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Air Travel Angst – Spirit v. Southwest

August 22, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick | 48 comments

A tale of two-airlines, and two-VERY different responses to customer concerns.

Lets take Spirit Airlines first: it seems a passenger on one of their flights ran into some lengthy delays which ruined their trip. After many unsatisfactory calls to Spirit customer service reps, they sent Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza a politely worded email requesting some compensation. Did they “deserve” any? Maybe not. But they didnt deserve this, either:

The CEO’s response:

“We owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.” –Ben Baldanza, CEO of Spirit Airlines

By sheer accident — it looks like he hit reply all evidently — Baldanzas inexcusably stupid response was sent back to the passenger, and is now all over the internet: Alex Rudloffs informative blog had it first, quickly followed by our friends at Gadling and Chris Elliott.

Let him tell the world how bad we are. — Uh, Ben, I think you just did that yourself.

180 Degrees

Now, here’s a recent example of how Southwest Airlines does things: my wife and a colleague were traveling together on a recent flight, and they had no problems, EXCEPT her colleague left his Blackberry on the plane.

Well, the people at Southwest went to the trouble of checking the blackberry’s calendar, saw he had a lunch meeting with my wife, matched her name to the manifest, and called her to ask if she knew who owned the Blackberry. Then they mailed it to him at no cost!

Apples and oranges? Maybe. But customer service starts at the top, the attitude trickles down — treating people as numbers on a financial sheet (or worse) just doesn’t cut it in my book.

The Southwest people had to WORK to get that Blackberry returned. And they could have simply tossed it in Lost & Found (they now have at least 3 customers for life, me, my wife and her colleague).

Maybe its no surprise that the airline industry overall ranks below the IRS in customer satisfaction. And people werent all that satisfied with the IRS, which had a score of 65%. Only one airline ranked above 70%: yep, you guessed it — Southwest (who is also the only profitable one in the past 5 years — go figure)

**USA Today has done a follow-up on this story, so get caught up on the latest.

US Airways on Redial

August 15, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick | 0 comments

I just wanted to give everyone a quick update on my ongoing saga with US Airways and my Austrian cousin’s ordeal on Flight 707.

I finally heard back from good old Steve at US Airways. While it was several days after I was supposed to hear back, I was just glad somebody actually took the time to call me. Steve told me that the refund department was no longer handling the issue and that customer relations was now in charge. Steve gave me the number to call, the options to choose (2 then 3) and told me I could reference him on the call. I thanked Steve for the help and set out to make things right with the world.

On Monday, I called the number, chose the options, and heard this message, Due to high call volume, we’re not able to speak to you personally at this time… At that point I just laughed. I wish I was surprised, but I wasn’t. The message also directed me to the website, but I really wanted to talk to an actual human being about the matter, so every 10 or 15 minutes I would hit redial in the hope that I would get put into the queue and get to talk to someone.

On Tuesday, I finally got into the queue. After being on hold for 80 minutes (not the first time I’ve been on hold with US Airways for 80 minutes), I finally got to talk to a customer relations rep. I mentioned Steve and told the rep my issue. He quickly directed me to the website, telling me that it was my cousin’s best chance to get a response, and then he wished me a good day.

Now, with the help of Chris Elliot’s genius US Airways Cheat Sheet, I have easy access to several executives at US Airways. However, Chris rightfully suggests that you wait to contact execs until after 6 to 8 weeks of not hearing anything. So, I will heed Chris’s advice and wait. It’s already been two weeks, so I’m not that far off. In the meantime, I will head to the US Airways website and see if it’s all that it’s cracked up to be. Hey, at least the website can’t put me on hold.

(Read the latest installment of my US Airways ordeal — US Airways: The Final Battle?)

Airline Passengers Boston Tea Party?

August 14, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick | 25 comments

teaparty4.jpg

In the past year, airline passengers have had to take a lot of abuse, what with delays, cancellations, packed flights, and sometimes, sitting on the tarmac for hours.

Well, one planeload of Continental passengers finally said, Enough!

Check out the latest from the inestimable Joe Sharkey of the New York Times; he writes about a July 29th flight from Caracas, Venezuela to Newark that was diverted to Baltimore because of bad weather. And once in Baltimore, the plane just sat there. On the tarmac. For one, two, three, four, almost 5-hours. And the passengers revolted. In an organized fashion.

Whatd they do? Nothing crazy. They simply clapped in rhythm, and drummed on the overhead bins. They made a lot of noise. And it worked, sort of. They got off the plane! Only, they were escorted off by police.

But nobody was arrested, and eventually, they got back on Flight 1669 and arrived in Newark. According to the article, once there, passengers tried to rebook missed connections only to be confronted by angry/indifferent Continental employees.

Sign of things to come?

