Weather delay leads to really poor CS at SFO

 
Old Jul 2, 05, 11:59 am
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Weather delay leads to really poor CS at SFO

Well, this is a great example of when horrible customer service meets irate and irrational consumers.

This past Thursday I was on flight 54 from SFO-IAD. The plane was coming from IAD and was late in arriving due to weather delays at IAD (it left over an hour late, and arrived nearly 2 hours late). Of course, after 1-2 hours, people started getting very worried about their connections, and got in line at the gate to talk to the GA about rescheduling. (I was getting out at IAD so I was merely an observer for all of this.) Unfortunately, there was no GA at the gate until about 30 minutes prior to our originally-estimated delayed departure. Until only about 30 minutes before we left, there was only one CS agent to handle 50-80 pax with connection issues... this was where the trouble began. It turns out that the CS agent wasn't even an Indy employee, but a contractor of some sort. When 2 more CS agents arrived, they too were contractors. All 3 appeared completely untrained on Indy's booking/rescheduling system... they spent the first 45 minutes trying to work on a single pax's rescheduling, to absolutely no avail. Despite 90 minutes' worth of attempts and being constantly on the phone with their management, they could not figure out how to reschedule any of the customers. They only managed to speak with literally 3 pax during this entire time... everyone else was just waiting in line for 90 minutes.

Eventually, about 5 minutes before we finally boarded, the head contracted CSA gets on the horn and announces that they could not rebook anyone and that rebookings would be handled automatically during the flight - pax would get their connection info upon arrival at IAD. He said that due to the holiday weekend, most of the flights were totally full. They would try to guarantee "same day arrival" for pax traveling to certain destinations, and others would probably have to wait until Saturday. Since the delay was due to weather, Indy would not cover hotel costs (reasonable and customary, but didn't go over too well with the pax). They said pax who chose not to fly would get a full refund, but didn't offer any other alternatives to everyone else. Pax who didn't board who had checked luggage would have to wait until the *next day* to pick up their bags. Eventually, most people boarded, but the flight was probably only at ~80% capacity (instead of the original full flight).

So... clearly pax will get irate and irrational, and there's not much anyone can do about it. I don't expect Indy to offer concessions due to weather delays, and that's understandable. My main gripe with this (and it didn't even affect me!) is just the poor, poor customer service rendered at the gate. The contracted GAs were totally untrained and couldn't assist any customers. They did make an effort to help, but concentrated so hard on trying to learn the system that they only managed to speak to literally 3 pax during the whole ordeal - everyone else was completely ignored until the general announcement. For the pax they did speak to (after the general announcement, when everyone gave up on lines and mobbed the desk), they didn't seem to worry too much about courtesy and calmness... I witnessed rather heated exchanges. The GAs weren't tied to the airline and therefore didn't seem to really care about customer retention.

While this whole delay was nothing but a delay for me (I didn't have a connection to miss), I'm just amazed at the lack of customer communication and the low level of apparent service. During the whole delay, none of the GAs actually made any general announcements about WHY there was a delay... the monitors said "due to weather" but nobody knew that the plane hadn't arrived, etc. When the delay extended an hour beyond the original estimate, there was again no general announcement letting pax know that they would be waiting some more. When the plane finally did arrive, there was again no announcement that they would be preparing the plane and boarding soon, etc. Essentially, customers received absolutely no communication from the gate until 5 minutes prior to boarding, and people had to decide within 5 minutes whether to go to IAD and *hope* to get another flight within the next 2 days, or not bother getting on at all.

Now, I don't fault the GAs personally for not being good at their jobs, because clearly they did not receive the proper training in how to handle this situation - they were not Indy employees and Indy never bothered to train them. They could certainly have been a bit more on the ball with regards to communication and customer courtesy, although that often goes down the tubes when GAs are mobbed and flustered. But something should clearly be done here. Indy shouldn't be using contracted employees, and if they ARE doing so, they should specifically make sure that those contractors are trained in the same way as the Indy GAs, so that they can handle these kinds of situations (and in a personable and courteous manner). Training them in customer retention and courtesy wouldn't hurt, either.

