I’m typing this latest case of customer disservice from seat 36F on American Airlines flight 226 from Boston’s Logan Airport to Dallas en route to Tulsa.
For those of you not familiar with this seat on AA 757 I can tell you first hand that this is the proverbial “back of the bus”, the very last seat in the very last row.
Of course, on a full flight (like this one) someone needs to sit way back here in the corner but, given my situation, should that someone be me? You decide…
Let me start by saying I try and avoid American Airlines and usually fly one of my recommended “customer service champs” like Jet Blue, Southwest or Virgin Atlantic but, on this trip, none of those options were available.
Besides it’s been awhile since I’ve flown with American… maybe they’ve improved since the last time when my flight was delayed an hour and 45 minutes and no one seemed to care or even acknowledge that I then missed my connecting flight and spent about four extra hours at Chicago Midway waiting for the next flight.
Or maybe it’s just business as usual…
My saga began at the ticketing check-in kiosk when I attempted to print my boarding pass but instead received a slip that read “no seat assignment available”. Taking this slip to the ticket counter to check my garment bag, the agent informed, “they’ll assign your seat at the gate.. let them know you have a connecting flight and they’ll try and sit you close to the front”.
Shouldn’t they know (at the gate) that a customer with no seat (me) has a connecting flight and make the appropriate seating arrangement without that customer having to provide instructions?
In any event, I left the ticket counter feeling like I didn’t have a ticket to ride because, at this point, I didn’t. Instead of the sit down lunch I had envisioned I now made my way from security straight to the gate where I stood in line behind 10 or so other customers, presumably some also dealing with the same situation as me.
15 or so minutes later I was face-to-face with the gate agent explaining my presence there. The woman, let’s call her Mabel, told me in a very matter of fact way, “we’re overbooked.. still can’t assign you a seat.. I’ll call you before we board with something”.
Remembering my message, I responded “I have a connecting flight in Dallas to Tulsa.. the ticket agent told me to let you know so you could try and sit me close to the front”.
“I’ll do my best Mr. Ferrante”, Mabel said as she read my name off the slip.
So I left the gate counter still with no ticket to ride and thinking about what Mabel’s “best” would be as I stood in line to grab a Tuscan Pesto Chicken sandwich to take on board.
It’s worth noting that this is not the first time this has happened to me and surely many frequent flyers (perhaps you) have experienced this “no seat” dilemma as well.
Not long ago, this happened on an Air Canada flight from Toronto back home to Boston. On that flight they upgraded me to Business Class and I enjoyed priority boarding, a complimentary cocktail and a moist warm hand towel. Quite a difference, eh? (purposeful Canadian reference). Indeed. Air Canada turned an inconvenience into a most pleasurable and rewarding experience.
I returned to the gate ( sandwich in tow) as they were calling out names with seating assignments. Sure enough, five or so names in they called me. Mabel handed me the boarding pass nonchalantly saying “36F”.
I took the ticket and the seat location didn’t fully register as I walked away. Then they started boarding… Priority seating, families with small children, first class, business, ruby, gold then Group 1, Group 2, people who love wind chimes, then me in Group 3.
Midway through Group 2 boarding they made an announcement that the flight was sold out and on board storage space was limited so folks with carry-ons (like me) should check them at the gate. So I stood back in line again… this time determined to ask Mabel about my curious seating assignment.
Maintaining professional composure, I questioned Mabel “You had told me that you would do your best to get a seat towards the front of the plane so I could get off quickly to catch my connecting flight… I think I’m at the back?”
No reply.. Mabel just stuck her hand out like she was receiving a summons to appear in court. Looking at the boarding pass she said, “this should be fine.. we’re only running about 9 minutes late”.
As we prepared for take-off the captain came on and announced, “we’re running about 20 minutes late”.
Sure enough, we touched down 22 minutes late. By the time I deboarded as the very last passenger I had to scurry through the terminal to make it to my connecting gate just as they were beginning to board.
Does AA have to provide a first class experience for inconvenienced customers (in this case, me) to be happy? Not necessarily, but several options presented themselves during my flight.
They showed a movie on the flight and announced “as always our in-flight entertainment is free”. Moments later, they came down the aisle selling headsets for $6.00. Apparently, it’s the watching part that’s “free”, hearing is $6.00. Then there’s that “enjoy WiFi on this flight” announcement. They left out the $15.00 an hour part I discovered trying to connect.
This would be a great value-add for all but, to stay on point, what if they made exceptions and gave passes to folks that have, up to this point, had a less than a pleasurable experience?
How about a free cocktail or, better yet, a voucher for a discount towards a future flight?? Surely that would help alleviate the pain, something my non-reclining up-against-the-back-wall seat failed miserably at doing.
One thing is clear, American Airlines does not effectively train customer service or understand that the customer experience is not getting a passenger from point A to B. Any airline can do that. It’s what happens from point A to point B that matters most. Until they figure that out and make customer service/customer experience part of their culture, they will continue to alienate customers and lose business to the airlines that do.
* On LinkedIn @ Customer Disservice Lesson from American Airlines Seat 36F
Steve Ferrante is the CEO & Trainer of Champions of Sale Away LLC., providing Pinnacle Performance Sales, Customer Service and Winning Team Culture training, speaking and professional development services to success-driven businesses throughout North America. For more information on Steve and Pinnacle Performance services for your team visit saleawayllc.com