Thursday, June 17, 2010

AirTran - Where the Customer is Always Wrong

My Mom will not be using AirTran Airlines anymore. Neither will I, come to think of it.  But I don't travel that much.

Mom used to come to Philadelphia every few months. Not to see me, of course. Or even my kids. She has two adorable great-grandchildren here who scream with delight every time she walks in the room. That is the magnet that draws her northward.

She also flies to New Orleans to see my brother.

She has been flying AirTran since they first began service between Atlanta and Philadelphia. They always seem to have the lowest prices. She wasn't happy when they started charging her to take a suitcase, but Southwestern doesn't fly everywhere, so she bit the bullet.

Until the last trip. After a week filled with the excitement of traveling first to Philadelphia,  and then by bus to New York for my son's graduation from college, Mom was ready to go home and just rest.

I dropped her off Sunday morning about an hour and a half before her flight. 

She had printed out her boarding pass the night before, a great time-saver that allowed her to check in quicker. 

She checked her bag, made some small talk with the agent who checked  her bag and her boarding pass and went on to the gate. After a while, she noticed that there weren't any other passengers coming to the gate. She went over to the board where they post all the flights and couldn't figure out which gate matched her flight. She is in her 80s after all, and her eyes aren't what they used to be. By the time she found someone to help her, she learned that AirTran had changed the gate, and she had missed her plane.

She found an AirTran agent and explained what had happened.

"You must have fallen asleep," the agent told her. " that was always the gate."

Which it wasn't - Mom had the boarding pass to prove it. 

By the time she called me she was in tears. She had a ticket for the next flight. She wasn't upset about missing the flight as much as the condescending way she had been treated by the person supposed to be providing customer service.

"They made me feel like an idiot," she complained.

Now Mom is old, but she's not stupid. And even if she WAS, what happened to that old adage, "The customer is always right." What was the point of arguing with an elderly passenger and trying to make her feel bad?
The bad taste lingered. A week after she returned home, she wrote a letter to the president of the airline.

"I probably won't hear from anyone," she told me, "but I had to get it off my chest."

She was wrong. AirTran called her. Another "customer service" agent. And incredibly enough, she made the situation even worse.

It was all Mom's fault, the AirTran agent told her. Mom had printed out the boarding pass the night before (why give people the gate when they do that if you are only going to move the flight?). THEN, she had the audacity to show up EARLY. The check in agent couldn't tell her the gate had changed, because they hadn't changed it yet!

Of course they took no responsibility themselves -- like how about make an announcement like other airlines do. "Ladies and Gentleman, AirTran flight 318 has been changed to gate 4E."

After calling to tell their customer that she was all wrong, they offered her a $25 discount on her next flight.

Then Mom did make a mistake. She was sarcastic. She thanked AirTran for being so generous.

Those kinds of people never understand sarcasm.

So that is how AirTran lost a perfectly good customer. Along with the rest of our family.

If there is a prize for the world's worst customer service, they are a shoe-in.

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