More Joy of Flying…Air Canada…customer service at its worst

Well I’m finally back home from Boston, and I gotta say: it’s good to be home. As I mentioned in my previous post, my biggest problem with travel is all the stress around it; making connections, customs, security, luggage. Whoda thunk that we get to add another stressor: shitty customer service. For a very descriptive account of how NOT to treat customers, read Duane‘s account of “Air Can’t ada” throwing their monopolist weight around on us.

Now, I’ve done a tankload of flying in my time. Enough that i’ve had delays, cancellations, had an engine blow up during taxi once, had to dump fuel to land once and spent more hours in airports than I care to remember. I understand…shit happens. Weather happens, mechanical happens and other things happen. But what usually also happens is the airline shows a little empathy (and once in a while even sympathy), and is able to soothe my anger before it explodes. Usually they take care of you and if they can’t take care of you, they at least try to appear that they’re trying. Not Air Canada. They’re a monopoly now if you need to go to most places, and they make sure you know it.

Duane mentions the whole “You’re toast” thing and the way it riled everyone up. What he doesn’t mention is that when the guy came out to tell us he’s happy to take our money to upgrade us, after we held chris back from pummeling him into oblivion a couple of us had a fairly long chat with the guy. As I said, I’ve done a shitload of flying in my time…I’ve been Air Canada Elite (over 60 flight legs in a calendar year) many times and I tend to be somewhat zen about things beyond my control. But this situation was special. The guy actually tells us that “this is my job; any passengers I see are upset and frustrated.” So…why aggravate the situation by saying “you’re toast” and not give any more than that??? He tells us he tries to save people who can still make their flights and sometimes gets hurried in those situations. I can understand that. But even in a hurry, show a bit more empathy than just bellowing out “you’re toast”. Apologize, tell us you need to save the ones you can and that you’ll take care of us as soon as that’s done. Rob actually expressed this directly to the guy while we were talking. And this is when I actually got really pissed…the guy got all insincere then. He’s like “you’re right, maybe I should spin it different”, but I could see he really didn’t give a rats ass…he just wanted to get us to give him money.

When we were talking to him outside the service area he kept talking in circles. He would say something, and I would say “well if that’s the case then let’s do this” and then he would blame it on someone else or something else. It was like he would only give us information if we asked a direct question related to it. It was brutally frustrating…specially after the amount of travel time we had just had, the fact that we’d all been on our feet for 3 days straight and were, frankly, five cranky, tired guys.

At the end of the day, the whole issue really comes down to ownership and caring about your customer’s plight. If, in Boston, the airline had managed our expectations and said there was a chance we would miss, we could have made an informed decision then. If, knowing that we would be a bit late, they could have held the LAST FLIGHT OF THE NIGHT for 15 minutes, they would have gained themselves 10 (there were other people than the five of us in the same plight) loyal customers instead of 10 who will never voluntarily fly Air Canada again. If they had made accomodations in the customs line to get us through more quickly, we would not necessarily have realized and become more loyal, but we wouldn’t be as angry and anti- air canada as we are now. And finally If the guy had spoken with a bit of empathy rather than being a jerk, if he had taken a moment to think about what the people in that line were thinking at that moment rather than just brushing us off as done, maybe we’d have been frustrated, but we would have reacted in a less aggressive manner.

The story actually even gets a little bit worse. So after making us pay for a hotel room in Toronto (thereby basically saying that even tho the weather wasn’t their fault, it’s ours) for 3 or less hours’ sleep, I had it figured that I’d grab a pillow on the flight back and sleep for that…5 hours on a plane, although not all that restful, would still be better than three. I had a window seat and a pillow would have made for a nice comfy little nap. But nooooo… Air Canada believes that their customers should have to PAY FOR THE USE OF A FREAKING 4 DOLLAR PILLOW! So instead of having a happy customer or a few, they now have 90 pillows taking up space in the overhead bin and at least one really pissed off former customer. Now, the 2 bux for the pillow in and of itself is really no big deal. But the principle of this, after the treatment we recieved the night before…well let’s just say I’m not planning on using AC again unless I totally have to. I will make an extra leg on my flight before I’ll use them again. I’ll go to abbotsford and take west jet. Such a little thing, and it was the straw that broke this camels back.

