I briefly hesitated to post this since I know EVERYONE has some kind of airline story they're just one lost bag short of going ballistic about, and I didn't really want to send all that negative energy into the world, but between Seth Godin's blog post on getting what you pay for and Indexed's I'm calling to close my account post I was inspired to share my story. So consider yourself warned, this is an airline customer service story. I understand if you need to close your browser and stop reading for your own mental and physical health.
It was December 2006. I'd bought a first class ticket online for $250 more than a coach ticket would have cost me for one leg of my trip to visit my family for the holidays, but I wasn't given a first class seat the day of the flight.
To keep this relatively short I'll just say I was refused any kind of reasonable customer service by three different American Airlines employees on that trip - the gate agent who couldn't be bothered by my situation at the time of the flight and gave me an 800# to call to complain (the wrong 800#), the customer service agent I spoke to when I finally found the right number who repeated the 'we can give you a $100 travel voucher' party line over and over as if he didn't hear one word I was saying (he was also rude), and then finally the ticket agent I spoke to live in person when I went back to the airport to resolve the issue, who at least realized the right thing to do would be to give me a $250 travel voucher (or send me back home in first class), but ended up doing neither. I should also mention they lost my luggage on that trip, which I didn't receive until three days later because the gate agent wrote my cell number down wrong (after I repeated it to her multiple times).
Like Seth's post about getting what you pay for, it was this experience that made me stop rewarding American Airlines' bad service with my hard-earned dollars. And it reinforces Indexed's post about customer service being totally removed from the customer.
I know what it would have taken to get the $250 voucher...I would have had to ask for the manager, and probably the manager's manager, and transform myself into an irate she-devil customer. But I refused to do that. What I was asking for was fair and reasonable. I'd been frustrated enough by the first three customer service agents I spoke with, it wasn't worth $150 to continue punishing myself with more of the same.
Given their tight profit margins, I'm sure airlines count on people doing what I did - giving up. But they probably don't count on you giving up flying them altogether. I took the $100 voucher, then I cancelled my credit card that earned AAdvantage miles and have since made every effort to avoid flying American (and I've stuck to it). I have to assume that extra $150 would have more than paid for itself with my continued business over the years. I'm still shocked they didn't see it that way.