Thursday, August 18, 2011

Unfriendly Skies Part II

In 2007, I wrote about the experience of flying in my post Unfriendly Skies.   In the past 4 years, the domestic flying experience has gotten worse.

Two weeks ago today, I was in Japan at Narita airport for my flight back to Boston.  The check in and security lines were extremely long.   Although I had 1.5 hours before my departure, it was clear that getting to the plane on time would be challenging.

I asked the customer service staff at All Nippon Airways (ANA) for their advice.   Immediately, they assessed the situation and escorted me to a check in window for a  boarding pass.   (Note that I was flying the lowest cost economy possible, not business or first class).  The check in person then left her post to escort me to the crew line in security and walked with me through the screening process.   During X-ray scanning,  the Japanese security staff noted I was carrying a handcrafted broom that violated their security guidelines because it could be used as a "nightstick" weapon.   They paged an ANA baggage carrier who wrapped my broom and checked it on the spot.   I arrived to my gate on time, but unfortunately my departure was delayed 45 minutes because ANA wanted to accommodate a late arriving plane with numerous connecting passengers.

During the flight to Los Angeles, ANA called ahead to my connecting flight on American Airlines to give me the best chance to make my tight connection.

When I arrived at LAX, ANA staff escorted me to Customs/Immigration and gave me a special "expedited" sticker to ensure I could bypass lines and delays.   It worked flawlessly.

I walked out of the Tom Bradley International terminal and then walked to the American Airlines gates at Terminal 4.   I might as well have walked into the 9th circle of Dante's Inferno.

Immediately, the American Airlines staff were hostile and uncaring.   They told me I'd never make my flight and sent me to the back of a long customer service line.  Shortly thereafter a single mother with 4 young children was sent to the same line and began crying in despair because she was going to miss her flight.    A truly unpleasant American Airlines staffer told her  "I know what you're going through and I cannot help you, just stand in line", as if a 25 year old male understood the challenge of being a single mother with 4 children.   I escorted her to the front of the line explaining to everyone else that she and her children needed their help.   We got her onto her flight to Shanghai.   I missed my flight and was told by American Airlines that all Boston flights were so overbooked that I had no hope of getting a flight until the next day.   They would offer me a $5.00 discount on a hotel room…

Let's see - in Japan, caring people walked me through the process to ensure success.  In the US, I was hassled, ignored, impeded, and overbooked.    My flight to Boston took 30 hours including an overnight stay at a motel near LAX.

There is truly something wrong with an industry that sets policies and hires people who are customer hostile.   I will amend what I said in 2007.   I will try as hard as possible to limit my travel to international carriers that want my business, while using teleconferencing instead of domestic travel.   When I'm asked if my domestic travel experience met my expectation, my only response can be - it landed and I guess I'm thankful for that!

7 comments:

Dave Proffer said...

Could not have had two better airline names to align with the experience: All Nippon and American...

Anonymous said...

Ive read and enjoyed your blog for a while. But I'm kind of baffled by this post. Have you been to an emergency room in a while? My last trip to a cutting-edge academic medical center was a three hour wait with a towel over my head to soak up the blood. I dont remember anyone stopping by to say "we're sorry about your wait, have a free beverage."

Dont get me wrong, airline travel is generally a somewhat miserable experience. But look at it this way: you paid a few thousand dollars for the cheapest ticket available and were transported through multiple countries, with multiple providers.

A few thousand dollars at a hospital would get you four or five hours, and maybe an X Ray, if you were lucky. Need another appointment later in the day? Later in the week? How likely? You had to wait 45 minutes and stand in line and its a tragedy?

One reason I got into HIT was to try and improve the system. I think we need to be realistic about where we are at in relation to the rest of the world. Which is to say: way behind.

Mark S said...

Complain to their Union; that ought to help...
Snark aside, clearly there is a large cultural difference between Japan and the US. But even beyond that, any time their is no accountability or consequences for employees who give poor customer service, and limited to no alternate choices for taking business elsewhere, the customer suffers. Which actually related to you previous article on a large telecon service problem, as well as big healthcare (and politics too). We have got to push this society towards persronal responsibility and accountability if we ever expect things to change. Having many options competing for a customers business helps too.

SusanF said...

The experience you described is the reason I will walk over hot coals to fly Southwest before any other domestic carrier. I recently arrived at the airport to find my SW flight delayed by 3 hours. I really did not want to get to my destination with that much delay as I still faced a 2 hour drive in unfamiliar territory on the other end. When I went to the ticket counter I was informed that I had already been rerouted on another set of flights which would get me to my destination with a 45 minute delay. SW flies from Boston. Give it a try. No first class, but friendly, sometimes even funny, flights. BTW - I do not work for SW, just fly them as often as possible.

John said...

You didn't happen to identify yourseld as a physician to the All Nippon staff?

John Halamka said...

I did not identify my profession or any affiliations. I received the same service they would have given to any passenger.

candidcio.com said...

Stating that the service level is based on US-based airlines versus international carriers strikes me as an inaccurate generalization. I flew Alitalia last month. It was worse than any domestic carrier. The online check-in did not usually work, when it did my seat assignment was not honored. Long delays with no communications and old equipment.