Im sure the airlines hope not. But you would think, after that whole JetBlue mess earlier this year, the airlines would have had a plan. I guess their plan was to let the passengers just sit there. But some passengers are clearly saying, thats not going to work anymore.

New York’s Passenger Bill of Rights: 1 Down, 49 to Go?

August 8, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick | 2 comments

Yesterday’s post on the European Union’s Passenger Bill of Rights (EC 261 February 2004) highlighted some of the loopholes and shortcomings of the EU regulation that was designed to ensure that passengers get taken care of when they face cancellations or extended delays.

Even though there is great room for improvement with the EU regulation, it seems at the very least, they are trying to take a step in the right direction. That made me realize how little our federal government is really doing to protect the rights of passengers flying to and from the United States.

Apparently, we passengers aren’t the only ones a little fed up with the feds on this matter. Tired of sitting idly by, the State of New York passed its own Passenger Bill of Rights. The bill will require airlines to provide passengers with “food, water, fresh air, power, and working restrooms on any flight that has left the gate and been on the tarmac for more than three hours…”

New York’s Passenger Bill of Rights: 1 Down, 49 to Go?

THE EUS PASSENGER BILL OF RIGHTS: Just How Many Rights Do You Really Have??

August 7, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick | 8 comments

I always enjoy reading Chris Elliotts blog, and hes got a really succinct take on the European Unions Passenger Bill of Rights (EC 261 February 2004). At first glance, the EUs Rights look terrific; it tells you exactly what compensation to expect for various problems, such as delays and cancellations.

But Chris didnt tell us everything.

Like many bureaucratic documents, there are issues left up to interpretation — unfortunately passengers are not the ones doing the interpreting…

THE EUS PASSENGER BILL OF RIGHTS: Just How Many Rights Do You Really Have??

Flight Attendant Flame-out (Allegedly!)

August 7, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick | 0 comments

I’ve certainly heard my share of stories about drunken passengers, but a drunken flight attendant?

This all happened Sunday: according to court documents, authorities ousted a female flight attendant who threatened a pilot (You’re dead, she allegedly told him); those documents also said the 26-year old woman smelled of alcohol and admitted drinking whiskey onboard a Delta flight at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington.

No word yet on whether the whiskey in question was Kentucky Bourbon…

On Hold For an Hour With US Airways

August 7, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick | 7 comments

Well, my ordeal with US Airways continues. Last Wednesday, my cousin took a train from Salzburg to Munich and was supposed to fly from Munich to Philadelphia and onto Dallas. When all was said and done, she had to spend two nights in Munich, one night in Philly, and ended up arriving in Dallas on Saturday morning.

Under the EU’s EC Regulation No 261/2004, she should be entitled to some compensation (600 Euros) even though she was flying on a US-based carrier. So today, I set out to make the claim on her behalf (her English is pretty good but she is a bit shy) and see what we needed to do to make sure she was compensated for the delays and cancellations. Not surprisingly, this ended up being a frustrating task.

On Hold For an Hour With US Airways

Northwest Airlines: Over A Quarter-Million Unserved

August 4, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick | 2 comments

Imagine pulling into a McDonald’s drive-thru. You’ve been craving the #3 Combo all day. You place your order and head up to the first window. You pay for your food, and then move on to the second window to pick up your meal. The employee working the drive-thru leans out of the second window and says, Sorry, we’re not serving food today, pull around into line again and well take your name to get your money back. Now imagine that something like that happened at over 2,000 McDonald’s in about 30 days.

Needless to say, things would look bad for the folks behind the Golden Arches. I mean, a business can’t just stop doing what it does and stay in business, right?

Well, if your business is an airline, you sure can. Northwest Airlines canceled over 2,000 flights in June. If we break down the math and say that the average 737 operating at 90% capacity (a fair average for the summer months) carries close to 145 people (split the difference on small jets and wide bodies), you’re looking at close to 300,000 people who have been turned away at the pick-up window by Northwest Airlines. And that was just in June. It doesn’t even take into account the new wave of cancellations that took place in late July.

Northwest has claimed time and time again that the cancellations are due to a lack of pilots, and they have called pilots back from furlough. Northwest Airlines’ pilots on the other hand aren’t eager to rush back, claiming they’d have to spend too many hours in the air. Regardless, NWA is adamant about taking the appropriate steps to stem the cancellations and the subsequent passenger outrage. They will hire new pilots, reduce routes, and explore other options.

Even as Northwest tries to get it together, though, they represent the disconnect between the airlines and much of the real world. Most of us can’t comprehend angering over a quarter of a million customers in a single month and staying in business long enough to even talk about it. For the passengers, I hope Northwest Airlines does pull out of this extended slump, but I hope it’s due to long-term solutions and not the usual short-term fixes.

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