Airline travel for business has been no picnic since September 11th. This summer has been especially bad for me as the four trips prior to this week’s all had one or more cancelled flights. Because the airlines are using so many tiny planes that are overbooked (there was a flight earlier today that was overbooked by 31 people!), when something goes wrong it is a major problem rather than a delay of, say, waiting for a couple of hours for the next flight. For example, last month I had to fly to Omaha and drive six hours to get home after a cancelled flight. Why? All of the flights to my home in Wichita were full the rest of that day and all of the following day.
I usually don’t write about these things on the blog because everyone who has to travel for business is stressed and my situation is hardly unique. However, what AirTran did today to the passengers of Flight 681 is a new low.
The flight boarded on time and in the usual manner. The aircraft’s door was closed and the jetway moved away from the plane. I was enjoying a pleasant chat with the gentleman sitting next to me. Departure time came and went. About ten minutes after we were scheduled to depart, the jetway came back to the plane. I turned to my new friend and said, “this can’t be good.”
It wasn’t. The passengers were told, “because of a problem in another city, we need this plane elsewhere, so we are canceling this flight. Proceed to the customer service counter at Gate C-16 for rebooking.” Shock was probably too mild a word, but we deplaned and trudged down to C-16.
When I arrived, the woman behind the counter projected an attitude that I was interrupting her gazing off into space. When I explained what had occurred and told her that I would like to be booked on the later flight to Wichita, I was told it was full and they could not get me out until tomorrow. She then said, because it is a mechanical problem, we cannot put you up in a hotel (or provide meals, etc.).
I explained that there was nothing wrong with our plane and that our flight was cancelled because, we were told, “the plane was needed elsewhere.” She held her ground, “mechanical.” To add insult to injury, at no time did she apologize for the inconvenience or express regret for what had occurred. Just the attitude that I was ruining some perfectly good goofing off time.
So, I asked for a refund, rebooked on United and am writing this from O’Hare awaiting my connection to Wichita.
From where I sit, it is despicable that a company would treat its customers in such a cavalier and dishonest manner. I believe that every passenger on that plane is owed an apology and a free flight to make up for this deceit.
When I attended the National Speaker’s Association conference in Anaheim two weeks ago, Jeffery Gitomer said this to those who want to build businesses with great customer service (something we pride ourselves on at Mike Smith Enterprises and at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions):
To learn how to give great customer service, simply watch the airlines and their employees and do the exact opposite.
Truer words were never spoken. AirTran, you should be ashamed of yourselves.