Dear United: What gives? (Part 2)

Editor’s Note:  This is a follow-up letter to this post dated August 27, 2012.  The United customer still has not received a response, so he has escalated his complaint.

September 27, 2012

I wonder what I need to do to get United Airlines to reply on this issue. I had even copied the President of your company and I’ve not even been given the courtesy of a reply. It’s been more than two months since you unilaterally changed the terms of my ticket purchase, a violation of DOT regulations that I referenced in my reply to your message from a month ago. A reply which you have not acknowledged or responded to.

I am extremely disappointed in United Airlines. Here we are, MONTHS after your famously bunged technology merger with the acquired Continental Airlines, and it feels like Customer Care is similarly lost like many people’s baggage. It’s been three YEARS since the famous United Breaks Guitars, after which I heard that United was changing its customer service policy. Well, it seems like nothing has changed. You are ignoring me, like you seem to ignore so many other customers.

It is very, very sad to see the result of what was once two great airlines turn into this. Where do we go from here?

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Dear United: What gives?

Below is feedback sent to United a little over two weeks ago about a trip that took place on August 10, 2012.  The customer has not yet received a response, so he gave me permission to share his issues via my blog and social media.

In 300 segments of travel in the last couple of years, I have never seen a worse performance by an airline as I did last night, starting with the operations team that decided to board Charlotte NC (CLT) and Charlottesville VA (CHO) at the same gate – A1E and A1F.

But perhaps that would have been acceptable if the gate agents had a clue what they were doing. Starting by calling the boarding for Charlottesville, they had scanned the boarding passes for four or five passengers before they realized that they were BOARDING THE WRONG FLIGHT! They had to send someone down the hallway to bring these passengers back. And then they started calling Charlotte.

While I don’t want to add a racial component here, the fact that neither of these two GAs were primary English speakers certainly didn’t help.

All of this on top of several other late flights being screamed and shouted at the same podium and the one next to it.

What the h*** is going on at United Airlines these days?

Below is a list of issues the customer encountered:

– Cancelled flights (they cancelled two of the afternoon’s three ATL-ORD due to weather)
– Unhappy passengers (the one flight that did go still left 20+ standbys behind)
– An “almost-a-mechanical” on the runway. Quote: “We’re being rerouted and need to update the computer, but it shouldn’t be more than a few minutes,” then the cockpit didn’t give us any further info for 25 minutes. By that point, I had signalled the FA to call and ask what’s up. The Captain said that they had a mechanical issue that took them a little while to resolve but “it’s all good now and we’ll be on our way in a few minutes.”
– And I-don’t-know-what was going on with the baggage carousel at Charlotte. They couldn’t open the door to the belt or something and so it took a half hour for me to get my bag, which was thankfully the first one on the belt.
– There were eight passengers from an earlier flight that didn’t get their bags. This was at 12:15 AM while I was watching them fiddle with the carousel.

So United, what is going on?  And why has this customer waited 17 days and counting for a response?

Another great Delta experience

When I read all of the horror stories online about Delta Air Lines, I don’t get it. I fly at least four flights per month and I rarely have issues. When I do, they are resolved in the best way possible. If I feel like I have been treated wrongly, I contact customer service. Most airline delays, cancellations, and misconnections stem from issues beyond the airline’s control, primarily weather and air traffic control. If the issue is mechanical or related to crew scheduling, then the airline should re-accommodate you on the next available flight to your destination. That’s the reality whether we like it or not. I have learned to expect the worst and go with the flow, as long as what happens is according to airline and/or federal policy. The key is good customer service, even in a time of adversity, and I think Delta has made great improvements.

At any rate, I had another good experience on Delta this weekend. All four of my flights were on time or early, thanks to splendid East Coast weather this weekend. I was particularly pleased with the first class service from Atlanta to New York, as there were a few differences from four weeks ago. Delta has upgraded their tablecloths and napkins to cream-colored linen. They have upgraded their glassware as well. All of the new amenities can be viewed at this link. I love the new glassware, which is perfect for cocktails, beer, and wine, and much easier to hold than a standard highball-type glass.

The other three flights were consistently good and I received the service that I have come to expect from Delta.

TRI-CLT-SFO roundtrip on US Airways 11-14 July 2011

This was a 50,000-mile first class award ticket redemption booked on continental.com. It was very easy to research and book and I was able to find the US Airways record locator by entering my flight number and passenger name at usairways.com. I was automatically assigned seats according to my preference (aisle).

The day I was scheduled to depart, I went to check in for my TRI-CLT flight and usairways.com wouldn’t let me. Then I checked my BlackBerry and my first flight had been canceled, according to the Tripit Pro alert I received. Since I am affiliated with a travel agency, I called the US Airways travel agent center to be rebooked. Luckily there was another flight option I could take so that I could make my original connection to SFO. However, I was never notified directly by US Airways that my flight was canceled.

The rebooked first flight was rather uneventful, except that it was blazing hot on the Dash 8-100 prop plane. The flight attendant said that US Airways almost canceled that flight due to the heat. It was in the 90s on the East Coast and she indicated that maintenance would be waiting on the plane upon its arrival in CLT. To help compensate for the heat, she offered us an unscheduled beverage service.

