But you probably already knew that… Anyway…
Since I’m planning a trip to Australia next year, I’ve been buried in the language of the airlines. I’m getting pretty comfortable with the airport codes between BDL and CNS, flying through some combination of PHL, LAX, SFO, YVR, AUK and SYD. I’ve got all the bases covered since I’m trying to book two first class award seats using Star Alliance – aka *A (get it?) – partners.
My choices seem to be some combination of US Airways, United, Air New Zealand and/or Air Canada. You would think that since you can book *A award seats about 330 days in advance, I’d be in good shape to get a couple of seats since we’re not traveling for, oh gee; another 330 days.
That assumption, does not seem to be the case. You see, these airline frequent flyer programs suck you in over time, with the promise of free seats to wonderful destinations. The problem is, they are under no obligation to make seats – especially premium seats – available to customers wanting to cash in their miles.
I’ve gone as far as purchasing a shareware application called KVS Availability Tool, which after a few minutes can provide you with seat availability and pricing for just about every airline and every destination. KVS ties directly into the partner programs like *A and OneWorld to provide award seat availability for people like me looking for premium award seats.
It’s funny that I needed to spend $30 for a six month membership to use the advanced features of the KVS tool. I’m not complaining at all since now I don’t have to call US Airways every morning and wait on hold to get the same answer, “there no business class or first class seats available sir, but I’d suggest calling back tomorrow”.
This brings me to my story about airline customer service and my recent trip to Florida. This won’t be a long story, but here’s my observation as to how US Airways completely missed the opportunity to provide even a sub-standard level of service. I’d forward these notes directly to the folks at Sky Harbor in Phoenix – the home of US Airways – but I know it won’t do much good.
Missed Service Opportunity One: Arrive at 9 a.m. for a 10:20 a.m. flight to Charlotte. No line! With eight employees behind the counter, nobody steps forward to help us with the kiosk even as we are having issues with the machine. Hint to managers, when the line is gone and customer representatives are standing around, have them step up and help even when no help is required. First impressions ya know?
Missed Service Opportunity Two: With a layover in Charlotte we planned to use my complimentary pass to access the US Airways Club during the four hour stay. I get one pass with my Signature Dividend Miles Visa per year and I’ve never had the opportunity to use them. Although I had two passes with me, I forgot the 2008 pass at home! “Sorry sir, both have expired”, she says, as they get tossed in the can.
She knew I had two passes and could have let us in, but offered access to the comfy seats for $80. No thanks. What she should have offered was the same $80 deal, with the promise to credit the charge to my card once I sent in the “official” pass. I should have asked her myself, but I figured a seasoned customer service representative for a major US airline might have seen this situation before and could offer a solution on their own.
Turns out, some USAirways Clubs don’t even offer free wireless Internet. Why bother?
Missed Service Opportunity Three: Still in Charlotte, and mad at myself for forgetting the pass that I’ll probably never get the opportunity to use, I looked at the board. Maybe an earlier flight to Fort Myers? YES! One was leaving in 30 minutes. Space available? YES. Do we have time? YES!
“Sir, do you have checked bags?”
“Why yes, we do.”
“Sorry, we can not put you on the flight since your bags will not be traveling with you.” Isn’t that a hoot! I can’t choose to have my bags show up late but they are free to be the worst airline for luggage handling. Don’t give me any excuses blaming the TSA, I can not find any rule that states that a passenger must be on the same flight as the bag. Maybe I’m wrong, but bags are always diverted off flights, especially smaller aircraft for weight and balance purposes.
Even air cargo is currently not scanned by anyone. Just last year, President Bush signed a law that required 100 percent of air cargo to be scanned within three years. Note: our bags were scanned at Bradley.
Missed Service Opportunity Four: As I waited in line to board after our four hour layover, I noticed about six passengers waiting to the side. They were standby passengers; the flight was overbooked. Not only did they miss an opportunity to get us on an earlier flight, that decision caused two other passengers to get bumped from the last flight of the day to Fort Myers.
The “critical success factor” lesson for every business – service, quality and cost – has been total missed by the U.S. domestic airline business. Congratulations, you have a lower approval rating than congress.