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]


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

  1. Richard says:

    Wow. This post gave me the opposite impression than what I imagine its author intended. Apparently airline phone reps are proudly condescending and apt to dismiss the concerns of their customers because the customers know less about the business than the employees. I hope I never get this rep on the phone.

  2. Total says:

    Oh, this comment thread is going to go well.

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

    No, you don’t.

    • Oliver says:

      Yeah, I can’t recall someone telling me they were on a flight in coach and it was just awesome.

      • Jerry Twiggs says:

        Alright, I’ll say it. I actually have had very good experiences on US Airways and speak well of them.

        Don’t get me wrong, it’s 100% no frills and I only travel them because they go where I need to quickest/most direct. BUT, for the money, they get me there and back, I am comfortable without coughing up extra cash (thanks Delta/United), and I rarely have issues.

        THIS IS ONLY BECAUSE I GO THROUGH CLT. Don’t do Philly. Just don’t. But that’s not US’s fault.

        • Bill in VA says:

          I agree. US Air really is fine. They even took care of me and my wife in Charlotte when a Luftansa flight we booked through them was canceled and Luftansa didn’t care. And this was the week before thanksgiving last year.

          Also, we have to fly on those little Dash 8’s!

      • TheSsalty says:

        You obviously haven’t flown with SIA or UAE in cattle before!

  3. Joe says:

    A fitting post after the US Airways Twitter scandal yesterday…,

  4. Eric says:

    LOLZ……

    #Everything I’ve Wanted to Say But Can’t Without Getting Walked to the Door

  5. I particularly liked the point about travel insurance, whenever I tell people to take it out they look at me crazy. Then sure enough something goes wrong and shit hits the fan and they are the ones that end up holding the bag.

    I’m surprised there isn’t more upselling of this by the airlines themselves, it’s more in your face with international carriers.

    • Ron says:

      I think a main driver is health insurance. In many countries, the standard healthcare package only covers in-country costs, so you have to take travel insurance to avoid being hit with high bills; cancellation, baggage etc are often thrown in since the cost isn’t very high. In the US, a typical health insurance program provides worldwide coverage; since the main financial risk is taken care of, people are much more willing to take a risk with other potential losses.

    • MathFox says:

      I can afford to “write off” the cost of unused holiday accommodation, so I don’t see why I should insure against this limited loss. One should not spend more on holidays than one can afford. Insurance against costs of accidents (medical, rescue) is something I do (when going outside the coverage of my regular insurance.)

      • Mark Skinner says:

        That’s a reasonable approach.

        However, the article was talking about people who wanted the airline to indemnify them for costs they might have taken out insurance against. THOSE people didn’t want to write it off like you or I would – they wanted us to pay for their risks via our airfares.

  6. A says:

    As a frequent flier a lot of those comments sound crazy but lets think about it for a moment. Many people fly all of once or twice a year, many more fly even less. And when they do fly they are making a big purchase, compounded if you’re flying an entire family. So, when things go wrong or aren’t per their satisfaction of course they are going to complain. Sure, for the person on the other side of the call it must be frustrating but I do think airlines generally aren’t good at responding to the “non elites.”

  7. Bibliobear says:

    I’d love to see this collection done up in a video interview format… maybe as required training for frequent flyers. Not all complaints are unjustified, of course, but I have to give a big thumbs-up to the folks who have to keep their composure while dealing with (hopefully infrequent) silly/stupid/ego-inflated customers. I’m blissfully retired from dealing with the public. Been there, done that, still have the ripped tshirt!

  8. David says:

    While I often agree with what is posted, I have to take issue with today’s for largely the same reason as “A.”

    I’m an elite frequent flyer who completely understands everything the guest poster has relayed; however, myself and most readers of this blog are probably in the minority.

    The post sounds like a lot of cant’s, wont’s, and dont’s. At the end of the day, like all tourism related industries, the airlines are a customer service based business. Why shouldn’t they be held to the same service standards as other customer service related businesses that don’t have a “contract of carriage” to hide behind. As an attorney, I get that the contract of carriage sets the rules, but as in many other industries, exceptions can be made to many of those policies.

