Customer service… come fly with me

I’m sat in the restaurant in the Crown Plaza, San Pedro, CA aka Los Angeles Harbour. Across the partition, in the bar, is an American guy, I can’t see him, but he is talking loudly. He said “we founded our business on customer service”. What I want to know is did he “fund” his business for customer service?

These are two radically different things as I’ve found out tonight, to my cost. I arrived at the hotel exactly 2-hours after I arrived at the gate for American Airlines AA2246. The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:45, we arrived at the gate at 7:42, door closed agent down at the plane. Yes, you have to be at the gate 10-mins before the flight, otherwise you can’t make it. Here though is how this was a customer service disaster, and an expensive one at that, and not for me.

I’m an AA Exec. Platinum member variously for probably 8-10 years, with maybe one or two years off. I’ve travelled some 2,750,000 miles with American in that time.


Back in the annals of time, I was on the top level of the KLM/Northwest frequent flyer program(RoyalWing), until one day when I got stranded in Mineapolis for as the agent said “23hrs, 55minutes”, but thats OK as they could “give me a pass for Camp Snoopy”; a few years later, having worked my to the top/Gold on British Airways, I needed one more flight to renew my Gold status, and my flight from Heathrow was cancelled by BA, and I had to rebook couldn’t find a BA flight, and ever since then, apart from as a last resort, I’ve never travelled with BA again. Thats where I think I’ve arrived with American Airlines tonight. Time to find another parade(*1).

This picture above is my actual flight, I could have been half way home, instead its going to take me another 13hrs. Here is how things went today, and then I’ll provide an alternative scenario.

2:30pm check flight status online, departing on schedule
3:30pm check flight status online, departing on schedule
4:32 arrive SJC airport, check-in, print boarding pass
4:45 TSA security clearance, light traffic
5:01 arrive gate 10, SJC, flight on schedule.
5:08 find powerpoint, plug in phone, call Lynn
5:10 during discussion with Lynn, I check flight status via phone, flight delayed, estimated 7:37pm arrival, get frustrated after a few mins hang up from Lynn, go see gate agent.
5:15 approx. Have jovial discussion with gate agent about options for delayed flight, at this point AA hadn’t acknowledged in the airport, the delay. I learn AA have a 5* Concierge Service; gate agent switches me to seat 1A so can exit sooner but this won’t really help as I have to wait for valet checked bag; go sit back down, check for concierge service; call Lynn back
5:19 gate agent announces flight delay, says they are confident of 6:12 departure
(approx) 6:12 we board AA2618
6:27 AA2618 leaves gate
7:20 AA2618 Wheels down LAX
7:25 AA2618 docks at American Eagle remote gate
7:27 I’m off plane, waiting for valet checked bag
7:30 Bag arrives; I run like crazed traveller to bus stop, at least one other traveller at front of line is on same flight
7:35 we are on bus and it departs for main terminal
7:41 we arrive at bus gate; gate for AA2246 is literally the next gate, steps to aircraft door are within 100ft; we sprint up escalator, turn left, run to door down to jetbridge, its closed and locked. It’s now 7:42
7:42 – 7:45 we are banging loudly on gate door, no response.
7:45 Gate agent appears from plane, says flights closed, we need to go to customer service center and rebook, nothing she can do.
7:48 Jet bridge still attached to plane; we ask customer service to send supervisor
7:54 Supervisor arrives, plane still at gate, supervisor tells us there is nothing she can do as “they have to close doors on time, and they are nothing to do with dispatching plane” – refuses to re-attached jetbridge, denies us boarding. When asked, agrees to call CSM
8:00 AA2246 still at gate, luggage and freight still being loaded into rear cargo hold; conveyor belts still at plane both front and back.
8:02 AA2246 pushed back from gate by tug.
8:04 AA Customer Service Manager Wilkins arrives, we shake hands, I explain calmly what the problem is; point to plane that is out from the gate, but still not left gate area; long discussion follows, no real customer service.
8:05 AA2246 moves away to taxi for take-off
8:10 other two passengers on who missed the flight are still working with Supervisor for alternate arrangements
8:15 I leave with travel, hotel, meal vouchers provided by AA, plus confirmed economy seat on AA1182 in the morning
8:35 I finally find find my way to Supershuttle at LAX T4, am told shuttle to hotel will be 15-mins
8:54 Shuttle arrives; I join 1x ex-AA employee on her way home to San Pedro; 2x Pasengers from AA flight who missed connection to Hawaii, heading to the Crown Plaza, San Pedro.
9:08 After looping endlessly Supershuttle actually exits airport
9:40 email arrives confirming 1st Class upgrade for me on AA1182
9:42 After a long debate with the clueless supershuttle driver, the ex-AA employee directs him to the hotel first, and then on to her home.