The only good service came from the *flight crew*, who were trying to help customers while waiting for the plane to arrive. Two of the flight attendants were behind the counter, on the phone with Indy reservations to try and help pax get rebooked, and answering pax questions as much as they could. The pilots were looking up flight information to find out why the plane was late, when it would arrive, etc. They were all quite helpful and really did an excellent job as much as they could - it was obviously not something they were trained for or expected/required to do, but they helped to the best of their ability and I definitely appreciated them for it (if you're reading this, flight crew of 54: thanks!). The only information we got about the flight delays came from the crew, since the GAs were busy trying to learn how to use the computer system. Unfortunately, the crew did bear some of the brunt of the irate and irrational pax, who didn't realize (or care) that the crew was doing them a favor and it wasn't even their job... quite unfortunate.

The flight itself was wonderful... the crew did a great job. But Indy really needs to look at its customer service at SFO, and to make some major changes. I simply had to live with a delay, which I didn't mind since I wasn't in a particular hurry... if I'm this disappointed with the service purely on principle, imagine how disappointed the other pax were who missed their connections and received absolutely no communication from the gate. I would highly recommend that Indy put forth some effort to enact changes at SFO.

Thanks again to the flight crew.
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Old Jul 4, 05, 3:34 am
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I share in your grief.

I work for Frontier @ SJC as a CSA which handles the daily Independence Air flight. Thankfully, I am very familiar with the CRS system they use from another job before and I'm able to help the operation, but the training provided by Independence to the outstations on the West coast has been very poor. I can safely say that I am probably one of the more qualified "Independence" agent on the west coast. Even basic things like overweight bag fees or printing an itinerary are a challenge for many agents, through no fault of their own.

Just tonight, I was faced with about 20 customers without bags, as an aircraft swap in IAD had resulted in a cart being not loaded. The operation is fledgling daily, due to the combination of lack of training and printer failures...

The SFO station is manned by Swissport employees, who are not the best people around, according to the GM for the SJC/SFO station. There has been talk from him about replacing Swissport but the root of the problem is lack of training - 1/2 days worth of training is simply not enough to ensure a smooth operation in case of an IROP situation.

Last edited by foxnine; Jul 5, 05 at 9:30 pm
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Old Jul 4, 05, 3:11 pm
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Originally Posted by foxnine
The SFO station is manned by Swissport employees, who are not the best people around, according to the GM for the SJC/SFO station. There has been talk from him about replacing Swissport but the root of the problem is lack of training - 1/2 days worth of training is simply not enough to ensure a smooth operation in case of an IROP situation.
Hi foxnine, thanks for the info. During my return flight yesterday morning, I told one of the senior GAs at IAD (who was possibly management, since he was directing other GAs) about the whole snafu. He gave me similar information to what you stated. The basic reason they're using contractors is simply because they don't have enough flights to keep a full-time crew busy (and hence profitable), but unfortunately, their training just doesn't seem to cut it. The contractors, not being direct employees, are also not invested in the company and therefore have no reason to care much about keeping customers happy.

You sound like someone who DOES care, and I thank you on behalf of all the frustrated customers out there who are just too irrational to do so themselves.

The guy at IAD said he would pass my comments along up the chain of management... I doubt it'll help any, since they're aware of the problem already, but who knows. Maybe with enough properly-worded complaints that address the real issue, they'll take the time to properly train the other contractors and maybe figure out some incentives for them to maintain good customer service.

Thanks again for your comments... the beauty of FT is the easy communication with insiders.
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Old Jul 5, 05, 1:17 am
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Originally Posted by cepheid
Hi foxnine, thanks for the info. During my return flight yesterday morning, I told one of the senior GAs at IAD (who was possibly management, since he was directing other GAs) about the whole snafu. He gave me similar information to what you stated. The basic reason they're using contractors is simply because they don't have enough flights to keep a full-time crew busy (and hence profitable), but unfortunately, their training just doesn't seem to cut it. The contractors, not being direct employees, are also not invested in the company and therefore have no reason to care much about keeping customers happy.

You sound like someone who DOES care, and I thank you on behalf of all the frustrated customers out there who are just too irrational to do so themselves.

The guy at IAD said he would pass my comments along up the chain of management... I doubt it'll help any, since they're aware of the problem already, but who knows. Maybe with enough properly-worded complaints that address the real issue, they'll take the time to properly train the other contractors and maybe figure out some incentives for them to maintain good customer service.

