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The Sorry State of the Airlines

The Sorry State of the Airlines

I’m flying to San Diego, first class, on USAir. Except it’s not USAir, it’s a United airplane, because they are “code sharing.” That means that two airlines are working to fill one plane to the brim, which they have. (It also means that neither airline’s web sites will allow you to print a boarding pass in advance. Brilliant AND customer-friendly.)

On time to Chicago, the San Diego connecting flight is listed as “delayed” with no gate or other information. I head to United’s Red Carpet Club and the special attendant behind the desk. In an area with eight seats (this is a United hub) there are only two women on duty, one constantly on the phone because they have a personnel problem with an unhappy employee.

After a 15 minute wait, I arrive at the woman who is actually working, who tells me that all she can see is that it’s a “crew problem.”

“Where is the plane right now?” I ask.

“I don’t know, perhaps here.”

“No airplane sits around for 90 minutes in O’Hare,” I inform her, since the flight’s scheduled departure was over an hour away. “Where is it inbound from?”

“I don’t have that information.”

“You don’t know where your own aircraft is coming from?! How do you folks track your flights? First one in is assigned the next outbound city?!”

“You don’t understand from that side of the desk that we are limited. We have so many different zones and accountabilities, I’m not even sure who to call.”

“Well, start calling by trial and error, because from THIS side of the desk you have a customer who may not be able to get to a commitment and who would like to know what his options are.”

She makes some calls and (of course) finds out where the plane is: on the ground in Portland, Oregon. And it doesn’t have a “crew” problem, it has a mechanical problem.

“So it may be cancelled,” I point out.

“Perhaps, we never know,” she replies.

“What other first class seats do you have to either San Diego or Los Angeles?”

“Sir, technically, you have a USAir ticket, so you’d have to exchange it at USAir.”

“That’s a completely different terminal, and then I’d have to return here to take the actual flight!”

“That’s accurate.”

“Tell me what’s available, and I’ll buy a NEW ticket on United right here. You can do that, right?”

“Yes, but I’m sorry, all flights are sold out in all classes of service to those destinations through the rest of the day.”

As I write this, my plane has now been listed for a 6:30 departure, 3.5 hours late, with a lot of obvious “ifs.”

If anyone wants to challenge my thesis that the airline industry magnetically attracts the dumbest executives in the country, I welcome your rebuttals.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

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