How an Airline Customer Relations Rep Really Wants to Respond to Your Complaint (Guest Post)

I don’t often do guest posts here, but this one was just way too much fun to ignore. This comes from a customer relations agent at a big airline who just needs to vent a little bit. If you had a job like that, you might need a release too. The good news is that this is educational venting. Read and learn.

My flight was cancelled because of light loads.

No it wasn’t. Not only did we need the aircraft and crew to be where we needed them by operating the flight, the DOT has recently begun tracking flights that are frequently late or cancelled out of concerns that consistent failure to adhere to an advertised schedule constitutes deceptive advertising. We don’t even have a cancellation code for light loads. We also have cargo and mail that we need to move, so a flight can be profitable even if it’s lightly booked.

Airline Customer Service

You lied about the reason for the delay/cancellation and called it weather so you wouldn’t have to compensate us.

Actually, short of refunding a ticket if we cancel, we’re not obligated to compensate anybody for failure to operate on schedule. Airlines never have been, but we do it because it’s good business. Also, it’s not “compensation” because we haven’t failed to do anything we promised to do (the Contract of Carriage warns passengers that schedules are not guaranteed).

I couldn’t board my connecting flight because your delay on the inbound prevented me. That’s denied boarding and you owe me compensation.

Nope, wrong again. You were unable to board because you were inbound on another one of our flights, not because we overbooked and you met our check-in rules and there wasn’t space for you on the aircraft. What constitutes an oversale is extremely specific, and the DOT monitors for compliance. We wouldn’t risk doing it wrong.

The flight attendant had to ask me to stow my bag/turn off my electronic device/put my tray table up during departure prep, and skipped me during beverage service as punishment.

That’s not entirely impossible, but it’s unlikely. Flight Attendants want passengers to be happy, because when they’re happy, they’re quiet. They also interact with thousands of people daily, and aren’t very good with faces. It’s unlikely you’re the first person they told to buckle their seatbelt/sit down/push their bag underneath the seat that day, and they usually forget your face as soon as they turn around (unless you’re really cute or unbearably rude).

The rep at the gate said the flight was canceled due to weather, but then the pilots told me it was canceled because of ATC? Somebody lied to me.

Weather and ATC, the proverbial chicken and the egg. One usually begets the other. The pilot and the rep are probably both right. Also, claiming somebody is lying requires that you knew they had the correct information and withheld it from you. Good luck proving that.

Refund my overweight baggage fee. My bags weighed exactly the same on my outbound flight and I didn’t buy anything. The scales were wrong.

Absolutely not. There’s absolutely no way to verify that after the fact. If you think the scales are wrong, you need to dispute that before you hand over payment. The act of paying an overweight baggage fee is acceptance that’s it’s being correctly applied.

You waived this/did this differently/didn’t apply this rule last time/in another city.

That was then; this is now. We’re not obligated to waive fees or policies on a regular basis. If we do you a favor, it’s still superseded by the Contract of Carriage, which we have every right to enforce rigidly. In fact, this kind of argument makes us less willing to be flexible.

I’m never flying this airline again.

The hospitality side of our business says, “That’s truly unfortunate, and we hope you reconsider.” The pragmatist says “There are people saying this to our competitors, too. Wave at them in passing.”

Your fares are too high.

I think what you mean is “There’s too much demand for your capacity.” Airline seats are worth exactly what you pay for them, because the very act of purchasing them means they have value at the price for which they’re being offered. Our fares are only too high when we can’t sell seats – that’s when we have to lower fares to sell them.

This experience was horrific.

Unless you’re talking about an aircraft accident, or another situation involving death or injury, you’re being overly dramatic. Those are horrific, not your 45 minute weather delay.

You’re heartless because you won’t offer me a lower fare for my emergency/bereavement/disaster situation.

We’re prohibited from negotiating fares, because that constitutes an unfair business practice. We’re also not very good at apportioning tickets based on need (we’re better at selling them), which is why we donate to charities who are experts at doing exactly that. Try contacting one of them.

I incurred a lot of expenses because of your delay/cancellation. Our very expensive vacation is ruined. You need to reimburse me for those.

No we don’t. That’s what travel insurance is for. You wouldn’t buy a home without insuring it from unforeseen circumstances – you shouldn’t take the same risk with your vacation. If we were liable for every passenger expense that stemmed from a delay or cancellation, the cost of air transportation would quickly become unaffordable for no reason other than the cost of supporting the small percentage of travelers who are impacted by irregular operations. It also wouldn’t be fair if two people bought the same $100 fare and one was staying at a budget hotel or completely free with family, and the other was going on a $10,000 honeymoon. We don’t indemnify – that’s what insurance companies do.

I’m a stockholder in your airline, and the way I was treated was abominable.

I hope you’re not suggesting we treat you better because you’re a stockholder, because the SEC explicitly forbids that.

I need you to compensate me with elite status in your frequent flier program.

The value of elite membership in our program likely exceeds the value of your fare (unless you’re flying around the world in First Class), which is about as much as we’re really on the hook for here, so no. Also, it would really irritate the existing elite members who actually spent all the money and time getting to elite status to fight for amenities and upgrades with others who have status because of a single bad experience. Elite membership rewards loyalty; it’s not a goodwill gesture.

I’m going to tell everyone about my bad experience.

We also have a lot of passengers out there talking about their good experiences.

Everything went wrong because your employees and your airline are lazy/incompetent/stupid.

First off, we’re glad you think what we do is easy – we’re sure we must have made it look that way on a previous flight – but we can guarantee you that even when it looks easy, it’s not. When it doesn’t look easy, you’ve got to forgive us for being human and letting our veneer crack a little bit. But on the whole, we’ve been doing this for a very long time, and we’ve probably encountered this exact situation more times than we can count. However, it’s in our both of our best interest to make sure you’re taken care of, so insulting us won’t really help.

You shouldn’t have dropped this route. It would have made money. You just didn’t give it a chance.

We dropped the route because it wasn’t making money, but we’re glad you have access to our proprietary data and are able to make an informed claim about that.

You shouldn’t have treated that passenger that way – I saw their story on the news/read about it on a consumer website/saw their viral video.

We’d love to share our side of the story with you, but we can’t because that would violate their privacy. But since you have all the facts, feel free to vilify us in the media. We’re completely used to it.

This is the reason your airline isn’t doing very well.

Boiling down the fate of a multibillion dollar enterprise to a single customer service issue clearly shows you’re, again, completely well-informed how business works. No airline that fails does so because they failed to take care of their customers. Most of them do a great job at it the vast majority of the time, and the ones that don’t are shrewdly managed so that it doesn’t make a difference. Bad customer service doesn’t kill airlines (there are a lot of airlines that provided great customer service that went out of business) – money does. Pan Am, Eastern, National, Aloha, ATA, Braniff, and countless others didn’t die because they didn’t provide good customer service – they died because they failed to manage their money as well as their competitors, and even that’s an oversimplification.

[Original photo via Shutterstock]

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