No kidding, I could have actually been home if AA had have done something simple. Instead, they’ve cost themselves a fortune, and cost me a lost day of work.

If AA were “funded” for customer service, these are all the points where they could have made a difference.
– AA could have posted delay as early as they knew, given the flight before to LAX was also delayed, AA must have been able to give a more accurate status than “on time”; at this point I could have rebooked on either the then delayed AA flight to LAX, which still left in plenty of time for me to make the connection; or I could have re-booked with an alternative route before leaving SJC.
– AA Gate agent could have notified customer service about our plight; we could have been met variously on deplanning from AA2618; at the American Eagle bus gate; they could have ensured a bus was there; they could have met us at the bus/main terminal arrival gate and directed us up the adjacent stairs to the waiting plane.

Each one of these would have cost minimal extra planning, almost no additional cost since we would have only been using regular staff. Instead, here is how I figure it cost American, just for this flight:

 o  Supervisor 15-20 mins time - Figure $15 per hour,  x3 = $28
 o  CSM Wilkins including walking down to meet us, 20-25 mins
- Figure $22 per hour, aggregate time 40 mins, = $18
 o  Rebooking costs, travel, hotel, meal plus seat on AA1182.
 o  Assume travel+hotel+meal+travel x3 = $240(minimum)
 o  Empty seat $150

So, the cost of closing the door on time for this one delayed flight

Cost AA $436 absolute minimum.

This discounts any problems with seats caused by rebooking, upgrades and lost 1st Class sales etc. plus a lost seat on the morning flight x3. round this out to say $500. Then there is the couple on the supershuttle, similar but not as extreme problem, no doubt many others in LAX alone… how many more people, more airports?

CSM Wilkins confirmed that AA2246 had left with 2x standby passengers and 1x empty seat, so they flew with at least 1x empty seat which would otherwise been full. I have no idea how to calculate thhe cost/value of the 2x standby passengers, since it would depend on why they were on standby. Crew, Staff =$0, previously delayed passengers =$?? Passengers just hoping to get an earlier flight? = $0

The alternative would have been to be funded for “customer service” instead of founded on it. At worst if that one regular employee, cost $12?, had spent the whole hour, waiting for hour SJC>LAX flight, and then taken one of the actions described earlier. [Yes, I doubt a regular employee hour costs $12, a supervisor $15, and a CSM $22, I’m guessing much more, which still makes the point valid].

The days where flying like Leonardo di Caprio in “catch me if you can” are long past. Service has gone with the wind. In a race to the bottom where almost every email I get from AA is focussed on low cost of flights rather than quality or customer service; Where airfares are similar to what they were 8-10 years ago, or even cheaper, air travel has become utilitarian. Everyone, it seems, does it. If you can afford an additional $200 per reservation, AA has the 5Star Service, which would be better named the 1% club but it’s not clear that would have helped today.

I booked a town car for the morning, I’ll pay for it myself, Supershuttle wanted to pick me up between 2:15am-3:15am for my flight. Excuse my French, F* that. AFter the AA disaster getting here late Sunday, early Monday, and not getting into my hotel bed until 3am, My AAdvantage account says “Member Since: Friday, August 15, 1997”.

(*1)As it says in the Catch-me if you can trailer, “nobody better rain on my parade”. Today it rained on mine.

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