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Baffling customer service experience at check-in (Fresno / FAT)

Baffling customer service experience at check-in (Fresno / FAT)

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Old Jan 7, 19, 2:26 pm
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Baffling customer service experience at check-in (Fresno / FAT)

I am really baffled by how terribly the entire AA ground team handled my flight this past Saturday. I have flown a lot and haven’t had something like this before, so I was looking for thoughts from you all. Is this normal? Was the way they handled it proper?

Scene: Fresno Air Terminal (FAT) for a flight to Phoenix. For those who are not familiar, FAT is a small airport with around 10 active gates. What is important is that the check-in area is shared by all the airlines, and the airline check in desk is noted by monitors rather than fixed signage. This is relevant because there are no kiosks everything is handled by agents. If you have a bag to check, you must stand in the general line, there is no self-tagging and drop off.

I was taking AA 5885 Operated by Mesa Airlines on a CR9 departing at 7:06pm. This is the last AA flight from Fresno for the day. Also relevant.

I arrived at 5:50pm to the line, which is 1 hour and 16 minutes before departure. I had one full sized bag to check (49lbs). I was the 3rd person in line. So far so good, typical Fresno experience.

Even though there were only two folks in front of me, it took until 6:25 for me to see an agent. Why the delay:
  • First agent for the priority line had spent the entire time helping two customers while on the phone. When I left, this was still the case. Apparently, they were from the earlier AA 2363 to Dallas that was cancelled.
  • Second agent had spent the entire time helping a family who appeared to be walk-up customers looking to buy plane tickets. They were talking about itineraries, prices, layovers, fare bucket, etc, very baffling way to spend 45 minutes.
  • Third agent left at 6pm, never to be seen again.
  • Fourth agent was in-and out. Helped one customer, disappeared for a bit, came back, and eventually helped me.
So I hand over my ID, place the bag on the scale (49lbs exactly, score)…and then she says “I am sorry but we can’t check your bag anymore, it's less than 45 minutes before the flight”

Well, surely an exception to this rule can be made considering it took an unreasonable 35 minutes to check in 3 customers. And there were still 20 people in line behind me who were also going to Phoenix and clearly many had bags (Again, last flight of the night, so it was clear where everyone was going).

Nope. Mind you, the agent was very friendly, but she seemed to have as much leeway to do anything as a kiosk. We asked for a supervisor, which she called, but the supervisor said nothing could be done and no, they couldn’t come to the check in area to speak with any of us.

At this point, the agent said she could print my boarding passes and I could make my way to the gate with my check-in bag and see what they would say there.

Naturally., I had some questions.
Me: “Does TSA let me bring this large bag through?”
Agent: “If you don’t have liquids it’s probably fine”
Me: “What happens at the gate?”
Agent: “I’m not sure but you might get charged”
Me: “How much?”
Agent: “It’ll be more, probably like $50”
Me: “What happens in Phoenix?”
Agent: “I’m not sure

Perfectly friendly agent, but not exactly confidence inspiring. She gave the impression that this was her first day on the job.

At this point, Agent 2 had finished their sales odyssey with the walk-up ticket sales family and was giving the same news to another gentleman. After giving the gentleman his boarding passes, and instructing him to try his luck at the gate, she disappeared. My agent said her shift was supposed to have ended a few hours ago and she was probably going home.

So I went to the TSA.

Meanwhile, the family members who dropped me off stayed at the check-in area to see if a supervisor would show up, or if there was any change on how the next 19 customers would be handled.

Their report:
The next person to walk up to my agent was told the flight was now closed and they couldn’t check in at all (6:36pm).

Naturally, the 19 people in line were very upset and started shouting.

A couple of them had checked in online and just needed their passes printed.
Some didn’t have bags and just needed to check in.
Others had bags.

The solution the agent offered to the 19 folks in line?
“I can rebook you but there’s a fee and the customer has to pay the fare difference”

Insanity.

Meanwhile, I made my way through TSA (ghost town), and completed the 3 minute walk to the gate. Nobody blinked an eye at me bringing a 49lb rolling suitcase there. In fact, TSA agents made it sound like this was normal. Myself and the other gentleman checked our bags at the gate to our destination, no questions asked. No fee either.

Oh, and only at this point were the other passengers getting off the just-arrived airplane. (Around 6:55pm)

My flight departed at 7:24, 15 minutes late.

My questions/thoughts:
  • Why were no AA agents empowered to make exceptions to the 45-minute and 30-minute cutoffs, especially at such a small airport where it takes 3 minutes to reach the gate, knowing that the delays were caused by the agents and the inbound flight wasn’t even on time?
  • Knowing the 45-minute and 30-minutes rules were apparently written in stone by God himself, and seeing 20 people in line for the last flight of the night, why didn’t the agents take any initiative to prioritize the check-ins versus the other customers?
  • Why were the folks who had already checked in online but simply needed a printed boarding pass not helped?
  • Why was no one else given the option to walk their bags to the plane?
  • Why were the agents so unsure of the rules?
  • Why is it preferable to leave 20 of the 75 pax behind, than provide any help at all?