Thanks again for your comments... the beauty of FT is the easy communication with insiders.

Great to hear that you were able to talk to someone who actually seems to know what's going on out west. It's surprising that they choose to subcontract even SFO - 3 flights a day can easily support a small station. I've found that the DH crews can be hit-or-miss personality wise, but service is usually very good.

I observed while I was working at a certain NYC based airline is that the success of their customer service systemwide is related to their decision to staff each station with their own crew - fully trained. Like you said, this creates loyalty to the airline and the urge to actually try and do a good job. I observe first hand from my coworkers the lack of concern over Independence customers and it truly sickens me -

"Oh Independence is a cheap airline, these lines are what you get..."
"Independence is cheap, so I'm sorry we can't use these plastic bags for your car seat"
"Oh I tend to treat the Independence customers worse because they're just cheapskate bargain hunters."
"Nah they don't give us a vaccum to clean so the plane will just fly back like that (dirty)"

It's very disappointing to me that my local Frontier management has decided NOT to send my fellow 2 week old new hires (many with no prior airline experience) to DEN for training because of a staffing shortage.

I believe that the lack of training simply results in problems like what you faced @ SFO. Apparently even at Frontier, the SFO operation is cheaper to operate using contracted CO crew rather than our own crew...

I think DH will get the message when they pay out enough Happy Bags claims that people actually use, after all, the SFO/SJC GM was one of the creators of the idea!

The attitude of my station coworkers who handle both Frontier and Independence flights is embarassing - there are few that realize the customer service skills necessary to work at an airline. I hear Southwest is hiring....

Last edited by foxnine; Jul 5, 05 at 1:20 am
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Old Jul 5, 05, 2:16 am
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Originally Posted by foxnine
Great to hear that you were able to talk to someone who actually seems to know what's going on out west.
Yes, he seemed to not only know, but actually care. He said that last week he had passed up a complaint about service in LA, and gets complaints about some west coast airport at least once a week. I'm just hoping that upper management actually pays attention to these complaints. I'd be very much willing to bet that DH loses more money on lost revenue due to unhappy pax who will never fly the airline again than they would "lose" on a full-time gate crew at these airports.

Originally Posted by foxnine
I think DH will get the message when they pay out enough Happy Bags claims that people actually use, after all, the SFO/SJC GM was one of the creators of the idea!
Well, let's hope so. Although in this case, I don't think any of this would fall under the Happy Bags guarantee. Weather delays are unavoidable and these unfortunate pax would very likely have been S.O.L. no matter what airline they were on (flights were just booked solid, so even an interline pax-transfer agreement probably would not have saved them), but even just a little sympathy and courtesy from the gate staff would very likely have made them feel much better. Even irate and irrational pax can "see the light" when faced with a sympathetic agent, as I'm sure you know first-hand.

Originally Posted by foxnine
The attitude of my station coworkers who handle both Frontier and Independence flights is embarassing - there are few that realize the customer service skills necessary to work at an airline. I hear Southwest is hiring....
Again, I thank you for your dedication to the customers. Airlines, and indeed any service-based industry, could use so many more of you. It's just appalling how many people in the service industry don't understand the "service" part... and when those very same people are customers themselves, they'll complain about the poor service THEY receive. Shameful.

Hopefully your dedication will rub off on your fellow employees. If you do decide to move to another airline, please mention all of this in your letter of resignation... management needs to know why they are losing their best employees to other carriers.
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Old Jul 5, 05, 9:19 am
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Originally Posted by foxnine
"Oh Independence is a cheap airline, these lines are what you get..."
"Independence is cheap, so I'm sorry we can't use these plastic bags for your car seat"
"Oh I tend to treat the Independence customers worse because they're just cheapskate bargain hunters."
"Nah they don't give us a vaccum to clean so the plane will just fly back like that (dirty)"
First off... good job foxnine for not getting pulled under by the negative attitudes. Thank you.

It seems like there is a trend in many service based industries for some employees to base the level of service delivered to a customer on the amount of money that a person spends on whatever product they are buying (for example the contractors in SFO neglecting DH customers because the airline is "cheap"). It isn't just the airline industry, I have a friend who works for a very nice hotel and according to her on the days when they expect low booking they will sell excess rooms to priceline or travelocity for very low rates, and she has noticed that the hotel employees will give the people who come in on lower rates less attention than those who book thru the hotel at a higher rate. Like Foxnine said, some people just don't realize how important customer service skills are to EVERY customer.

