Customer Service: United Drops the Ball

I fly a lot, and have seen all sorts of crews.  I understand that Flight Attendants are human and, like the rest of us, are prone to having bad days.  With that being said, I was very disappointed this week-end by the crew of United 846 from Buenos Aires (Ezeiza) to Washington (Dulles).  They is simply no excuse for some behaviour, especially lying to customers.

Of course, as a frequent flier I understand that the conditions were not optimal.  The first three hours of the flight were bumpy, with the captain thrice announcing that the crew should postpone their service and sit down until notified otherwise.  It was an overnight flight (which are likely not the most popular among flight crews), and it was a full plane (767-300, which holds about 300 people).  Because of all of that, I recognized that the crews might not be in the best of moods… but part of their job is to be nice unless given a good reason not to be, and it doesn’t take a lot of work to be polite.

Two hours into the flight, the seatbelt sign was turned off, and I (along with several others) took the opportunity to use the washroom.  Because there was a cart blocking the aisle, I opted to use the facilities at the front of the cabin.  After waiting for seven minutes, an FA came up and told me I had to use the ones at the back of the cabin.  Ok, I get it… when I am in First Class I like to be able to use the washroom quicker too, but taking so long to tell me was just silly.  After that long I don’t see how it could have hurt to let me stay… but, because I know the rules, I complied.  I went to the back of the plane, and waited another ten minutes.

After a few minutes, one of the flight attendants came to me and told me I could not stand where I was.  I was not in the way, so I asked why not… especially since anywhere else I could have moved to would have been in the way.  She told me that I was blocking her jump seat.  I moved to let her sit down, but she walked away.  I resumed my place.  She then came and started yelling at me that standing there put her safety at risk, and that it was a federal offense for me to stand there.  Never mind the fact that well before she would have to sit down for safety reasons, the captain would have put the seatbelt sign back on and *I* would have had to sit down.  Because I recognized that she was being unreasonable, I didn’t argue it… simply moved.

Several minutes later I was finished in the restroom, and I found myself face to face with one of the senior FAs.  In a calm voice I told him that I understand that they were having a difficult flight, but that I felt that I had been treated incorrectly.  He started yelling at me that ‘YOU ARE NOT GOING TO STAND THERE AND ARGUE WITH ME ABOUT…’

…I simply walked away.  There is seldom anything to be gained by engaging an irrational person – especially one in temporary authority – when they are unwilling to listen to quiet and rational arguments.  It left a sour taste in my mouth – I hate backing down – but knowing that escalating the matter would do me no good and could in fact do me harm, I simply walked away in the middle of his sentence.

I have not complained to United Airlines, although I have thought about it… but the next time I have the option of flying them I will think twice.  It is my first negative experience with that airline in several years, so I was surprised by it, but knowing how customer service expectations and offerings have dropped in the past years I should not be… maybe I should just be surprised that it doesn’t happen more often.  I am not saying I will never fly United again… One bad apple does not always have spoil the entire bunch.  I just feel that I have written so favourably of them over the past few years that when they really blow it I should call attention to that too; and let this be a lesson that when you wear your company’s uniform you are representing them… so Ms. Let’s Make Up Laws (which I suspect is, in and of itself, against the law) remember that you sullied the image of your company when you were pissy with me.  And to your fellow crew member Mr. I Don’t Care About Your Side, you reinforced that.

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One thought on “Customer Service: United Drops the Ball

  1. I think that experiences like this have become the trend. People who work with customers too often aren’t planning for how they can fix problems that come up and just expect all customers to just sit there and be happy that they’re getting any service.

    Great customer service isn’t hard. I’ve written about it here:

    http://www.themana.gr/management/3-keys-to-great-customer-service-vision/

    Unfortunately, great service isn’t mainstream yet. Hopefully we see that soon.

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