I just can’t imagine a worse way to handle this. Am I wrong?

Last edited by jamesinclair; Jan 7, 19 at 2:49 pm Reason: Formatting was screwed up
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Old Jan 7, 19, 2:36 pm
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Depending on the software in use, AA's systems will "lock" the ability to check a bag and print a label. The reason is that TSA needs a specified time to process all of the bags so that they can be timely loaded.

I am surprised that this is the case at FAT. but that is the new and spreading norm.

The fail here is that at a small station where there were no additional personnel to help, at least one of the agents ought to have stepped away from their immediate task to process bags once it came close to the deadline. To be frank, at T-55, I would have interrupted and apologetically asked whether there is anything to be done given the looming deadline.
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Old Jan 7, 19, 2:49 pm
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Maybe they should limit tickets sales for future dates to hours when they have no flights that need to get checked in.
Oddly enough, I noticed Allegiant did that at PIE (St Pete-Clearwater)...
People complain a lot about Allegiant, but this is one good thing.
Of course, if the fare wasn't good and if I wasn't able to fly PIE-PIA nonstop, I would have never found that out.
So, bag fees, more legroom seat fees and all, the price was lower and I avoided a connection
My only memory of FAT were people commenting on how it would be coded to fly from there to Sioux City, Iowa, if possible.........FAT-SUX, or SUX-FAT
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Old Jan 7, 19, 3:02 pm
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Are agents at FAT AA or contract? The issue is when that contract employees will probably have limited knowledge. I think the OP should have taken the bags to gate and just gate checked them. I doubt he would have been charged. If paxs had already checked in w/o bags why did they need a printed BP from the agent? Aren't there AA kiosks not to mention mobile BPs. Seems as though lots of people standing in line that really don't need an agent.
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Old Jan 7, 19, 3:31 pm
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Originally Posted by newyorkgeorge View Post
Are agents at FAT AA or contract? The issue is when that contract employees will probably have limited knowledge. I think the OP should have taken the bags to gate and just gate checked them. I doubt he would have been charged. If paxs had already checked in w/o bags why did they need a printed BP from the agent? Aren't there AA kiosks not to mention mobile BPs. Seems as though lots of people standing in line that really don't need an agent.
Seems like you didn’t read the OP, for the most part.
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Old Jan 8, 19, 8:24 am
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Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
Depending on the software in use, AA's systems will "lock" the ability to check a bag and print a label. The reason is that TSA needs a specified time to process all of the bags so that they can be timely loaded.

I am surprised that this is the case at FAT. but that is the new and spreading norm.
.
Perfectly understandable at a major airport, but it is crazy to apply the same rule to JFK for a place like Fresno. As I mentioned, I also understand the agent was presented with a locked screen and couldn't do anything - I wasn't upset with her, but the fact that nobody was empowered to override this restriction.

To be frank, at T-55, I would have interrupted and apologetically asked whether there is anything to be done given the looming deadline
A lesson learned for sure! I made the mistake of assuming the agents cared about the 20 people in line - won't let that happen again. I mean, I would hate to be the a-hole that has to pull that kind of line, but apparently there's no other choice!
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Old Jan 8, 19, 8:51 am
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Originally Posted by jamesinclair View Post
I was taking AA 5885 Operated by Mesa Airlines on a CR9 departing at 7:06pm. This is the last AA flight from Fresno for the day....

I arrived at 5:50pm to the line, which is 1 hour and 16 minutes before departure. I had one full sized bag to check (49lbs). I was the 3rd person in line. ...

Even though there were only two folks in front of me, it took until 6:25 for me to see an agent. Why the delay:
  • First agent for the priority line had spent the entire time helping two customers while on the phone. When I left, this was still the case. Apparently, they were from the earlier AA 2363 to Dallas that was cancelled.
  • Second agent had spent the entire time helping a family who appeared to be walk-up customers looking to buy plane tickets. They were talking about itineraries, prices, layovers, fare bucket, etc, very baffling way to spend 45 minutes.
  • Third agent left at 6pm, never to be seen again.
  • Fourth agent was in-and out. Helped one customer, disappeared for a bit, came back, and eventually helped me....
...At this point, Agent 2 had finished their sales odyssey with the walk-up ticket sales family and was giving the same news to another gentleman. After giving the gentleman his boarding passes, and instructing him to try his luck at the gate, she disappeared. My agent said her shift was supposed to have ended a few hours ago and she was probably going home.
The problem is clearly agent training. With only three (or perhaps two-and-one-half) agents on duty, they need to prioritize check-in over rebookings and sales.

Many airlines don't even offer sales at ticket counters during busy periods anymore, because it can consume a lot of agent face time.

Did anyone interrupt to call for a manager or phone the airport police to intervene? I had to do that at PWM once. Broken kiosks and no agents at my airline counter at all. (Last flight of the night with a delayed aircraft arrival, after the ticket agent shift end -- most of the other pax had arrived at the scheduled departure time, hours earlier, but several of us were monitoring the inbound equipment and arrived around T-60.)

