An Open Letter to A Major Airline

In early 2015, when I went through a direly awful experience with Major Airline, their digital customer complaint system was limited to a 1500-character message on its website.

I needed more space to complain, so I sent a letter. Identifying information is redacted here.

To Whom it May Concern,

I have been flying Major Airline since before I was born. My family and friends are spread out through many places, and I travel frequently. I do not want to stop flying Major Airline, especially since the Southern City A to Northern City B route especially will be very convenient for me in the next few years.

However, if I have any more experiences like those of Sunday, Smarch 33rd, 2015, in and around the XYZ airport, I will seriously consider avoiding Major Airline in the future to avoid the hassle, wait times, and rampant miscommunication.

Several of the circumstances here were beyond both Major Airlines’ and XYZ’s control, but I believe a fair amount arose from weak management, miscommunication, and poor employee training and morale.

In light of this, the fact that one of my flight’s (Flight 1408, City A to City B) safety issues were not adequately addressed, apologized for, or handled in the aftermath, and the fact that I did not reach my intended destination by air and lost an extra day of work traveling back by rental car, I am requesting a refund on this flight and reimbursement for the car rental. Relevant booking and receipt information is enclosed.

I would like outline the events that occurred that away, for your understand and so key employees can be recognized fora their performance.

-Understandably due to the weather, the Major Airline Customer Service line was very busy the weekend of Smarch 32nd-33rd. I needed to get back to work for that Monday. So my family and I attempted to move up my original flight, departing XYZ for City B at 8:30 Sunday night, to beat the oncoming ice storm.

We were on hold for about three and a half hours total. This included three dropped calls. This went on and off from about 10:30pm on Saturday to 2:30 am.

Again, I understand the line was extremely busy that night, hence the long hold time. But in the future, for callers’ sanity’s sake, I suggest it is not necessary to loop prerecorded messages about baggage requirements quite so frequently during calls of such a length.

It is also not necessary to play music after, say, twenty minutes have passed. An occasional reminder that the caller is still on hold will suffice.

I will not be the first to suggest that routine flight and amenity changes be possible to make online, instead of on the phone, so more time and help is available to customers with more complicated issues.

-Eventually, we successfully changed my flight. At City A Airport the next day, after multiple gate changes–not all of which were announced–I boarded the 2:30 flight to City B, Flight 1408, at about 3pm.

-When the plane had been in the air for about an hour, the pilot announced that we were in a descent, heading back to City A, due to an engine problem.

We were met by an emergency crew on the runway and escorted to the gate. It was announced that the fire truck escort was routine. No further information was given.

(I found out the next day that the the plane taken out of service. Passengers heard nothing at the time about the situation or whether the flight would be rescheduled. I had to go to Twitter for more information.)

We sat on the plane a while longer as we waited for a gate agent to arrive. Meanwhile, a flight attendant gave the standard greeting announcement: “Welcome to City A,” the weather, “Enjoy your evening, thank you for flying with us,” etc. The attendant finished with a brief “I apologize.” No further apologies were given.

The mechanical problem may have been unforeseeable, and the decision to land back in City A necessary, but the flight crew behaving as though the plan had always been to land in City A was surreal to say the least. (And Orwellian to say the most). It came off as appallingly uncaring to the hundred-some passengers who were suddenly not going to travel across the country as planned.

-Before we were released, we were told to go to Gates X1, X20, or X21 for help. Many of us, who were not familiar with Airport XYZ, assumed these gates were designated to help only passengers from our flight. They turned out to be the locations of the generic AA help desks.

At X20/X21, a few passengers headed for the X21 desk, where the line was short. X21 is in fact a small satellite desk of X20 across the way. The agent there was not able to help anyone and sent us to X20.

It is not clear why our flight crew directed us to X21 at all, unless there was a communication breakdown between them and the airport.

If communication breakdowns between flight crews and airports are not extremely rare, then I’m afraid to fly again: not just with Major Airline, not just out of XYZ, but anywhere.

-Standing in line at X20, it became obvious that this was the desk for all passengers needing to rebook, mostly those on the many, many flights that were cancelled that day due to weather.

Given that situation, it would have made much more sense to designate one or two agents to handle our flight, where everybody was stranded for the same non-weather-related reason and trying to get to the same place. We could have all been processed efficiently, and the agents gone on quickly to help others. Letting us loose in a chaotic airport only added to the chaos.

-An agent by X20 handed out cards with the Reservations phone number, which many passengers were calling. Again, dealing with flights like ours individually in the airport would have cut down on phone wait times. I did call the number while I was in line, and did receive a call back when I was a few places away from the front.

By that point, I had waited in line for about an hour.

-I should have gotten the name of the extremely patient rep on the Reservations line who helped me. This woman was on the line with me for about an hour and a half, between 6:30 and 8pm on Sunday night. I hope the information I’m giving is enough to identify her, so she can be recognized as she deserves.

-The Reservations rep informed me that flights to City B were cancelled, but a flight to City C (across the state from City B) was leaving from Terminal Y about fifty minutes, and I could make it. She directed me to the terminal over the phone.