    There are a number of other large and complex industries that do customer service better. I guess that is all I am trying to say.

    • Hovig says:

      “the airlines are a customer service based business.”

      I was under the impression they were a transportation business. Sure, Southwest states they are a customer service company that happens to fly, but ultimately airlines are transportation companies. And for a fairly cheap price, they barrel me through the sky at high speeds in a metal tube…and I end up somewhere else at the end of the flight.

      Ultimately, I think what we all want is to feel heard and respected. Do I get annoyed when my smile and kind greeting is met by a cold grunt by a gate agent or FA? Hell ya! But ultimately, my expectation of flying is they safely get me from point a to point b in a reasonable amount of time. Everything else is secondary.

  9. David SF eastbay says:

    Any job that deals with the public has this same post they could make. The public is truely ‘out in space’ when they complain about something. Jobs when I worked with the public taught me how not to act if something goes wrong and how to act if it does.

  10. Total says:

    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).

    Also: gee, I’m happy that you inserted enough wiggle room in the legal disclaimers so that you’re not actually promising me much of anything. That’s sure something to brag about.

    • Noah says:

      and in the case of some carriers, like Jetblue, their Bill of Rights does define compensation and it is tied to the delay code reason.

  11. Left Seater says:

    Wow, this guest poster needs to find a new job. Clearly, he/she wants to just call some people stupid and demanding. Instead of telling us how wrong we are why not share what does work to make the customer and employee experience better?

    Further this guest poster acts as if the airline is never wrong. That is extremely funny. There are hundreds of examples every day of airline employees who don’t know their own rules, don’t know basic info to do their job, or outright lie:

    See reservation agents who don’t know the rules of their own FF program on the redemption side.

    See flight attendants who make an announcement that the pilot has requested they not have a beverage service due to turbulence. That is followed up by an announcement by the pilots regarding the chop and to sit back and enjoy our beverages.

    See also the Gate Agent who went rebooking folks from a cxld flight only offered the next few non-stop options on her companies metal. Pax had to suggest alternative routines to her that arrived days earlier.

    Airline Customer Service Rep, you get what you give.

    • Mark Skinner says:

      That is true.

      However, I think the point of the post is that we often hear the complaints, but seldom do we get the other side. Mostly all that stuff is in the fine print that nobody reads. Because they don’t read it, and because the company spinnmeisters never say it, many people have a totally unrealistic idea of what they are getting. Since they have an unrealistic idea of what they are getting, they are going to complain when they don’t get what they think they ought.

      That’s not good for them, or the airline, or the customer service representative dealing with them. In fact, it is treating customers like children.

    • LT_DT says:

      I had a very similar experience with United. I had a flight cancelled and was rebooked for three days later. I called United and was told that was the only option available. I found several options available for sale on their website, pointed them out to the phone rep, and ended up with a departure four hours after my originally scheduled flight. Should I really have had to to that?

      • This shouldn’t’ve happened. Something is quite wrong if an airline did this.

        I’d suggest making a made a DOT complaint, if this was still the recent past.

  12. Tim says:

    In general, my overall perception of airline customer service is positive.I have difficult clients in my field as well and some of them are just huge pains.

    There are two points that I think the guest poster misses, however, and they’re both perception issues:

    1. As other commenters have noted, a large segment of the population flies rarely and their understanding of the practices and procedures is limited at best. Imagine then, the incredulity of trying to explain to the casual flier that: “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).”

    So in essence, the interpretation to the casual flier is, “So you’re not actually obligated in any way shape or form to get me to my destination on schedule, the schedule that you’ll charge me $200 bucks to change. So if I need to change, it will cost me out of pocket, but if you (the airline) need to change the schedule for any reason, I’m just SOL.”

    The casual flyer thinks they’re getting scammed.

    2. Airlines, especially in the heat of a moment, aren’t always great at customer service. I was personally on a flight on one of the US legacy carriers where we had boarded, and then they told us the flight was cancelled for mechanical issues. No sooner had folks gotten off the plane when everyone looked out the window and saw members of a professional sports team boarding that same plane. As I have a good friend who works for the airline at that station, I asked what happened. Turned out the mechanical issue was with their plane, and they needed to get to a destination for a game.

