(Bad) Customer Service

United Airlines, famous for their “Fly the Friendly Skies” slogan, had a passenger hauled off an airplane Sunday on a flight from Chicago to Louisville, KY in what looks to be a gross overreach of everything we’d expect to be right and just after crossing through security at an airport. Listen, we know we’ll be mugged at the checkpoint going into the airport but once we’re through that degrading experience we expect it to be done. After the video and story got out all over social media United’s CEO Oscar Munoz offered this weak “only because I have to” apology.

So what happened here? Overbooked flight. Airlines, by rule, can routinely overbook flights. The Department of Transportation has a detailed set of rules regarding this very thing. The Cliff Notes version goes if a flights overbooked, the airline gate agents start with a bidding process where they ask for volunteers to take a later flight. They’ll offer you, say, a $500 voucher to use on your next trip toward airfare. If you can’t get out until the next day, they’ll offer a free hotel for the night and so on.  If you’ve been at the airport recently you’ve likely heard this process play out. The longer it goes on, the higher the offer from the airlines. They should bring in that auction guy from Storage Wars to make it more interesting. If nobody takes the deal things turn ugly and the airline gets to start picking who’s getting off the plane. Yes, government backed picking of winners and losers. Where’s the Republican outrage?

Poor, elitist customer service really grinds my gears. Now I’m not one that expects to be waited on hand over foot in any situation where I’m the customer. I don’t need someone to go above and beyond. I simply expect that you (the customer server) can follow through on the service I’m receiving in a fairly friendly, at least tolerant of me way, even if you don’t like me or are having a bad day. I expect that you be something resembling very knowledgeable to expert status on said service.

Pretty simple, right? Apparently not. Too much to ask? Apparently so.

Decent customer service seems to be a thing of the past. What’s to blame? I think it’s a combination of things. A society where basic respect for others continues to slowly erode, people’s general laziness when it comes to service jobs (everyone thinks they should start out as CEO these days making 6 figures. “What do you mean ‘work my way UP’?”) and the fact that, in many cases, the employers are incredibly cheap and have zero loyalty to employees.

Where customer service is the absolute worst is situations where a company knows they have a monopoly on you. We’ve all dealt with it. Company A has no competitor and a we-know-it attitude. You need them, they don’t need you and they’re going to make sure you know it. How? When you need customer service, they’ll make sure there isn’t any.

The airlines have you by no choice of your own. There are really only a handful of major airlines to choose from. You know it. They definitely know it, and they treat you accordingly. In this case there is a little something that could be done. Change the federal rules that allow airlines to overbook flights. In a day and age that has more computers and instant technology to manage systems how can they possibly need to overbook flights? The airlines will cry and say they just can’t afford the losses they’d incur with empty seats. A simple solution would be to use the power of modern technology to manage your inventory more efficiently.

It would be a welcome change to see companies that have a monopoly (or almost monopoly) act like they have several competitors that you could choose from for their services. The industry they save my be their own. Ask Sears/K-Mart and the like how not being very forward thinking has worked out for them.

In this case with United, the main thing I don’t understand is why, if you know you need to bump X number of people before the plane can leave, do you LOAD THE PEOPLE ON THE PLANE, then decide who’s getting kicked off? Insane. Do the deed at the gate before the plane leaves if you’re going to do it. Not ideal, but certainly avoids ever having to actually drag someone off the plane since they aren’t already on it.

Unfortunately for you, until that flying car shows up in your driveway, your only option is Big Air. Just remember to take that extra day off of work from your scheduled return date. You never know when you’ll be victim to the federal policy of airlines being able to beat and drag, sorry, “bump” you.

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