More US Airways Fiascos

A couple more “tidbits” on US Airways.

As if you needed any more reasons to not fly US Airways, this report comes from my wife on her trip back home.

We left on different flights heading back East. She took off on time from San Francisco, but unfortunately, her flight apparently had slower engines than mine, and she arrived 30 minutes later than scheduled. This is, of course, a problem when you only have 40 minutes scheduled between flights, and your flights are in two different terminals. She talked to the flight attendant on board her first flight, and advised them of the situation. The response was actually classic US Airways: 1. You aren’t alone, there are many others who are in the same situation. 2. I am sure they know you are coming, so don’t worry about it.

Why do I call this a classic US Airways response? First, they inevitably tell you that you aren’t alone with this problem. I am not sure why they do that, but I think it is to make you feel small–like somehow you have no “real” gripe because you aren’t really unique, or special. My response has been typically “Well, if so many people are having these problems, perhaps you should be doing something to fix your airline–don’t you agree?” The second ‘typical’ response is to tell you that it will all be taken care of later, by someone else. The classic buck-passer. That’s the story I heard, time and again, from everyone I met who entered the realm of “customer service” with USAirways. Inevitably, and I do mean inevitably, the buck passer mis-spoke, mislead or just didn’t want to do something.

So that brings me back to my wife’s story. She gets off the plane, and starts hurrying through the airport. She sees one of those motorized carts, and asks for a ride, telling them what time her flight is leaving. They graciously take her to the gate (but warn her she most likely will have already missed the flight–USAirways doesn’t wait!). And sure enough, they were closing the door to the plane. “They” let her onboard, only to find out that the Gate Attendant had already given her seat assignment to someone else!

Now, why would an airline, knowing that the person they were missing was an inbound on another flight, and making a connection, do such a thing? There are two “things” that USAirways did here. First, they were going to leave a passenger who’s flight had landed, simply to make their “on time departure” metric. Second, they gave a seat away that was for a customer who was making a connecting flight. The first is an unfortunate “unintended consequence” of metrics. If you measure me on the percentage of on time take offs, and not reducing the number of stranded customers, then US Airways (and all other airlines) will continue to care more about the “push back from the gate” than having happy customers. The second “thing” is a bit more difficult to understand. I mean, giving her seat away? Perhaps one could chalk it up to the need to generate revenue (so much of what they do is meant to nickel and dime their customers) except, and here is the weird thing, they still had seats on the plane. They were able to give my wife a new seat assignment right away.

So what lessons do we learn about US Airways here?

  1. Trivialize the customer’s complaint
  2. Pass the buck to someone later in the process
  3. When you do get “Later in the process” deny that they can do what you were promised earlier
  4. Focus on metrics that don’t involve the customer
  5. Focus on revenue generation to the detriment of customer service

Yup. US Airways is not a winner, at least not in my book.