    Now, I get the business side of this for an airline; charters are lucrative. However, the publicity and the image that experience creates for the passengers is poor. Now, this is an unusual situation relative to the tons flights that go without a hitch each day. However, the perception that’s created by how these situations are handled is what makes headlines and blogs and social media.

    • Noah says:

      completely agree!
      Also, many pax confuse price and value. They think that their $200 ticket is wildly expensive, but it may in fact lose money or make a single digit margin. Just because the ticket price is high, doesn’t mean the airline is rolling in profits with which to “buy” your forgiveness during an IROP or a reason to keep service between two cities. And in some cases, profitable routes are cut to make room for routes believed to be even more profitable.

  13. JM says:

    Our society needs a better level of civil discourse than this. People are so angry these days. I can’t imagine what it must be like to deal with some members of the public, particularly those in a huff.

    That said, airlines are not the only business where dealing with an angry public is a job requirement for some personnel (restaurants, hotels, builders, home service personnel, and many other examples come to mind). I realize that this is a rant, but still.

    Quite honestly, I am afraid that the customer relations agent who wrote this Q&A is a hardened cynic who should probably exit any business which involves dealing with the public–for their own sake and ours.

    There is a reason why airlines have a bad reputation for customer service and it is employees like this one who help to make it that way. Writing vitriol like this anonymously doesn’t help anyone–and especially others in the industry who have to deal with the public, too.

    JM

    • Completely agree. I expected something wittier and/or more insightful..

    • SEAN says:

      I’m going to suggest viewing a 2005 movie entitled “Red Eye” starring Rachel Mcadams & directed by Wess Craven. One of the subplots involves a cranky hotel customer played by Terri Press who was the head of marketing for Dreamworks & who had a sizable cameo in the film. Upon viewing, you’ll get why I’m suggesting it – as everyone has been on one side of the angry customer issue or the other in life.

    • SEAN says:

      Our society needs a better level of civil discourse than this. People are so angry these days. I can’t imagine what it must be like to deal with some members of the public, particularly those in a huff.

      Part of the problem relates to training or lack there of by management. I saw it first hand at a friends job.

      • Neil S says:

        I’ve been traveling in Asia for the past few weeks, and this strikes me as an interesting point – civil discourse.

        I’ve been on Delta, Cathay, and Singapore Airlines – all in Business Class. And more often than not, they board in two zones – Business and First, and everyone else. It seems chaotic at the gate, but the plane boards faster than any flight I’ve ever seen in the US.

        Maybe we, as Americans, have an expectation of entitlement that’s not warranted? I don’t know enough about Asian culture to know if air travel is different than other aspects of their lives, but the flying process here seems very simple, and with few complaints.

        I know that doesn’t account for delays, etc.

  14. SingBlue says:

    Michael O’Leary likes this post.

  15. Sam says:

    “My flight was cancelled because of light loads.”

    This one is especially untrue of regionals operating under another larger brand. Many of them get paid by the “mother carrier” based on completion factor, not how many people are on the flight. Complete the flight: get paid, Don’t complete the flight: don’t get paid.

    Working for a regional airline in a ground handling role (cross-trained, so both above and below wing work) and have sent live revenue flights out with 2 people, 1 person, even nobody on it. I’ve even sent revenue flights out with nothing but a few non-revenue standby employees on board…but because the airline completed the flight number, they get paid.

    What people really don’t understand is that it causes so many more headaches when a flight cancels or delays, not only for the passengers, but also for us as employees.

    Sam

  16. Erik says:

    “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.

    And the executives say: “Ha, Ha, Ha.. There are fewer competitors now since our airline gobbled most them up.”

  17. Mike says:

    Do everyone that’s complaining about this post and how condescending it is, I think the purpose was to be more educational and a hypothetical situation rather than a reenactment of a real encounter. Of course, the agent would never appear so condescending to a real customer. That’s why the post if supposed to be FUN. The point is that many passengers exaggerate their experience and the impact of their experience on the airline.

