Wednesday 28 March 2012

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Dealing with Delays Differently

A few days ago I wrote about United Airlines customer service, and how I was reasonably happy with the way that they handled our likely-to-be-missed connection in Denver last week. I was less happy with the way that their phone staff responded, but there were some people who did an even worse job of dealing with the delay than anybody on the United team. While most people were calm and understood that flight delays happen, there were a couple of passengers whose lives were apparently altered in drastic ways by the chance that they may miss their connection. I really felt sorry for the gate agents who these passengers apparently mistook for their personal secretaries, but it sure kept the entertainment level high for those of us watching.

First up was the "I'm too important to miss my connection" guy. As soon as it became apparent that our flight was going to be late, he was on his phone talking with somebody about alternative routes (for his sake I hope it wasn't United's customer service line) and he never put the phone down again until...well I actually never saw him put it down again. He was the first up to the desk when a gate agent arrived, and when they told him they had to deal with the other flight first he responded "But what if I need to be re-routed on to that plane?" When informed that the outgoing flight had checked in full, he pulled out "Well you'll ask for volunteers to give up their seat so I can get to my destination right?" Somehow the United agent kept a straight face and informed him that there was no intention to ask for volunteers, so with a giant "Hrmph!" he put the phone back to his ear and started talking to somebody again while walking away from the counter. I saw him again in Washington, still talking on the phone. My condolences to whichever United employee got to deal with this guy.

Can you check every one of these please?

Next was the "Where can we go from here?" guy. This gentleman obviously knew the United system very well, as he had loads of suggestions for re-routing him. For some reason though, most of these re-routes involved traveling through tropical locations. I'm pretty sure the most direct route from Denver to Miami doesn't involve going through Honolulu or Puerto Vallarta. What's worse was that every time he found a routing he could take, he would come up with "just one more" that he wanted to check. It may have been the slowest moving line in history, but I think everybody put up with it because we all really wanted to know just what route this guy was going to end up taking. Unfortunately, I never got to find out as I got called over to the other line to be helped.

This is where I met my favorite type of delayed passenger, the "I really don't care" lady. She looked completely exhausted, and she only had one question for the lady handling her..."Are the food vouchers good at Starbucks?" Once assured that they were, this lady didn't care about anything else. She took her vouchers and started to walk away, leaving the poor United agent to call her back to deal with a hotel. The passenger mumbled something about benches and Starbucks (I didn't quite catch it all) and kept on going. The United agent laughed, then turned to help me, thus assuring that I was going to come off as the most demanding person on the planet for wanting a hotel room for the night.

Of course eventually, all of this exercise turned out to be pointless. While not everybody on our flight was connecting to Washington, a large portion of us were, and since they held the plane for us in Denver nobody actually needed any of the vouchers that we'd been given. I'm guessing that we all thought about it though. While running through the Denver airport to make our connection, I'm pretty sure we all did a little stutter step while going past the Woody Creek Bakery & Cafe, contemplating just how much of the $100 in food vouchers we could redeem for baked goods while still making our carry-on limits. I'm sure they would have held the plane for me. After all, I'm too important to miss my connection.