As a DH employee I hope that the passengers realize that the apathy expressed towards them is not coming from DH employees (99.9999% of whom genuinely care about the customer's experience on our airline).
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Old Jul 5, 05, 9:46 am
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All of this is making me sure that when I travel to the West Coast this fall as I'm planning, I'm not even going to bother looking at DH's fares because it just isn't worth it.

You have to have your own people manning stations. I've been burned in Europe by agents that had no knowledge of the airline I was flying and mucked things up royally and its not going to happen again.

I like DH, but only for East Coast flights. For everything else, out of IAD it will be UA.
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Old Jul 5, 05, 2:50 pm
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Originally Posted by MFLetou
All of this is making me sure that when I travel to the West Coast this fall as I'm planning, I'm not even going to bother looking at DH's fares because it just isn't worth it.
Well, just to comment, the return flight (IAD-SFO) was totally uneventful... we left the gate a few minutes late due to a US plane occupying our gate (not DH's fault) and we arrived exactly on time after a comfortable and well-serviced flight. I think the main concern is if you need to make any *connections*, then you could get bitten by the poor service during delays while you're on the west coast.

I should note that this was the first time I've ever flown DH, so it wasn't a great first impression. However, I had to book my tickets at the last minute and DH's fares were, by far, the best around. I was able to book the SFO-IAD roundtrip fewer than 7 days prior to departure for under $350 (using the 20% pop-up coupon), and that's for non-stop flights. Every other airline would have cost me upwards of $450, and non-stop flights would have been $500 or more. To me, the $150 saved is worth the additional 3 hours I waited during the weather delay... although as I mentioned, I didn't have any connections to miss.

I'm not certain whether I'd use DH for normal travel to the east coast at this point. When I travel for Xmas I generally take my dog with me in-cabin, and DH's fee for that is only $35 - less than half of most other airlines, and still cheaper than Delta's $50 fee. They also have plenty of legroom in the all-economy cabin, which would make dog transportation that much more comfortable. But... their FF program isn't one that I prefer, and then there's the question of whether the service from the contractors would be worth the savings. I know that the DH employees provide good service, but the fact that I'm dealing with contractors rather than DH employees is definitely a consideration. I guess we'll see next time...
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Old Jul 6, 05, 11:04 pm
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Help me here if I am wrong, but they only don't need to pay for hotel rooms if THAT flight is delayed due to weather, not if the INCOMING flight is delayed due to weather...
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Old Jul 7, 05, 12:26 am
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Originally Posted by joelfreak
Help me here if I am wrong, but they only don't need to pay for hotel rooms if THAT flight is delayed due to weather, not if the INCOMING flight is delayed due to weather...
Well, firstly they don't need to pay for hotels at all if they don't really feel like it... there's no legal requirement here, so it's just whether company policy calls for it. But as for the weather, *any* weather-related delay would "qualify" for the not-paying-for-hotels. One could easily argue that outbound flight was delayed due to weather... just indirectly. One weather-related delay causes a number of other weather-related delays... it's a chain reaction. Most airline hotel policies exclude any sort of weather-related delay, whether it's caused directly (ground hold, re-route, etc.) or indirectly (as in the above example). If it's not their fault, they don't pay.
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Old Jul 7, 05, 9:26 pm
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I flew SJC - IAD the other day and saw the Frontier operation handling the DH flight. They were dealing with an inbound passenger that was filing a missing bag claim and the counter agent mentioned that on a daily basis there were always bags missing. I mentioned to the passenger to file a Happy Bags claim. First note -- SJC needs better signage for Frontier and Independence because their front counters are hidden. I had to ask Jetblue if they were handling the contract service for DH because I couldn't find the counter, and I've been through plenty of airports where I can't speak the language of the locals yet found my appropriate counter. I didn't have any problem with the Frontier staff, but my situation was also regular operations. The TSA staff were excessively slow but it was fortunate that there were very few people waiting.

With only one flight a day, I can see how SJC has contract crew. With three A319s a day (~400 passengers) I'm surprised there aren't DH employees (at least a few) at SFO. Many of the RJ outstations have less seats per day than that and have full DH staff.
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