    • CF says:

      Mike – Absolutely right. I know for a fact that this person does an outstanding job in dealing with customers. Anyone who suggests that people shouldn’t be allowed to vent when all they do is deal with angry customers all day is not really facing reality. Writing a post like this is a good way to vent while also being educational. Now this person can go back to doing the job well.

  18. maxe says:

    One must take into consideration that the average American passenger/customer/being is far more prone to complaints/litigation/bitching than the rest of humankind together…

  19. Michele says:

    I’m sorry, did you say you were a “customer relations” rep? Do you know the meaning of the term?
    I have witnessed/experienced several instances of airline employees (a) not knowing their own rules, (b) making stuff up out of whole cloth and (c) behaving in an unspeakably rude manner with no provocation whatsoever. On a transatlantic flight, a flight attendant was absolutely belligerent, yelling at people who asked simple questions, bellowing at my seatmate that she asked for black tea when I clearly heard her ask for milk, etc. It was frightening. I have also had great experiences — weirdly, one involved a passenger’s death on board the plane that was handled so well, with such dignity and compassion, that it is actually a good memory. And I wrote to the airline to say so.
    It really bothers me when airline employees have contempt for their customers just because they aren’t infallible experts like the employees are. There are few businesses that are not required to compensate customers when they fail to deliver the product or service, whatever the reason. You can’t blame people for questioning your get-out-of-jail-free card. Thank you for venting, but try not to let your feelings show when you are on the job.

  20. phone-home says:

    Meh!

    We live in an unabashedly ‘free’ market with a fairly low level of consumer protection.
    This post is basically admitting that the sleazebags in charge of an airline will do anything, as long as an argument can be stretched that they comply with the letter of the law. They’re lucky that the laws here are as bad for consumers as they are. That might change one day!

  21. garyWI says:

    Very insightful post. Perhaps you can get a guest post from someone who coordinats flight crews, aircraft positions and schedules. I am always amazed how that occurs.

  22. Bill says:

    For the 1 Customer Service rep that I get that is rude and condescending I get 50 that are great. For the 1 GA who can’t coordinate processing upgrades, doesn’t follow the boarding process as designed and has trouble keeping the kettles from gumming up the boarding lanes I get 50 who smile and thank me for flying with them. Its all about attitude and how someones day is going. Just think it could be worse, you could work for the TSA.

  23. “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.” I have a friend who, for various reasons, routinely packs their checked baggage to the 50 lbs limit. The airline will weigh the bag on their scale and it’ll be overweight, but he’ll point out the scale isn’t certified by the county for commerce. There is a scale at SeaTac that is, and they’ll take it to that scale and it’ll be exactly 50 lbs. There is something to be said for politely asking for a certified scale in this situation.

    • CF says:

      Nick – Definitely true, but that’s also the point here. This person rightly suggest that if you think it’s wrong, you need to dispute it there. You aren’t going to get compensation after the fact since there’s no way to know what the situation was.

  24. HansGolden says:

    I was tracking with almost everything up until the last one. The last one is dead wrong. Companies rise and fall on their CS all the time. Amazon is rising, United is falling.

    Also, while the one about light loads/cancellation may be kinda true, in the case of AirTran, it was either often untrue or the agents were misinformed. AirTran has canceled ATLICT many, many times due to “weather in Atlanta” when there were blue skies in both ATL and ICT and DL was continuing to fly the route. Now I realize, weather somewhere else may have affected the inbound to ATL flight and the agent at ICT/ATL may have just been passing along wrong info. Ironically, if it was weather on the inbound to ATL, they probably canceled the ICT flight because of light loads even if the plane was originally intended for a different route. I see that as good and airlines cancel flights all the time because they don’t have enough aircraft to fly them all because of WX or MX and so they cancel the ones with the lightest loads to inconvenience the least amount of pax. Like I said, I see that as good, but the guest poster here is not being entirely accurate on this point.

    If s/he doesn’t know what s/he’s talking about on these items, it makes me question the rest as well.