On the way to the terminal, the rep said that my coupon status showed up as “Used”, as I’d gotten on the flight I was ticketed for. She said she couldn’t change this status over the phone, but the agent at the gate, Y33, could.

-The flight at Y33 was beginning to board. By this point, it was about 6:30pm. I saw two employees behind the desk, one of whom was occupied with boarding. I approached the other, who was standing behind a computer, and tried to give him my record locator. He turned out to be a pilot. Later, when someone else asked him for help, he explained wasn’t on duty, but waiting to board the plane to get home.

I’m ignorant, but I don’t see any reason the pilot needed to stand behind the gate desk, causing confusion and looking unprofessional. If this is common, then maybe flight crews should be trained in and given access to basic ticket procedures. It’s generally not bad practice anyway for employees to be trained in multiple capacities.

-The agent handling the boarding, then, was the only agent on the gate. She had to deal with not only the passengers who were boarding, but also with standby list of about ten people, passengers arriving late, and, eventually, a few of us with coupon status issues. At one point, I think she called for back-up, but none came.

-I approached the agent while she was taking passengers off standby. She did not acknowledge me, and I did not want to interrupt her. I was also giving the rep on the phone updates on what was going on, including what the agent was doing. I am sure this did not endear me to her, which might go some way to explaining what happened next.

-When I did find a window to say “Excuse me” and give the agent my record locater, she entered the information and told me that she couldn’t give me a boarding pass because my coupon status was “Used”. I explained my flight had had mechanical problems, and the rep on the phone had said she could change the status. The agent said “I can’t do it. I’m sorry. I don’t have time,” and disappeared through the jetway door.

-When the rep heard what had happened, she said that the agent had to change the status, and asked to be put on the phone with her. But the agent was gone and it wasn’t clear if she was coming back or the flight was closed. She did come back eventually, but by then the rep had put me on hold to try to reach the ticket desk (which she could not reach). For the next while, either one or the other was unavailable, so they couldn’t talk to each other. I tried to ask the agent again to change my status, but got the same response.

-During this time, the agent complained that a number of passengers were absent due to late connecting flights, and said that the flight might leave without them. These passengers did eventually begin to arrive, including one couple who waited for several minutes while the agent was gone. When they wanted to board, she got angry with them.

-The one time when the rep was on the phone and the agent was at the desk, two other women had arrived who also wanted to get on the plane and also had problems with their coupon statuses. Before I could get the agent on the phone with the rep (who was also becoming heated, though not with me), the agent said she couldn’t change their statuses, either. By now, the situation was so tense was that I didn’t want escalate it by demanding the agent talk to the rep.

-Finally, we gave up on the agent at Y33, and the rep tried to direct me to a “red phone” in the terminal. I didn’t see any, and ended up trying two other gates to get my status changed. One gate’s flight moved, and the agent’s left. At the second gate, I believe Y38, no one was boarding and the two agents were able to talk to me immediately. One pulled up my information and was puzzled by my coupon status. I explained the situation for about the fifth time.

-The agent with my information began to ask the other agent at the desk about it, but was interrupted by someone who may or may not have been a fellow employee walking up to him with another question. The agent talked to her for a few minutes before returning to me. By the time he looked at his screen again, my status had changed. We were both puzzled by this.

-As I was leaving, the second agent at the gate asked for my record locater, and was all ready to help me with the problem that had just solved itself.

-It was too late to catch the flight leaving from Y33, so I changed terminals a second time for 9:50 flight to City C leaving from Terminal Z. On the way, the rep, still on the phone, explained that everyone on my original flight was probably having their statuses changed, and mine had just come up on the list.

Again, if one or two agents had been assigned to take care of everyone from Flight 666 after it landed, everyone’s statuses could have been changed efficiently and in person, at the very least making it possible for passengers to receive new boarding passes.

-At the new gate, Z43, an agent said she’d print my boarding pass after she opened the jetway. She disappeared for about 15 minutes. Another agent appeared and printed my boarding pass in 30 seconds.

-The flight was delayed because there was no flight crew. Once we boarded, we sat on the tarmac for about an hour before it was decided the plane should be deice. We arrived in City C at 2am.

-My brother had to drive from three towns over to pick me up at 2:30am. The next day was a workday for him, too.

I rented a car nearby, driving back to the City B airport to retrieve my own car. I did not make it to work and had to call in a personal day.

As I said, I do not want to stop flying with Major Airline, but even with several week’s distance I cannot stand the thought of going through another experience like this. Your response at this point will determine whether I risk it again.

Thank you for your time. I look forward very much to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Myself Lastname
Contact Information
Email Address”

Update from 2016: About five weeks after I sent this letter, Major Airline responded with an email I could not respond to directly. They commented that while “weather delays” like mine could be frustrating, they could not offer compensation for such delays. 

The only way I could respond to Major Airline was through their online complaint system, or via a second letter. I feel this was a final assault to my status as a customer who deserved effective communication.

I have not flown with Major Airline since. 

 

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