Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dear U.S. Airways

Last week I flew for the first time in over a month. I had come to almost miss air travel a little. Then I was abruptly reminded why I should never be so foolish. You may remember my last "angry letter," to Delta. I never sent that one because I was admittedly overreacting and just having a bad day. This one, however, will be sent! So with apologies to my Uncle Bobby, who at the time of his retirement was the second longest tenured employee with US Air, here's my latest angry letter . . .

Dear U.S. Airways-

I am a very frequent flier, though not always with your airline. [Give yourself some cred by adding that you're no novice traveler!] This year alone I have flown more than 300,000 miles all over the country for work. Over the course of my travels I have gleaned a little knowledge about airline policies. And though I have more than once experienced delays or other aggravation as a result of those policies, I respect them as reasonable. [Add credence to your argument by letting them know you're a reasonable person!] I understand that those policies are in place for a good purpose that at times must transcend my personal needs and comfort.

This past week, however, I had an experience with your airline that defies justification. It was Wednesday, October 21st. I was flying from Philadelphia to Columbus, Ohio. I was coming from downtown Philadelphia after a court hearing that had run late. After battling traffic and waiting in one of the longest security lines I had ever seen [full of Frenchies and other foreigners!], I had to rush to catch the shuttle bus to another terminal. After exiting the shuttle bus, I ran at a full sprint to my gate to find the door closed. I have enough experience traveling to know what that means. It's too late to board the plane. I didn't even bother entreating the gate supervisor, Anthony XXXXX, [a man whose English I strained to interpret], to let me board, because I know those policies are hard and fast.

As I was resigning myself to the fact that I had missed my flight and would have to take a later one, on top of driving almost 2 hours afterward, I looked out the window and saw the flight attendant beckon to me. He asked if I was supposed to be on that flight. I motioned that I was. He waved me in! [Time to get a little dramatic, though I'll probably leave this out in the real draft]. I was saved! I would be able to board my plane after all because of the consideration of a flight attendant who was going above and beyond his call of duty. I told the gate supervisor what happened. "No," he replied. "You're not getting on this plane." I told him the flight attendant was waving me on. "The door is closed, we have to have this door closed 10 minutes before takeoff." This I already knew, but the plane still had 10 minutes or so before takeoff. Couldn't the rules be bended a little in the cause of customer service? I asked him again, pleading, never indulging in using a tone or raising my voice. His reply: "you had plenty of time to get here." I was taken aback. He rebuked me with the cold terseness of a grizzled schoolmarm. What was most offensive was his assumption that my lateness was my own doing. How did he know that? As I explained, I did not have plenty of time. Shocked at his rudeness, I walked over to the window again, this time to find the pilot motioning at me. He was waving me on board! Again I entreated Mr. XXXXX, but to no avail. Not only did he refuse me, he did so rudely and dismissively. At length, the pilot himself deplaned and walked down the jetway and asked Mr. XXXXX if he could not let me on the plane! "We still have 5 minutes before we're supposed to push," said the pilot. Mr. XXXXX said no and asked him to step into the jetway for a chat. As he disappeared behind the door, the pilot apologized, telling me he had done all he could. After Mr. XXXXX's departure, the young ladies working at the gate even apologized to me for his behavior.

And that's the subject of my letter. I commend the flight attendant and pilot for doing all they could. They could've done nothing and been justified since they were following industry policy. But out of human compassion and a committment to the passenger they tried to do the right thing. But I'm left to wonder, what harm would've transpired if the gate supervisor had opened the door and let me on the plane? Would he have had to do some extra paper work? Would he have had to swallow his pride and let someone on the plane whom he assumed had been careless in not giving himself time to catch his flight? One thing is certain, if he had let me on the flight, a passenger would have been exceedingly grateful at his compassion and would be left singing the praises of U.S. Air for their understanding instead of vowing never to frequent them again.

I am the first to admit that Mr. XXXXX was in the right. I know the policies and he followed them dutifully. But what harm would've occurred if he had flouted those rules for the sake of excellent customer satisfaction? Would any lives had been endangered? Would U.S. Air have been held to task by the FAA? Mr. XXXXX's commitment was to the letter of the law, not to the spirit of customer service. That was made abundantly clear by his actions and rude demeanor. Truthfully, I don't think I'd be writing this letter but for Mr. XXXXX's rude behavior at the gate. Even though I strongly disagree that my boarding the plane would have caused any problems, if Mr. XXXXX had explained it in a courteous way, I would have come to terms with it, even though I would have disagreed. I hope this episode is instructive on how not to treat your customers. Customer service is becoming a lost art in this country throughout all industries. Hopefully you can apply these lessons to future passengers. Unfortunately, it won't be with me. [Always end with a zinger!]

Yours truly,

Matt Steen


Jackie said...

Mr. XXXXX is lucky he didn't meet with the same fate as the poor cookie lady did years ago at Costco. Memba her? We never saw her there again, after you loudly berated her, the poor thing.

Matt said...

I wasn't loud. My rebuke was stern and deserved, but not loud.

Brianne said...

I wish you would have written this sooner. I just taught my 7th graders about business letters. It's cool seeing REAL examples. :) Business letters can be really effective, so kudos for taking the time. Say hi to Robyn and baby Matt for me...