Upon arriving in CLT, I spent my time waiting in the club until I received a Tripit Pro alert, not a US Airways alert, that my flight was delayed until 6:40 pm. Around 6:10 pm, I headed to the gate and when I arrived, the gate agent announced that there was a weather/ATC delay into SFO and that he had not received any updates from operations except that the flight’s wheels-up time was estimated to be 8:45 pm. However, he advised customers to stay in the gate area. 6:40 pm came and went with no further updates, so I returned to the club and hoped that I could rely on my Tripit Pro alerts to keep me informed. When I reached the club, I overheard another passenger on my flight asking the club agent the CLT-SFO flight status and the club agent promised to contact the gate and monitor the flight. After that, there was no further information about the flight provided. The flight even dropped off the departure board, as operations neglected to keep the ETD current.  Finally at 7:45 pm, the club agent announced that customers should go to the gate for an 8:00 pm boarding time. The flight did board around that time and we pushed back and headed toward the runway. However, just short of the runway, the pilot announced that the plane was overheating and we had to return to the gate. We spent another hour at the gate while the plane was repaired and finally took off around 9:40 pm, three and a half hours late. In-flight service in first class consisted of two dinner choices and beverage service. There was no pre-departure beverage, no hot towel service, no snack basket, no in-flight entertainment, and the Gogo Inflight Internet was inoperable. It was a long five hours to SFO. We arrived three hours late. My bags arrived after about a 45-minute wait.

My return was scheduled for 7:25 am July 14. This was the one, near perfect flight of the trip. I was able to check in quickly and pass through the security checkpoint by way of a first class/elite line. I was not chosen for the full body scanner, but instead the metal detector, because apparently there was a problem with the scanner and the agent called for someone to “recalibrate it.” We boarded on time: specials, first class, then by zone. There was no pre-departure beverage service or snack basket service, as catering did not provide snacks. However, the Gogo Inflight Internet worked, the in-flight beverage service was plentiful, there was hot towel service prior to the meal, and there was a choice of two breakfast entrées. We arrived early, but were given an arrival gate change at the last minute, so we arrived at the new gate a few minutes late.

I hurried from gate B13 to E29 for my connection.  Around our scheduled departure time, 4:12 pm, the gate agent announced a delay until 4:40 pm due to a late-arriving crew. Finally the crew arrived, we boarded, and we took off close to our delayed departure time.  There was no in-flight service, but the flight attendant did have time to sit and chat with one of the passengers.

Upon arrival in TRI, my two bags, tagged Star Alliance Priority, arrived as scheduled.

Grade = C-

*Only one of four flights was not canceled or delayed; customer service and communication regarding the canceled and delayed flights were poor; there was simply nothing to do on the CLT-SFO flight with no in-flight entertainment and inoperable Gogo Inflight Internet. The saving grace was the one on-time flight.

There’s something in the water at Delta, and I like it!

There’s something in the water at Delta and I like it.

I flew four segments this weekend on Delta and Delta Connection and not only were the flights early, but the customer service was impressive.  And by service, I just don’t mean what the employees did, but how they did it and what they said. Every employee I encountered was genuinely friendly and customer-centered.  I was addressed by name on board and in the Delta Sky Clubs.  In fact, on my last flight, the flight attendant came to my seat, asked me if I was Ms. Smith, and personally thanked me for being Delta Gold Medallion.

On my flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta, the lead flight attendant was dressed in the pink uniform, to honor mothers on Mother’s Day.  She received applause from the passengers, and she continued to tell us that she had four grown children and had opted to work so that mothers with young children could enjoy the holiday.  Then she proceeded to tell us that if we had ever mentored a child, then we, too, were like mothers.  Wow.

At the end of the flight, she, too, thanked all Delta Medallion passengers for their loyalty.

On both flights today, the flight attendant introduced the crew by first and last name, and told us where they were based.

On Friday’s flight from Atlanta, the flight attendant recognized the military passengers and thanked them for their service.

On all flights, the pilots and flight attendants thanked passengers one by one for flying Delta as they were deplaning.

I am not sure if it’s the bottled Dasani or what, but I am loving the kindness that Delta employees are offering to passengers.  Kindness and respect are infectious, so I hope it continues.

Follow up to Dear Delta Customer Care

Dear Dr. Smith,

RE: Case Number xxxxxxx

Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding the service provided while
traveling with us.  On behalf of everyone at Delta Air Lines, I
sincerely apologize for our flight disruption and the unsatisfactory
customer service you encountered.

I understand the frustration you experienced when your plans were
disrupted due to the delay of our flight for mechanical reasons.  I was
especially dismayed to learn that this delay caused you to miss your
connecting flight and arrive three hours later in Daytona than
originally scheduled.  In addition, I am truly sorry for the
inconvenience you were caused when our staffing was inadequate.  Our
goal is to assist passengers in the timeliest manner possible.  During
such circumstances, we expect to provide timely information to our
passengers as they are traveling.  With that said, our team is required
to make announcements at 15 minute-intervals on the status of any flight
irregularity.  Feedback like yours will help us to improve our airport
process and overall customer experience.  Be assured I will be sharing
your comments with our Airport Customer Service leadership team for
internal follow up.

Furthermore, as our Gold Medallion, you are in the best position to
point out areas that need attention.  I apologize for the disappointment
caused when our gate agent refused to print a boarding pass for your new
connecting flight.  Your comments serve as an excellent reminder that
the actions of employees can make a significant difference in passenger
preference.  I recognize your dissatisfaction with the way this
situation was handled, as I understand it is our handling that makes the
greatest and most lasting impression.

Lastly, as a gesture of goodwill for our flight delay and the lack of
customer service, I have added 11,500 bonus miles to your SkyMiles
account.  Please allow three business days for the miles to appear.

Dr. Smith, I thank you for taking the time to write about your recent
flight experience and the service you received.  As a loyal Gold
Medallion member, your business is important to us and given the
opportunity of serving you in the future, I am confident Delta will not
only meet but exceed your expectations.

Sincerely,

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Coordinator, Customer Care
Delta Air Lines/KLM Royal Dutch Airlines