    • CF says:

      Hans – Airlines do not cancel flights simply because the loads are light. There are a variety of things going on that make flying that flight important in most cases. Now if an airplane goes mechanical, they may try to swap airplanes around to negatively impact the fewest people. But it’s rarely that simple since flight time, aircraft type, and maintenance issues can come into play. Sure, that happens. But a flight isn’t then canceled because the loads were light. It was canceled because of a mechanical that meant the airline couldn’t fly its full schedule.

  25. Brent says:

    A lot of bad customer service is happening because they’re pricing/rules don’t make sense to the public, and even to insiders.

    There are onerous rules that make your ticket completely worthless if you want to change the slightest thing about it, no matter how far in advance. That if you request 4 seats, and 3 seats are actually available at a lower fare, it still sells all 4 at the higher price. The fact that they manipulate availability continuously on a nearly random basis, i.e. market-by-market that is contradictory in terms of cost/distance, not to mention hour-to-hour. That the levels between fares are sometimes huge, i.e. one seat at $200, the next one is $600.

    What also isn’t mentioned is they have incredibly old computer systems masquerading as modern ones, so when it comes to information, or rebooking etc. the system often isn’t capable of providing the best/timely solution.

    Then you get to all the variables at airports involving change fees to same-day “standby” with some airlines welcoming the opportunity to get you to your destination sooner, and others refusing even when it would help them open up later seats on a more full flight.

    With so many contradictions and logic failures for even the most experienced traveler, to snidely cite “contract” rules with a shrug of indifference shows how dramatically things have shifted in the airline world. What used to be an opportunity to gain loyalty with a traveler by doing something above-and-beyond is instead viewed of as a stupid combatant who is trying to fleece the airline.

    Most of the time customer service issues are created by the airline, not the passenger. How they’re handled shows you about the character and attitude of management as well as the individual employee. Whenever I encounter a “real person” who is not only capable of being empathetic on a human level, but is also empowered to do something to fix it, I breathe a big sigh of relief, and offer up a big thanks, both verbally and in writing as I want to encourage that.

    It’s discouraging to see in such stark form how what could be humorous cynicism is just outright disdain and disgust for the very entities that employ them. If they just depended on Elite business travelers who magically will pay anything to go anywhere, the airline would be the same size they were years ago, when everyone wore a suit, and jet-set really meant something glamorous.

    As nostalgic as that is, no one is demanding that. Some basic humanity, with the understanding that just because you work in the ER not everyone is a screaming sick patient making unreasonable demands would go a long ways.

    And if it’s all just too much for you to do in customer service, then move on to something more in sync with your skill set: resurrecting the old Aeroflot, where customers were an irritating inconvenience, and never, ever right.

    • Don Murray says:

      Having worked for an airline (albeit many years ago) in a technical computer position, I understand how the yield management systems work (at a high level). There is no way a Gate agent can adequately explain why the fares are so inconsistent. It is based on demand and expected future seats to be sold and available inventory.

      The airlines needs these yield management systems to achieve profitability and that is why they have been reducing their schedules. Higher fuel prices have forced them into this method.

      I am very aware of this since I am sending my daughter and wife from SFO to EVV (Evansville, IN) and the price is very high for my daughter. (My wife is flying on miles.)

  26. CP says:

    I am sure that the poster reads a lot of insane letters, etc., from angry customers demanding unreasonable levels of compensation.

    I would be interested to read a second post from the same guest: what constitutes a reasonable complaint?

    • This is a good point. Having worked in customer service in industries people don’t quite understand (telecom) folks who complained politely and constructively got better results. Sure, I’d try to lead people toward being able to get the best results, but there is only so much I could’ve done.

      One tip I’ll give: Explain your request initially in a 20-30 second nutshell, then let the rep take over. Most reps are rated on something called “Call control” but part of that allows reps to promptly assist you. I’ve been on many more calls than you, and I know how to get you thorough this as efficiently as possible, which is what most customers want: they don’t want to spend any time on hold, part of allowing reps to do that is to get through your call as quickly as possible. (One of my pet peeves was when we were in a situation with long hold times is I’d get people who wanted to spend two minutes complaining about how long they were on hold. If everyone did that, it’d mean you’d be on hold that much longer.)

