I used to root for United airlines a lot, because of some great experiences flying Ted from Phoenix and, of course for the domestic leg of a long haul to Asia every 2 years. When United filed for bankruptcy, I even switched from Southwest, my company's preference, just because some of us love the idea of having more choices...
Today that changed. Just beause someone forgot to tell me (and my 81 year old mother) that United had a new policy about baggage weight. Oh well, maybe the economy class isn't of much significance. I write a lot about employee communication and internal branding, and this was a case to behold. Pains me to write about this, but I would like to save some poor international traveler some grief.
We dropped off my mother at Phoenix airport, on a return flight to Sri Lanka. The ticket agent informed us that we would have to pay $25 each for both her check-in bags since they were each over 50 pounds allowance. This was odd. Just last evening, doing a final check, calling United's 800 number, I went through the details. Stopovers: Phoenix, Lax, Narita, Singapore, Colombo: all confirmed. Passenger assistance, confirmed. The final thing I asked was if the baggage allowance was the same as when she came in --70 pounds. The agent paused, and then said yes, as this was an international ticket. I knew this had to be fine as she had arrived in December last year with bags that were well over 50 pounds, each. Also, I flew United to Lax last July and returned in August with with two sixty-five to seventy pound seventy pound bags. But as frequent fliers always do, we ask the same old questions from the agent on the phone, just to be sure. To us, they are the airline. Not the ads. Not the brochures, but the invisible person thousands of miles away who give you the feeling that everything is ok when you put down the phone.
But all was not Ok when I placed that call.
Mysteriously, United had changed its baggage policy and not communicated this to us.
I have more back up: Two weeks ago, I stopped at Sky
harbor airport to check on my mom's ticket as she had confirmed return dates
with a travel agent in Sri Lanka after she got here, and this was not reflected on
her ticket. The agent kindly printed me the new return itinerary, and said even
this was not necassary as her details were all updated in the system. Then too,
I asked how much baggage allowance, and got the same answer: seventy pounds.
Yes, all was OK when I left the building.
This morning, when I brought this to the attention of the counter agent, he would have none of it, and started getting rude. I was hit with the famous 'company policy' stuff, and the fact that all airlines now only allowed 50 pounds. (He may be right. But FYI: we also dropped off someone last evening catching a British Airways flight, and her bags were 70 pounds each. The web site confirms this. I told him this, but it surely did not help the situation.*)
When I said this was United's mistake --giving me the wrong information on the phone, he got rude and said he could not deal with me anymore –asking my mother to go and stand at the next counter to be served by someone else. She’s 81 years old, for goodness sake. This was not the way I wanted her to leave the country. I can be sure she will not be on United the next time.
I did check this afternoon, and sure, that 'policy' is on the United web site. But does that become the de facto B-to-C communication channel? Is everyone who flies an airline suposed to hop over to their web site and check all the details of the flight, just in case the nice lady on the phone got it wrong? What if you were to apply this to another industry? What if you had a travel agent to book you into the MGM in Vegas and when you get there, the person at the counter tells you that your room now costs fifty bucks more because of a company policy your travel agent hadn't been alerted to? What if you rented a car from Avis for a weekend at a certain cost (quoted on the phone) and when you brought the car back on Sunday, you were slapped with an extra charge for not getting the car washed --a new policy only posted on the company web site? Should you feel guilty for not having checked the Avis web site sometime between Friday and Sunday?
My stand on all this is simple: the person on the phone is the final frontier. The true face of the company. Undermine him/her and what you have left is an empty shell. We travel with, dine in, buy from or subscribe to brands because of the people within. (The people who listen, that is) not the text on the pOlicy page of the web site.
My mom's on the long flight right
now. Hope she experiences an ounce of the 'friendly skies' hospitality --not
available on the ground, as of this morning, here in Phoenix.
*I can go on about the chap at the counter
(and how there was disagreement with the other staff about how much to charge
us) but that is not the purpose of this post.
*I can go on about the chap at the counter (and how there was disagreement with the other staff about how much to charge us) but that is not the purpose of this post.