Winter Travel Challenge
For those following my tweets, you might have detected a slight hitch in my travel plans last week! It resulted in the loss of a day with my daughter as well as a day’s skiing in Colorado. C’est la vie, when you travel in the winter.
However, dear Air Canada corporate folks, you really should get your act together!
Simple story: My husband and I arrived at Halifax airport at 0445 (this is very early AM), only to be greeted with “Your flight has been cancelled. Call this number.” As you may already have guessed, that’s just not a good start to what should be a three-flight day.
Any brief contact with the front-line staff produced the same result. No explanation, no help.
We adjourned to a bench to regroup. To complicate matters a little more, it was not clear whether it was United or Air Canada that we should be contacting: this one and the subsequent flights were ‘code-share’ flights. On previous occasions, after much queueing, we have both been told: “Oh, it’s ‘their’ problem – contact them.”
Naturally, we hoped to rebook asap; we had even booked out extra early to give ourselves leeway, so that we might still be able to make our rendezvous with our daughter in Toronto!
So, on to a two pronged approach:
John tried to get on-line with United (thank you YHZ for good free internet access), while I rang Air Canada’s magic number and waited.
J’s attempts with United were frustrated by the lack of the appropriate United frequent flyer number (we only have Air Canada numbers) or an appropriate booking number on the papers. Eventually, by cell phone, after several runs through an automated Alexander-Graham-Hell menu, he got through to a lady on a toll-free number, only to be told that her computer was frozen.
Meanwhile, back on the bench, I was still waiting on hold, listening to the endless adverts promoting winter fly-vacations! (Not appreciated when they couldn’t even handle our problem and yet were there soliciting more business — GROWL.)
We decided to have another try at finding a real human, and got into the frequent-flyer line-up, both of us being members. Once we reached a person, who urged me not to put the phone down (still on hold), she gradually and patiently began to reassemble our plans. After an hour and two minutes on hold, I reached a representative. Between the rep and the agent, new plans were hatched.
However, despite her best attempts, our day continued to disintegrate and we eventually managed to reach Toronto 18 hours later.
Analyzing our day (somewhat later), we both agreed that the worst part of the day was being catapulted into anonymous electronic hell. All of our eventual dealings with real people were positive and pleasant.
So why was this allowed to happen? It transpired that the problems all began the night before, when the planes had failed to land in Halifax. If management knew that the planes were not on location, why not contact passengers then, and rebook them? We have given email addresses and phone numbers a myriad of times and know they are on file. Failing this, it should have been patently obvious that there were going to be big problems in the morning, so why not have extra staff at the call-center so that customers could get through to them in a timely manner?
Apparently (according to our travel agent) the handing out of a phone number is a way of ‘deflecting the wrath’ of the traveling public away from the front-line agents.
If a pilot determines that is unsafe to land, I totally support his decision. I also find it totally unacceptable that some people take out their frustrations on the ground staff, but an hour on hold listening to advertisements is hardly designed to reassure or calm the would-be flyer.
I was glad I had company in the chaos: between us, we had two cell phones and two laptops at our disposal. It would have been a far harder ordeal for the solo traveler, one without a cell phone, or one whose phone battery had expired during the impossible wait.
There are times when the unexpected happens, and we just have to roll with it. But information and prompt attention can go a long way to keeping the customers happy, which, in my humble opinion is far more desirable than having them frothing at the mouth!