Here I sit, in an airplane on the tarmac of Miami International Airport. Our flight home should have left the ground over an hour ago. My wife is next to me, just about ready to climb out and start pushing the plane herself. I am annoyed and frustrated, and anxious to be winging our way back home. With any luck, we will be in the air by the time I finish this post and I can deride a company for the first time while at 30 000 ft. altitude. We almost never fly American Airlines (mostly because of my addiction to Star Alliance’s customer loyalty program!), but this flight was booked for us by our cruise line, leaving us little choice in the matter. However, I will not be returning to American Airlines anytime in the near future, and I’d like to outline why.
We just finished a lovely 10-day cruise and headed to Miami International Airport. We were already rather annoyed by the fact that our flight would not be leaving for 7 hours after our transfer from the ship arrived at MIA (although this is not the fault of AA, but rather poor scheduling by the cruise line), but we decided to make the best of it. Both my wife and I were quite anxious to get home to our lovely daughter. Take-off time couldn’t come soon enough!
Our headaches began in the check-in line. Firstly, it was woefully understaffed by probably the surliest group of individuals I have ever met. It was as if I just met the 7 dwarves, except they were all named Grumpy. I went to ask them some basic questions, only to be shuttled back and forth as they decided whose responsibility it was to answer my basic question. Instead of just answering us about check-in details, we were throttled about like a bloody ping-pong ball from line to line. The net result? Sitting in lines with our luggage for another 2 hours before we could check-in.
Once we actually got to the Express Check-in, we were greeted by the unfriendliest piece of software that I have ever seen. Rather than taking the pieces of information that were already entered into the system, they required us to manually re-enter everything. Having just read the Steve Jobs book, and being captivated by his attention to detail and user experience, I could only imagine what his reaction to this system would have been. After 2 attempts and 10 minutes we finally got our boarding passes.
(Oh wait, looks like we are about to take off)
Next we were off to the lounge to wait for our flight. This was bearable, but longer than it would have ideally been. I always am leery of domestic flights and always listen to all the announcements. I knew something was immediately afoot when they started asking if anyone would give up their seats for some cash, a hotel and a new flight. Yes, you guessed it – AA oversold the flight by 6 people. As soon as they made the offer a stream of people (who, by their appearance, I can only assumed owned and operated a series of neon massage lounges) made a beeline to the customer counter. They quickly found 5 of the 6 people they needed to solve the issue of the oversold flight. In the back of my head, I kept waiting for them to call my name and bump me from the flight. (luckily, this didn’t happen).
So we board the plane and we sit, and sit, and sit some more. Apparently, they can’t take off because their navigational systems are not working correctly. Now I am not in favor of any plane taking off with a bad navigational system. The joke of it was they called into maintenance to get a tech to check it out. The problem resided with the huge concrete building immediately next to our plane blocking the satellites and reception. Rather than a quick 2-second call to maintenance to find out that it was a known issue, we sat for 30+ plus minutes before they realized the issue. So we are going to take off now, right? Wrong. We find out that despite giving 5 passengers money to take a later flight, their baggage may or may not be still on the plane, and this would need to be sorted out before take-off. Instead of cruising in the air on our way home, the headache continued.
Over an hour later of our plane baking on the tarmac in the hot Florida sun we finally prepare to take off. So now we are flying to our destination. I must say the captain on the flight and the crew have been completely professional. I also noticed some of the new features in the cabin, like the calming lighting and music. I am also really jazzed about the in-flight Wi-Fi. This experience, however, illustrates a key point. No matter how good the individual elements were, the user experience was broken at a number of key points – at check-in procedure, the overselling of the flight, and the flight crew operations finding the bags of the oversold individuals. If I was another employee working at this company, I would be furious. Here I am busting my ass to make the company successful and there are assholes and crappy processes undermining my work. User experience (UX) matters folks! You can’t just sweep stuff under the rug and hope that the user wants to repeat the experience (unless they are a masochist, that is).
After reading the Jobs book, I realized that there is no reason to keep kid gloves on when something is wrong. The gloves are off! I am going to call out shit where I see it, and hopefully the people selling it will actually address it instead of just letting other hardworking employees cover up the smell.
Ok back to playing Words with Friends 🙂
February 27, 2012
It’s funny that you mention this. I was at a UX session this weekend and realized how important the user experience is online as much as the face to face customer service interaction. I experienced similar issues like you’ve documented in the past. It’s never a pleasant experience. Thanks for sharing.