"The Navigator" News Blog

Stop the Customer Abuse!

In all the instances of customer abuse, I think we have a new low.  This story has gone viral:


If you haven’t read it, go read it now.  Here’s the short version.  A United Airlines flight leaving Chicago for Louisville was sold out.  Then, somehow, it came about that four United Airlines employees “had” to be on that flight so that they could be in Louisville on Monday.  They offered incentives for volunteers to give up their seat.  Finding none, they then announced that the computer would randomly select four passengers to give up their seats.

Now, a quick question. When you book a flight, are your travel plans “random?”  Mine aren’t.  In fact, usually, I’m flying because I have a definite engagement to get to, at a specific time.

Apparently, the passenger in this video had the same situation.  He said he was a doctor, had patients to see, and had to be in Louisville Monday morning.  Now, it appears, the good doctor will need a doctor himself.  For his unforgivable transgression of refusing to give up the seat for which he paid good money, he was physically assaulted and dragged off the plane by ‘security.’  In the video, he can be clearly seen to be unconscious and bleeding.

Another question.  Security is there to protect people.  Who, exactly, was endangered by this doctor?  More to the point, what law was being broken?  It seems to me that the only law that might have been broken was “theft of services,” by forcibly taking away the seat that he’d paid for.

I’m not big on lawsuits, but I hope this guy sues them for big bucks and wins bigger bucks.  It’s about time this crap ended.  I have a feeling that United, if they were competently run, knew well ahead of time that they had four people to transport to Louisville, and should have made arrangements to do so without punishing the customers that had already paid.

Now, I have a story of my own.  I thought extensively about whether to post it, but I’m going to because there’s a connection.  As you probably know, I just returned from Spain.  It was a wonderful trip, except for the flight out on Air Canada.  Here’s what happened, and it also constitutes abuse of a paying customer.

My flight had three legs.  I flew from Kansas City to Toronto, from Toronto to Montreal, then from Montreal to Barcelona.  I had one carry-on bag and one checked bag.  Like most of you, I put the most important stuff in the carry-on.  And my carry-on is the maximum allowable size.  It fits in the sizing racks at the airport, but just.  And I’ll admit that from time to time I’ll push it a bit by putting things in the front pockets, which makes it not fit.  In this particular case, I had my laptop in the front pocket.  However, I didn’t carry a ‘personal item,’ so I figured that in the worst case, I could remove my laptop, it could be my personal item, and the bag would fit.

As we were boarding for the flight from Toronto to Montreal, I was stopped and told that I’d have to check my carry-on; it was too big.  Again, this has happened a couple of times and when it did, I simply rearranged things, the carry-on fit, and the airline personnel allowed me to go on as normal.  But I’d never flown Air Canada.

I explained that I could remove the laptop and that my bag fit in the rack.  I removed the laptop and the bag fit.  Good, right?  Nope.

“The bag fits tightly and it shouldn’t,” was the response.

“IT FITS,” I said.  “Those are your rules and I’m playing by them.”  I argued passionately, because there were things in the bag that I had no desire to leave up to the tender mercies of their checked baggage system.

There was some more discussion during which the person checking this got downright rude and said that if I flew enough, I’d know what was right and wrong.  Again, I pleaded my case, repeatedly sliding the bag in and out of their rack.

“The decision is made.  Check your bag,” he said, with all the humanity of a gulag commander in the Soviet Union.  I had no choice.  They promised me the bag would go to Barcelona.

I was angry.  Thus, when the flight attendant greeted me, I didn’t feel like saying hello, I just went to my seat.  Above my seat was a space plenty big enough for my bag, and I watched other people loading bags far bigger than mine in the bins.  I sat down, booted up my Kindle, and began reading silently.

Then, a manager approached and asked to speak with me off the plane.  Now we’re going into extra innings.  Off the plane, he said that the flight attendant was ‘concerned’ about my demeanor and wanted me off the plane.  This could be avoided if I made an apology to her “and meant it sincerely.”  In other words, grovel or I don’t fly.  I groveled.

Here’s the thing. This entire situation was created by Air Canada’s employees.  There was no reason – logical, reasonable, or technical – to make me check my bag.  I was within their rules, and they arbitrarily decided to mistreat me.  Then they chose to make it worse with their little ‘apologize or else’ routine.

And after all that, guess what?  The bag didn’t make it to Barcelona.  Its journey stopped in Montreal.  I had to go through the lost-baggage routine and they were able to get it to me in Barcelona two days later.

Granted, my situation wasn’t as dramatic as the doctor’s, nor was it caught on video (I hope). However, it was rooted in the same attitude – that the airline has no responsibility whatsoever to its customers and that it can treat them however the hell they feel like treating them.  But there are two big commonalities.

One, the doctor and I were both following the rules.  He’d bought and paid for his seat. My carry-on fit their dimension rack.

Two, United and Air Canada are both part of what they (laughingly, I’m sure) call the Star Alliance of airlines that have a business relationship with each other.  Perhaps “Advanced Customer Torture” is one of their training courses.

I honestly don’t know what is going to get the airline industry’s act together.  The only airline I’ve encountered that actually acts like they like their customers is Southwest.

I’d encourage you to look at your own business.  I doubt strongly that any of my readers ever treat their customers like this, but if they do, it’s time to reevaluate.