Friday, February 10, 2006

Customer Service and Airlines

So here I was, reading "The Support Economy," by Shoshana Zuboff, waiting for my friend Hong to arrive at the airport.

So says Shoshana:
In order to divert the U.S. Congress from a debate over a passenger bill of rights, the airline industry executed the Airline Customer Service Commitment in June 1999. The plan detailed numerous customer service improvements to be undertaken immediately. Depsite the commitment, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) found that customer complaints more than doubled in 1999 over the prior year, and complaints for the first four months of 2000 were up by 74 percent over 1999. They also estimated that the airlines themselves received as many as 400 complaints for every one complaint received by the DOT.

I'm reading this, and Hong and his wife show up, on time, actually. We go downstairs to get their luggage and they get two of the three bags. Then the baggage carousel stops and a lady comes out and says "If you haven't received your bags yet, that means they aren't coming. You'll have to come with me to fill out a lost baggage slip." Okay, that's understandable. Bags get lost sometimes.

But then I notice that about 25 people follow the lady to the lost baggage counter. This was a small plane, so probably about 60 passengers. Almost HALF had lost baggage!! Including Hong and his wife.

Airlines have always had bad service, ever since I can remember. But this is over the top! Hong has had to fly several times in the past year, and he said it's always like this.

I realize that United (the airline in question), Delta, U.S. Airways, America West and Northwest are all either in bankruptcy, just emerged from bankruptcy, or just about to go bankrupt. But this kind of customer service is just going to push them further into financial turmoil.

Hong said he noticed that in Chicago, the baggage handlers all spoke some language other than English to each other, so it seems likely that they might have trouble distinguishing English letter symbols on the baggage tags that denote the airport destinations for the bags.

I haven't had to fly for business reasons (or personal reasons!) for many years now, so I had no idea how bad things had become. The terrorism label has proven to be a great thing to hide underneath when bad service happens for these airlines. Lost your bags? Oh, it must be the terrorism checks that delayed them. Surly flight attendants? Oh, they're just being careful in case there are terrorists.

If you want a bit of fun, check out this site It is a clearing house for customer complaints against United Airlines.

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