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Given the air travel I’ve been doing I think I have a reasonable sense of what’s not happening in customer relations on America’s airlines. In short, customer relations are MIA.

Take today. I arrived at the airport to discover that Continental had rebooked my flight from Philadelphia to Newark as a train ride. That’s right, a train. No one contacted me to see if I approved this change. It was just made. So here I am at Philly International and the train station is downtown.

No problem, right? Just rebook. This I tried to do until the Continental agent said, “I can’t change the ticket. It belongs to Delta.” Even though Delta and Continental are not part of the same airline cooperative, still, mysteriously having something to do with Orbitz, the ticket belonged to Delta because I’d flown to the City of Brotherly Love on that airline.

A long walk through the ticketing area brought me to Delta. The agent, a woman maybe in her mid-20s, says, and I kid you not, “What do you want?” I resist telling her what I’m thinking and simply explain my need to rebook a jet, not a train. She immediately appears flummoxed, taps innumerable keys, and challenges my interpretation of the issue until I produce paperwork proving my view. After more rolling of the eyes, exaggerated body movements, and looks of disgust at other agents—not at me—I’m not sure she ever made eye contact with me—she tells me she can’t do this and the ticket belongs to Continental.

I show her my paperwork once again demonstrating otherwise and she calls in a manager, a woman who was a bit more mature but never intervened in any way in how her employee conducted herself. After more calls, keys, and denials it could be done, the young agent finds the right page in the system. Now she challenges my drivers’ license’s validity—I had just gone to the Secretary of State’s Office for renewal and the license had a paper stapled to it. My new one awaits me at home. Finally, I get her past this and she completes the work, prints new boarding passes, and slaps them—yes, slaps them—on the counter in front of me. Never once did she say “Thanks” or “Sorry for the confusion” or for that matter anything civil.

When I get to Detroit I discover the agent had put me on a later flight when an earlier one was available. I rebooked again but paid for this by an eventual delay in the flight and a wait at Grand Rapids for my luggage to come in on the original still later flight.

When my bag didn’t arrive in Grand Rapids I approached the Delta desk where three agents were standing working over another bag. Fine, I waited. Then one agent left without looking at me, the other agent didn’t acknowledge my presence and finally wondered off, and the third continued to ignore me. Finally she looked up and asked if I had a bag claim.

Not every agent is like these. One fellow today called me “Mr. Rogers,” smiled, said, “Have a good flight,” and in every way acted professionally. But too many act otherwise. Too many give you attitude, suggesting whatever the problem, it’s clearly your fault, not the airline’s and certainly not theirs.

I’ve written before that American airlines need to learn about customer service from international airlines. It’s not that they have to spend a lot of money. Southwest Airlines consistently ranks at the top of customer satisfaction and it’s a no-frills airline featuring flight attendants who rap, dance, chant poetry and more. It’s about giving customers the modicum of respect they deserve.

Question for the Christian: How should one respond when treated unprofessionally? Answer as one is tempted? Let them have it. Raise your voice? Or maybe don't say anything at all, just walk meekly away? Or should we somehow find a way to speak the truth in love?


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

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