Airlines are schedule driven and that includes ticket agent shifts, so you need to think outside the box sometimes. The TSA can also page an airline gate agent to the ticket counter if needed.
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Old Jan 8, 19, 9:21 am
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Not too surprising for a contract station where there is likely a lot of turnover --

https://flyfresno.com/careers/

PIEDMONT AIRLINES, INC

American Airlines contracts with Piedmont to provide ground handling and passenger services.

There's a supervisor position open:
https://piedmont.jobs.net/en-US/job/...V670LVV703LTY9
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Last edited by LBJ; Jan 8, 19 at 11:02 am
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Old Jan 8, 19, 9:30 am
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Originally Posted by jamesinclair View Post
I wasn't upset with her, but the fact that nobody was empowered to override this restriction.
THIS! This is the problem with AA, as well as many other companies. The company does not empower front-end agents to handle situations that may arise. Sometimes this is due to giving them authority, sometimes it is due to the software provided. It is very unfortunate, and can give customers a very negative experience because someone higher up the chain does not recognize that this is an issue.

Typically, companies that do empower front-line employees to use their brain and help customers rank very high in customer service ratings. Whereas companies that do not do this tend to be towards the bottom of such rankings. Unfortunately, with the oligopoly that has been created with airlines in this country, airlines typically don't care about customer service as it really doesn't effect their bottom line since choice is so limited for customers.
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Old Jan 8, 19, 9:39 am
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I’ve observed better trained agents. “I’m sorry, ma’am / sir, would you mind waiting while I check these departing passengers in for their upcoming flight? Thank you for your understanding.” (But Going for GreAAt doesn’t seem to encompass customer service, operations or timely arrivals as much as D0 these days, IMO.)
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Old Jan 8, 19, 10:26 am
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It seems that AA does have the practice of limiting ticket sales at certain smaller airports. I recall this because I need to do an in-person ticket recently by exchanging some VDB vouchers. To avoid a trip to LAX, I was looking at other local options and was curiously reviewing each of them.

As an example, the Santa Barbara (SBA) airport info shows:

Ticket counter

Main Terminal
Daily: 4:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Future ticketing: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.
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Old Jan 8, 19, 10:43 am
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Originally Posted by Djokison View Post


Seems like you didn’t read the OP, for the most part.
Well I think I did. First, I questioned are there kiosks either AA or common use? It seems as though some of those 19 people in line could have used a kiosk if they weren't familiar with obtaining a mobile BP. Second, if the line wasn't moving as long as I'd didn't have liquids over 3 ounces I'd just take the bag to the gate and explain that check in was jammed up. I'd doubt the OP would have been charged, particularly since in small airports the agents move over to the gate for boarding and thus would have known what check in was like. To that end why would the OP be charged $50 at the gate if he wasn't charged at check in?

I'm not saying AA/Mesa (or the contract firm) gave good service.
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Old Jan 8, 19, 11:19 am
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Originally Posted by newyorkgeorge View Post
First, I questioned are there kiosks either AA or common use?
OP said:
Originally Posted by jamesinclair View Post
What is important is that the check-in area is shared by all the airlines, and the airline check in desk is noted by monitors rather than fixed signage. This is relevant because there are no kiosks everything is handled by agents.
Originally Posted by newyorkgeorge View Post
​​​​​​Second, if the line wasn't moving as long as I'd didn't have liquids over 3 ounces I'd just take the bag to the gate and explain that check in was jammed up.
OP said:
​​​​​​​
Originally Posted by jamesinclair View Post
Me: “Does TSA let me bring this large bag through?”
Bags significantly larger than carry-on size may be disallowed at the TSA checkpoint or may not even fit through the X-ray.
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Old Jan 8, 19, 11:22 am
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Originally Posted by newyorkgeorge View Post
Well I think I did. First, I questioned are there kiosks either AA or common use? It seems as though some of those 19 people in line could have used a kiosk if they weren't familiar with obtaining a mobile BP.
This is directly addressed in the OP. There's no kiosks of any sort, and it sounds like you need to get a physical boarding pass even if you've checked in online.

Second, if the line wasn't moving as long as I'd didn't have liquids over 3 ounces I'd just take the bag to the gate and explain that check in was jammed up. I'd doubt the OP would have been charged, particularly since in small airports the agents move over to the gate for boarding and thus would have known what check in was like. To that end why would the OP be charged $50 at the gate if he wasn't charged at check in?
If your bags are sufficiently large or you have liquids this isn't an option, but it roughly matches what OP ended up doing. Of course, if you don't have a boarding pass because the AAgents haven't bothered to check you in prior to the checkin cutoff, even this strategy doesn't work.

I think JDiver basically got it right: any organization that valued customer service would have empowered and trained its agents to do something sensible here, but AA is not interested in any part of the customer experience other than, apparently, closing the plane's door at T-10. (Which is pretty funny because their on-time performance is still terrible despite this single-minded focus.)
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Old Jan 8, 19, 11:24 am
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At some stations, if check-in landside is a cluster, the agents will send passengers to the gate and let the gate agent deal with check-in baggage. This often leads to the gate agent getting on the walkie-talkie and questioning the landside agent as to why so many passengers are showing up at the gate with bags to check. And then the fight starts between employees........

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