Friday, September 26, 2008

American Airlines: Has Their Service Sunk Down So Far That It Can't Come Back?

Between my husband and I, we have probably flown 100 times over the course of our lives, both nationally and internationally, on a variety of airlines. And never has either one of us had lost luggage, until two years ago. Just in the past two years, American Airlines lost our luggage three times. But this most recent experience was enough to make us change airlines for good. Check out the letter I wrote to Gerard J. Arpey, chairman, president and CEO of AMR Corp. and American Airlines. The letter should have arrived on Tuesday. Three days have passed and I have not heard from anyone on the American Airlines staff. It's okay if they don't respond, because we have a choice too. Place your bets on what you think that choice will be.

Here's the letter I wrote to Arpey. I'll let you know if and when I hear from American.

Dear Mr. Arpey,

I’m writing to tell you that your airline’s customer service system is broken and that, as one brand I thought I could trust, American Airlines has completely failed my husband Adrian and I.

American was the first airline for which I acquired a frequent flyer number and American has always been my first choice for any trip. But that all changed on September 5th.

I’m sure you understand the value of customer relationships. I don’t need to tell you that acquiring a new customer costs thousands more than its costs to retain an existing customer. Nor do I need to remind you that dissatisfied customers tell four times as many people about their bad experiences than their good experiences…that the customer is in control of the relationship today…that they have the power to choose which companies they interact with and which advertising messages they pay attention to…that the average consumer is bombarded with more than 300 advertising and marketing messages per day and are interacting with fewer and fewer companies on a daily basis…and that standing out in such a crowded and fragmented media world takes exceptional service, something that I don’t feel American has been providing.

Over the course of the last three decades, my husband and I have flown at least 100 times on a variety of national and international airlines. In all those years, we have never had lost luggage…at least, not until two years ago. In the past two years, American Airlines has lost our luggage three times. Three times!!!! All from the same airline!!!! And never from anyone else. Does that statistic seem like a red flag to you?

On Sept. 5th, Adrian and I flew from LaGuardia Airport, New York to Nassau, Bahamas, by way of Miami. When we arrived, only two out of three pieces of our luggage were there. We filed a lost baggage report on that day. It took ten days to get our bag, and American Airlines staff failed us EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.

To start with, the AA staff at the lost baggage desk in Nassau were lazy and rude. They showed no interest whatsoever in finding our bag, were not the least bit helpful and were downright rude. I believe you expect nothing but the best from your employees, but if you had been standing over their shoulder as they spoke to my husband, you would have agreed that they did not represent the company in manner befitting a leading brand and you probably would have told them to leave and not come back.

They offered no help whatsoever and suggested we come back and meet the next flight coming in from Miami and “see” if the bag shows up. My husband went back to Nassau International Airport five times. The bag never arrived. We were in Nassau for four days for a family funeral, not a fun vacation. Adrian had to borrow clothes for the funeral. We returned home without the bag.

After a few days at home and about a half dozen calls to the baggage claim center, a customer service rep was able to identify the bag. It had been sitting in Miami the whole time. Even though there was a thorough description of the bag in our claim report, no one put the two together until I pushed them to look further. The service rep then tagged the bag for LaGuardia Airport and hung up.

Several hours later, there was still no word about the bag so I called again. The bag had not been assigned a flight. A new customer service rep put in a request to have the bag put on a flight to New York. But even she couldn’t see that it was tagged for LaGuardia. She asked if we lived near Hartford. I said no. Then she asked if we lived near Newark. I said no. I had to remind her that LaGuardia was the closest airport.

The next morning I called again. It had now been nine days. The bag was scheduled to arrive at LaGuardia at 10:57 a.m. But when I called at 12:00 p.m. no one could tell me if the bag had arrived. I had to call back at 2 and again at 5. Finally at 5 they were able to tell me the bag had arrived — six hours after the flight came in! But even then, no one had picked it up! It was sitting in the baggage area unmarked with no instructions! A new customer service rep put in yet another request to have the bag delivered to our home.

At 10:30 p.m. we get a phone call from the driver. He says he’ll be there at 4:00 a.m. Are you kidding? We’ve been waiting nine days for our bag and that’s the best you can do? I told him he was only authorized to leave the bag if it wasn’t raining, and not to call me and wake me up. He said, “I guess you don’t want the bag.” Don’t want the bag? What? Again, I repeat, are you kidding? He should be fired for that remark!!! And I truly mean that. As it turned out, it was raining heavily at 4:00 a.m. and he showed up at 6:30, and woke us up to retrieve the bag.

Mr. Arpey, we wouldn’t even have our bag right now if it wasn’t for me. I was the one who got the bag identified, not your staff. I was the one who got the bag tagged for New York, not your staff. I was the one who got the bag put on a flight, not your staff. I was the one who got it put on the van, not your staff. Not once did I feel that your staff had our back or was working proactively FOR us.

Mr. Arpey, your entire customer service system is broken at every touchpoint. It doesn’t matter that your flights arrive on time. It doesn’t matter that the rest of the process goes smoothly. It only matters that no matter where we go, our luggage seems to disappear when we fly American. We had family gifts in that bag. What are we supposed to do with them now that we’re home?

And it’s not enough that we got our bag back. We spent considerable time, effort and gasoline in the attempt to retrieve a bag that, in the end, was properly tagged and there was no reason for it not to have arrived in its rightful destination. How do you plan to compensate us for our loss?

Furthermore, our loss doesn’t even come close to the damage that has been done to the value of your brand. How do you plan to repair the damage done to your good name? And finally, can you guarantee my husband and I that, if we fly American again, that this will never happen?

I look forward to your response. If you prefer to do nothing, rest assured that we will certainly do the same when it comes to considering American for any future flights.

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