Buhbye now, Air Canada, and best of luck to you in the future. I will be sending a letter to Robert Milton, but I don’t expect any love; one of the joys of monopolistic ventures is their lack of need to give a shit.

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9 comments so far

  1. […] ps – check out Clay’s post about the event. […]

  2. mahdessi on

    I had similar disappointments with AIr Canada:

    http://mahdessi.wordpress.com/2007/01/21/air-canada-customer-service-the-lack-of/

    Perhaps the worst in the airline industry when it comes to customer service.

  3. WOW... on

    That IS horrible customer service. Without trying to take away from your shitty experience this is going to, but I will write anyhow. It may not make you feel better, but here are some interesting points. Airlines have NO WAY of “making accomodations” in the Customs line, or the Security line. Some smaller airports (ie: YLW small) allow airline staff to “usher you through” security in certain situations, but NEVER Customs. Also as a frequent traveller, I am sure you have been made aware that planes on ground=no $, planes with asses in seats=$. Although it was only 15 minutes, that plane was going somewhere else after that. For an aircraft to sit at a gate is $$1000’s of $. Again, by no means YOUR problem, but if it means angering 5-10 to get 100 to THEIR destination on time, then that’s the way it rolls. Maybe the plane was to end up in LAS later that evening, maybe Milton himself was to be on it to said destination…who knows? I know, it’s not your fault, BUT! One can assume (you said you have experienced it) that you understand circumstances beyond their control. Weather, mechanical (who wants to fly on a broken plane?), and crew rest, usually due to one of the afformentioned. What the flying public doesn’t realize is that there are NUMEROUS things BEYOND the airlines’ control. Things are timed/tracked to the minute; absurd when one knows how much is actually depending on EVERTHING else. It’s how they deal with it that counts, correct? I fly often as well and yes, I do work for an airline. No, not your offending party-YET I am still defensive of airline frontline in general. You know, the one’s that get ripped a new ASS because somebody’s bag was late, they missed a day of their vacation, they had to pay a $1 for a pillow that I PERSONALLY would give you, but believe it or not is “beyond my control?” I am thankful that when situations like yours arise, (and, yes believe it or not it happens at EVERY airline) I am granted access (or know where to look for) information to at least give you an option, or an apology. Or, am in the VERY least prepared for angry, late, tired, hungry, homesick, grieving, late for work, late for interview, late for supper, late for wedding, late for funeral people! I can then better prepare myself for a hurl of insults that range anywhere from poor taste/insults to I-should- call-the-cops-there-is-no-way-ANYONE-should-ever-be-spoken-to-like-this. And, even with an apology in situations like yours, there isn’t much satisfation. Inexcusable, the unfortunate thing is that when we run into someone like “you’re toast”, we are going to paint the whole company with the same brush. Oh, last little known fact: Airline make approximately $1.20 (that’s a dollar twenty) off your ass in that seat. For them to start really caring again, it will be 1972, and the prices for that seat will be much, much higher. And, safety standards, much, much lower.

  4. twitchy67 on

    Well, sorry but i’m not condemning all airlines or all airline employees…i’ve got other posts in here speaking about excellent service from other airlines, so don’t get so defensive that you end up proving a point i didn’t even make. Air Canada has consistently bad service and has for years… over the years during training sessions when we speak about service, often the trainer will ask for good examples and bad examples. Always, my and most of the other bad examples I hear are from one company-Air Canada. It’s not a people issue, it’s a process and monopoly mindset issue.

    On the flip side, I have received excellent customer service from other airlines over the years, notably west jet and US Air (yes, the oft maligned US Air), and excellent customer service from other industries as well. Most places, when there is an issue outside of their control, will commiserate and explain the situation…not air canada…the “your toast” attitude is not unique to that guy, it’s a cultural mindset. “We have a monopoly, so we can afford to be a little less friendly…it’s not like u can choose a different airline”. Of course, in Canada this is changing as West Jet increases their volume of flights and destinations, and one day soon Air Canada is going to wake up and realize that they’ve lost too many of their business travellers to remain viable. They will lobby the government for a bailout and perhaps do some underhanded “competition killing” tricks, as they’ve done in the past, and might survive it.