    • CF says:

      CP – I like it. I’ll see if I can get a follow-up.

  27. Jason says:

    Disagree with most of the comments here. Running an online retail business, I’ve learned most people don’t care about your rules. They just want to not be held responsible whatsoever. Some businesses make enough money on a sale to offer fantastic customer experiences. Others compete in spaces that are more aggressively priced with lower margins. The problem comes in when customers start expecting the great experience even when they chose the low price leader that doesn’t budget for the over the top customer experience. Take airline ticket change fees for example. People complain about change fees but neglect to acknowledge they chose not to purchase the ticket that allows free changes (refundable fares).

    I took this guest post as mostly in jest but based in truth. And for those blaming airline management, you need to look in the mirror. Customer rep cynicism is many more times created by interactions with irrational customers as opposed to dictates from management to try to fleece their customers.

  28. Andrew says:

    Every statement by the guest poster is absolutely correct. The trick is to still provide good customer care while enforcing the policy both internal and imposed by the FAA. Unfortunately front line staff can’t bend the rules as much as in years past.

  29. Popokigirl says:

    “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. ”

    Real estate agents use this same line of reasoning to justify ever-increasing and outsized home prices, without of course recognizing and/or mentioning that this line of reasoning is only valid in an open and transparent market, true of neither real estate nor airline ticket sales.

    • How much more open and transparent should general public airline prices be? They’re all filed in the Airline Tariff Publishing Company database which the GDS’s pull off of. I bet you or I could buy access to that data, but its all in a database that you just have to get access to.. Oh wait, thats the same way the real estate business works as well!

  30. SingBlue says:

    Years ago I worked for a company near Victoria Railway Station, London. At lunch, a colleague and I walked over to the American Airlines check in facility at the station (gone now, was for Gatwick Express customers) to say “Hi” to a friend of his on check in.

    Whilst there Mr Angry walked in, obviously having a bad day, and in between expletives managed to check his luggage in, receive his boarding pass and stomp off to board the Gatwick Express.

    My colleague asked his friend why he put up with such abuse from customers. He shrugged his shoulders, and said “What can I do?”. Then he added, “He’s going to Tokyo, but his luggage is going to Johannesburg. Computer error”. He further explained that the reason Johannesburg is chosen is if the luggage isn’t collected on the first trip round on the carousel, it’s never seen again. Maximum inconvenience.

    I’m going back 15 years or so, but I’d heard of numerous such “computer errors”, especially with boarding cards for high-ranking BA executives… but I’m sure that sort of error doesn’t happen anymore. Still, I’m never rude to check-in staff, or indeed anyone I encounter when travelling…

  31. David SF eastbay says:

    That’s so true SingBlue. Back when I worked at TWA the old time counter people during the wonderful colored paper bag tag days would either put on the ‘wrong’ (wink wink) tag on the bags or ‘forget’ (wink wink) to put the bag on the belt until after the persons flight departed.

    It didn’t help their fellow workers at the other end, but it was the easiest way to keep smiling but get back at the crap standing in front of them.

    • Sean S. says:

      So basically you’ve cost your company money (because the Contract requires compensation for lost luggage), as well as forcing a bunch of your co-workers to have to take time out of their day to fix your mistake because you couldn’t stop from being childish? That sound’s like something one should have grown out of when they were 5 years old, not something grown professionals do.

      I don’t buy this sort of retaliatory stuff as either helpful or even a practical. And the argument I get from people who work in “customer service” about the “difficulties” is ridiculous. I work in a psychiatric hospital day in, day out with at times violent, aggressive patients and yet somehow magically never feel the desire to retaliate. I think someone working at a customer service desk can suck it up frankly.

      • David SF eastbay says:

        I didn’t say I did that since I never worked at the airport, I said the old timers did that.

        • Sean S. says:

          I have an unfortunate tendency to use the universal you, so I apologize. Nonetheless the point still stands; why would anyone do that?

