We were looking forward to it.
more Technically incorrect
This is what airlines now call leisure travel. A little work, a little pleasure and, who knows, some unexpected joy.
My wife and I flew to Lisbon via London Heathrow Airport with British Airways.
We were mostly packed. We were ready to go.
We were even a little excited when we heard the soothing voice of the British pilot again.
Important information? Well, sort of
On the morning of the flight, I was woken up by an email from the airline. The subject line read: “Important information about your booking.”
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Such items usually mean you need to fill in your passport details before travelling. Or so I thought this Monday.
I almost didn’t open it, but then dark thoughts came. This was an airline. Airlines have not been treating customers well lately. This could be very bad.
And indeed, this particular e-mail flew in the wrong direction. It began: “We are truly sorry that your upcoming flights have been cancelled.”
They have? This was news to me. When did it happen? It was as if British Airways assumed I already knew. But how could I?
At that moment I felt the need to talk to the person who wrote this email. I felt an urge to use some specific vocabulary.
Why, for example, did they not explain why those flights were cancelled? Why was this email so strangely insignificant?
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There was an offer to fly the next day, in infinitely worse seats, and there was no suggestion that the price difference would be refunded.
Forgive us, we booked this one night leg in business class to get some sleep — it was a very good deal, booked months in advance — and now BA was offering to take us by coach the next day. For the same price, obviously.
“If you are happy to travel in this cabin,” the email read, “there is nothing you need to do.” Oh, that’s nice of you.
Customer service? We’re generous with that
What should you do in this situation? Well, in a fit of false hope, I called the airline’s customer service. And actually passed.
The agent offered the wording, “I’m sorry about that.”
However, he did not know why the flight was canceled and explained that it was not really his problem. He was there to book us again for another time. We’d just like to, you know, change all our plans because our flight got canceled who knows why?
He even offered us a flight two days later with a one-time free flight change, as if the free part was somehow unspeakably generous.
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Please forgive me, but I was not impressed. Instead, I felt the same anger that hundreds of thousands of travelers have felt toward airlines over the past few years. And lately even more. (Hello, Southwest.)
So I canceled our flights and gambled that somehow we could fly that day on another airline, because we had meetings to catch.
Now that was totally my problem.
I was able to book us flights on Delta codeshare with Air France. It cost more, no flat bed for the night, but would fly that day. First world pain, that. But the planes flew — they even arrived on time — and the customer service, both at the airport and on the plane, was truly excellent.
Technically, we’re not very good
However, British Airways’ attitude continued to bother me.
I can accept change. It is more difficult to accept anger and indifference towards the brand. So I contacted the airline’s public relations representatives to ask questions that any customer might ask.
For example, why wasn’t a reason offered for cancellation? Why didn’t BA try to put us on another airline?
This is the response I received: “I’m really sorry you had this experience and the inconvenience it caused. For your background, the flight was canceled due to a technical problem with the aircraft and there were limited options to rebook passengers.”
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Which, of course, was deeply reassuring. Yes, BA refunded us. That didn’t make up for the painful inadequacy of customer service.
It would somehow help to tell the truth — if in fact a technical problem was the real reason for the cancellation. It would help to be told any truth. It would help to be treated like, you know, a customer.
But the complete indifference — and even obfuscation — of email communication left a lot of sourness around my teeth.
Why not offer the subject: “URGENT: YOUR FLIGHT IS CANCELED. WE WANT TO HELP”?
Too honest, I guess. Too many promises, too.
BA managed to block many passengers across America and elsewhere at the time, due to some sort of technological glitch. I understand that the possible cause was the outsourcing of said technology and internal network infrastructure that may not be perfect. (Does that remind you of another airline?)
It also wasn’t perfect, oh look, customer service. British actress Liz Hurley, one of the stranded, offered on Twitter: “@British_Airways Stuck in Antigua airport with no food or water, taxi or hotel still on offer. Plane delayed 8pm.”
You will be amazed when I tell you that BA’s explanation for the outage was a “technical problem”.
Maybe you shouldn’t expect too much from customer service – and especially not from airline customer service.
Recent events have shown that waiting times of 4 hours just to reach an agent is somewhat normal. Still, if my wife and I decide to travel to Lisbon again — or anywhere in Europe — BA just gave a brilliant lesson in how to annoy a customer and get them to fly Air France — which seems a little careless.
I would blame Brexit, of course.