Thursday, August 18, 2011

Unfriendly Skies Part II

In 2007, I wrote about the experience of flying in my post Unfriendly Skies.   In the past 4 years, the domestic flying experience has gotten worse.

Two weeks ago today, I was in Japan at Narita airport for my flight back to Boston.  The check in and security lines were extremely long.   Although I had 1.5 hours before my departure, it was clear that getting to the plane on time would be challenging.

I asked the customer service staff at All Nippon Airways (ANA) for their advice.   Immediately, they assessed the situation and escorted me to a check in window for a  boarding pass.   (Note that I was flying the lowest cost economy possible, not business or first class).  The check in person then left her post to escort me to the crew line in security and walked with me through the screening process.   During X-ray scanning,  the Japanese security staff noted I was carrying a handcrafted broom that violated their security guidelines because it could be used as a "nightstick" weapon.   They paged an ANA baggage carrier who wrapped my broom and checked it on the spot.   I arrived to my gate on time, but unfortunately my departure was delayed 45 minutes because ANA wanted to accommodate a late arriving plane with numerous connecting passengers.

During the flight to Los Angeles, ANA called ahead to my connecting flight on American Airlines to give me the best chance to make my tight connection.

When I arrived at LAX, ANA staff escorted me to Customs/Immigration and gave me a special "expedited" sticker to ensure I could bypass lines and delays.   It worked flawlessly.

I walked out of the Tom Bradley International terminal and then walked to the American Airlines gates at Terminal 4.   I might as well have walked into the 9th circle of Dante's Inferno.

Immediately, the American Airlines staff were hostile and uncaring.   They told me I'd never make my flight and sent me to the back of a long customer service line.  Shortly thereafter a single mother with 4 young children was sent to the same line and began crying in despair because she was going to miss her flight.    A truly unpleasant American Airlines staffer told her  "I know what you're going through and I cannot help you, just stand in line", as if a 25 year old male understood the challenge of being a single mother with 4 children.   I escorted her to the front of the line explaining to everyone else that she and her children needed their help.   We got her onto her flight to Shanghai.   I missed my flight and was told by American Airlines that all Boston flights were so overbooked that I had no hope of getting a flight until the next day.   They would offer me a $5.00 discount on a hotel room…

Let's see - in Japan, caring people walked me through the process to ensure success.  In the US, I was hassled, ignored, impeded, and overbooked.    My flight to Boston took 30 hours including an overnight stay at a motel near LAX.

There is truly something wrong with an industry that sets policies and hires people who are customer hostile.   I will amend what I said in 2007.   I will try as hard as possible to limit my travel to international carriers that want my business, while using teleconferencing instead of domestic travel.   When I'm asked if my domestic travel experience met my expectation, my only response can be - it landed and I guess I'm thankful for that!


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