    What they really need to do is get rid of Milton and his cronies and bring in an executive team that recognizes that in a “consumer aware” era this kind of shoddy treatment of customers cannot win. Air Canada employees are friendly as anyone else…until there’s an issue, and that’s where they lose customer loyalty. I don’t doubt that the front line airline staff have a shitty job some days…but they chose that career path and most are equipped to deal with the frustration they face. Some people are assholes and abuse people for reasons beyond their control; I recognize that, and have seen it more times than I’d like to have. But when people are not abusive pricks, perhaps the airline staff shouldn’t be abusive pricks to them. And I strongly believe that this is a corporate culture mindset AC has. Replace management with service minded folk and see what happens.

    There will always be people who are not satisfied…that’s human nature. There will always be people who treat others with disrespect and disdain, that’s also human nature. But how those and other people are reacted to are what separates “good service” from “lost customers”. This is where Air Canada loses.

  5. WOW... on

    I wholly agree this is a cultural mindset. I would like to know how many people that share your opinions HAVE actually opted to never fly with A/C again. Have you flown with them since? People do have options as you pointed out. But, as studies have shown, as little as $5 (that’s right-the price of a Starbucks) will be the deciding factor for 85% of the flying public. That is the saddest part.

  6. Chris on

    Most of the 85% of people flying Air Canada will probably be unsatisfied with AC service. In comparison to other airlines, Air Canada really lacks in the customer service department. It is by far the worst airline I have ever flown. I will never fly them again. Period.

  7. Robert Foerster on

    Oh wow, they screwed us bad coming back from Vegas. We got stuck in Denver because of mech problems. Sat in the plane for the entire flight time it would have taken to get to T.O.

    Off the plane we go, and they were good and gave us hotel and food vouchers. No problem, shit happens. They tell us a plane would be sent to pick us up the next A.M.

    Okay sounds good, get mildly blitzed in hotel bar, sleep.

    Get to airport crack of dawn, check out hotel etc., Only to hear, they didn’t send plane but tried to fix the one we were on earlier. So, now we’re stuck in airport until the 4pm flight that afternoon. A wonderful 8 hour hang about at the airport.

    Thankfully it was fronted by lufthansa and they still give you vouchers that you can buy drinks with, unlike our puritanical boring N.A. companies. The hell with them honestly.

    Well we waited and waited and finally had to play the ill father running out of medication gambit, and got on a slightly earlier flight.

    Everything was free for us on the flight, so someone was doing something nice.

    But I could have cooked them alive for telling us to come to airport for plane that never came!

  8. Andy on

    I am a person who by necessity HAVE to fly between Calgary and Frankfurt or London UK and somehow get to Stockholm once or twice a year because of family matters. During the 30 some years of enduring the trip the service has gone from bad to worse. The “cardboard” texture pocketwarm pizza is just a belly filler. To get to my biggest complaint about the flights is not the food or the service. The crew can only do so much with what they have at hand. What I am wondering about, when are the aircraft seats on AIR CANADA’s old 767’s going to be restuffed with fresh straw? The old seats are like sitting on a bare piece of plywood and the gluteus maximus is rebelling after the first half hour of the 9 1/2 hr flight. I wellcome BA, LUFT HANSA or any airline that are willing to start flying the London or the Frankfurt run. They used to haul people to Europe and back and it was a treat. On the last flight that I was on the backrest fell down backwords on to the person behind me. I had to force myself to sit upright like on a stadium bleacher. What is a man to do?

  9. HOmer on

    I travel quite a bit on business. During a 14 hour flight from China, which I slept the whole way, my cell phone slid out of my pocket. As soon as I got past customs, I wEnt to the connecting gate to report the problem. The attendent at gate 166/to Boston on June 7 said I am working on the computer, could you wait a minute. THere was no plane at the gate. I sat right across from her (alone). After five minutes of watchong her printer , she grabbed the sheets and walked away!!!. I went to another gate and was then courteously helped. My phone was retrieved. The problem was my flight was now leaving immediately. When I got to Boston, they couldn’t send the phone from Toronto because of customs. They agreed to mail it to me. Five calls later, it is now June 19 and no one at Air Canada can even access my tracking file.
    PLEASE GET RID OF OUTSOURCED CONSUMER RELATIONS/ TRACKING PEOPLE. I CANNOT TOLERATE SOME POOR INDIAN DESPERATELY TRYING TO WORK IN A SYSTEM IN WHICH THEY CANNOT NEGOTIATE.


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