate in Michigan because I could not believe what the agent was telling me.
It defied all common sense and helped me understand why so many Americans hate the airline industry more than ever before.
A friend and I were returning to the United States following a monthlong backpacking trip in Europe. We flew from Portugal to the Netherlands and from there to Michigan. Our final destination was Fort Wayne, and we made it through customs much faster than we had thought.
Our flight was supposed to leave for Fort Wayne around 8:30 p.m., but we discovered there was a flight on the same airline leaving at 4:40 p.m.
It was a little after 4 p.m. when we arrived at the gate, where we learned the 4:40 p.m. flight had been delayed about 30 minutes. When the agent arrived and had settled in, we approached to inquire about changing our flight.
She told us there were open seats on the flight that was leaving in about 30 minutes, and we were excited to get home about four hours earlier since we had been traveling for the past 20 hours.
Then she dropped the bombshell.
“It will be $50 a person to catch this flight,” she told us.
“I’m sorry?” I said as I looked at her like she was speaking a foreign language.
“It will be $50 per person to take the earlier flight,” she said again.
“But there are several empty seats on this flight, right? Can’t we just take two of the empty seats since no one else is going to use them and since no one is on standby?”
I don’t recall exactly what she said next, but the answer was no.
“So let me see if I understand. This airline would send a plane to Fort Wayne with empty seats even though there are passengers at the gate now who could get home four hours earlier?”
The agent, who clearly sympathized with us, admitted that the policy made no sense but that she would have to charge us $50 each if we wanted to fly home now even though those seats would remain empty if we didn’t buy them.
By this point, I was frustrated — not with the agent but with an airline policy that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Airlines can at will change a passenger’s schedule yet a customer on this particular airline must pay to buy what would be an empty seat so that he can get home four hours earlier than expected.
Such a policy defies common sense and customer service. We decided to spend the extra money to get home since it had been such a long day, but I was disappointed in this airline’s customer service since most businesses strive to put the client first.
My dad is a barber, and if one of his clients arrives early and he is not with another customer, he gets that client in the barber chair right away. He doesn’t make his customer sit and wait until the scheduled time, and he doesn’t charge the client even a cent more.
That’s customer service, and the airlines could learn a lot from how most businesses treat their clients — like people, not cattle.
Drivers often feel a sense of loyalty to one car company when they make their purchases. It seems many passengers used to feel the same about airlines. If airline executives ever want passengers to feel the same way again, it seems many should reconsider some of their policies and actually put the customer back at the center.
Seems like a commonsense approach to me.
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