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  33. Well, I’m truly happy that airlines can afford to hire capable attorneys who are so good at writing excellent contracts that won’t leave any recourse to a customer. And I’m even happier that some of their representatives feel the need to shove it to our collective face. Great job, as always!

  34. Ian says:

    My dad used to do electrical service work for a local school board. There was a custodian at one school that constantly complained how messy the kids were, especially in the lunch room. My dad would say that without the kids making a mess, he wouldn’t really have a job to do. Something I always think about when dealing with an undesirable situation.

    It’s ok to use a forum like this to present a different than common perspective. It can be informative for us fliers. But after my years in service on the front lines and in management in other fields, I have to say that it’s not the customer’s job to learn how you can help them(they’re not likely to anyway), that’s what I’m paid to figure out. That said, as a customer, any time you want honey, poking the bee’s nest isn’t a great strategy.

    I’m not from the US, and can attest that there are cultural issues about service expectations, seen both positively and negatively. I admire the willingness of Americans to stir things up when things are unacceptable. It’s just that sometimes things are actually quite acceptable. It can be hard to see this.

    Airlines could manage expectations much better by clearly explaining things like meal options, baggage allowance, additional pricing and the like on the e-ticket itself. This includes a brief of what to expect when delays or cancellations occur. The details can be on the itinerary. This business of looking up arcane details and trying to determine what applies to your specific situation is not acceptable, in my view.

    Most people who fly are not expert fliers. That’s why they pay someone to fly them somewhere. Just remember, airports are post-modern bus stations. All kinds are going to be there, so one better expect all kinds.

  35. Diana Melnichenko says:

    I just got a great customer response from British Airways trying to justify $2,000 in change/fare difference fees for a family of four as we try to not board a leg trip to Kiev, and DO NOT request any other concessions or changes to our other four flights from the airline (original itinerary: NYC-London-Stavanger-London-Kiev-London-NYC).

    The carefully drafted message listed “the distance and type of aircraft … our operating costs and customer demand for the destination in question on that day … landing and navigation fees, and airport charges… the fare rule of your ticket.” But what it all came down to was “the extra administration costs and other overheads when people book and then amend, and we now have no choice but to pass some of this on. ”

    Great Customer Service response crafted by the skilled legal team! That’s where the great service ends however.

    The airline industry’s predatory and unfair business practice forcing passengers to essentially repurchase the seats on the flights they already have if they choose not to board certain flights of their itinerary due to Travel Warnings issued by the government of the country where the itinerary originates and where passengers reside should be made illegal.

  36. Kilroy says:

    Cranky,

    Any idea if the old, “Buy the gate agent a soda or candy bar and be nice and smile at them” trick still works, if it ever worked, in the case of cancellations?

    I’ve heard it mentioned before and have (thankfully) never had a good chance to use it, but I always keep that idea in my back pocket. I’ve worked with the public before and it sucks. I know to always be as pleasant as possible when traveling, from joking with the TSA agent as he gropes me (“I bet you’ve touched more fat ugly men than a cheap stripper!”) to trying to be trouble free to the GAs and FAs.

    • CF says:

      Kilroy – Well, it depends on what you’re trying to do. If you want to just be nice and help brighten someone’s day, then it most definitely works! But if you’re trying to bribe them to get some benefit, then it’s a lot less likely to work today than in the past.

      So many things are automated that the gate agent has less latitude than before. I remember at America West, we used to upgrade people all the time if seats were open and we liked the person. Today, it’s rare a seat is open with all the upgrade opportunities before the gate experience, but even if it was, there’s a charge to do it. Not the exact situation you’re talking about, but it’s all about tightening up and improving revenue.

      • Kilroy says:

        Thanks, Cranky.

        I suppose I’ll still try that in the future, one because it is a nice thing to do for such underappreciated and underpaid people, and also because a nice gesture never hurts.

        Travel is stressful enough. In the end, I think the golden rule, a smile, and not taking things too seriously (keeping delays in perspective, for example) go a long way. In reality, we of the first world are fortunate that our transportation systems are reliable and safe enough that we get to complain about customer service and delays most of the time, instead of deaths and missing vehicles.

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