Tuesday, June 3, 2008

AA and Customer Service: An Oxymoron

I recently flew to Atlanta on everyone’s favorite airline, American, and the experience was not to be missed. First, AA cancelled the flight immediately before mine. The gate agent announced that my flight was already oversold, and that everyone from the cancelled flight was automatically on the standby list, so no passengers should need to speak with her. Apparently, some concerned customers actually did feel the need to confirm what was going to happen with their travel plans, and others wanted to check on their seat assignments. After about 10 minutes of a steady, but by no means overwhelming line, the gate agent made a new announcement. This time, in no uncertain terms, she decreed that no passengers were to ask her if they were standby or for a seat change. “If we don’t have time to ‘work the flight’ because you keep asking for assistance, the plane may go out with empty seats, and that will be your problem.” Being confirmed on the flight, I was not terribly concerned with this new directive, but isn’t dealing with customers’ questions the gate agent’s job?

Once we got past the gate agent, the flight attendants were even more prickly. As always, they announced that there was limited carry-on space, so to utilize the seat in front, etc. . . But then they went a step farther—we were instructed that if we got on the plane with a carry-on bag that would not fit in the overhead bin or under the seat, then it would be checked not on our flight, but on the next flight out! Since when has that been the policy?! And the carry-on situation is only going to get worse, with the new baggage charges.

Seems to me that the customer service agents employed by AA are becoming even less worried about the customers and service than ever before. They have always been less than helpful, but never simply declared that they were not going to help at all, so don’t even ask. And what else do they have to do during the boarding process besides deal with carry-on baggage?

The final straw was the pilot’s unnecessary announcement that we were going to arrive in Atlanta 10 minutes early, which we certainly did. But only so that we could sit on the tarmac and wait for a gate. Early arrivals are the greatest lie in the aviation industry today. . .

While en route, though, I sat next to a recent graduate of Texas A&M who wanted to talk. I indulged her for a few minutes, during which I learned that she was working at her first job out of college and she really, really liked it because the people were all really, really nice to her and the window of the office faced downtown and the refrigerator was stocked with cokes. Oh, to be young and Gen Y. . . On the way back from Atlanta, I sat next to a guy who announced to me that he’d had to pee since Alabama, but that’s a story for another time. . .

-- The Commish

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