Monday, June 09, 2008

What AA could have done better yesterday

Kim and I were flying out of Chicago yesterday. Kim was returning to Austin while I was going to Pittsburgh for a day and then to Austin on Monday (tonight). Here are the facts:
  • Kim's Austin flight was cancelled and she was automatically booked on an 8am flight for Monday. I had to repeatedly hit '0' till I could talk to some one real. I was then able to book Kim on a 9:45pm flight out of Chicago (Sunday night). They had no answer to why this was not offered as an initial choice.
  • My flight to Pittsburgh showed up as being on time.
This is what transpired through the evening:
  • By the time I got to O'Hare (for my 4:15 departure), the crowd had grown. Flights had been cancelled initially due to weather and the domino effect was building up exponentially.
  • I checked in my bag.
  • My flight was rescheduled three times and was eventually canceled.
  • My bag was going to Pittsburgh whether I was or not.
  • I got in a line with ~200 people in front of me, called AA advantage desk and was put on hold for 15 mins (the line moved 3 people).
  • Finally I got a person who explained to me that the earliest they could get me into Pittsburgh was Tuesday. My meeting was for Monday so I asked to be booked on the same flight as Kim which was now moved to 10:40PM. They were able to do that.
  • Kim showed up at O'Hare. We got on the flight, which finally departed at 11:45 and we made it into Austin around 2:30AM.
This is what AA could have done better - remember O'Hare is AA's hub so if they have the most resources in any airport in the country, it is at O'Hare.
  • Red phone lines are good. AA set up red phones with direct access to AA help line. But 3 to 8 lines is a joke when you have 2000 stranded passengers. You are only going to create chaos, confusion and feed the rage.
  • Buy free wifi for a day for the whole freaking airport. Chicago has boingo providing WiFi but you have to pay 7$ for a day pass. AA should have opened free wifi access so people can start connecting with the outside world quickly.
  • I called the AA Advantage help line and got an automated voice recognition system. I kept repeating "Operator Assistance" and it kept telling me "I understand you would like to talk to someone, have you considered the automated options". Seriously ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? I am in line with a gentleman who is flying international and he has to hit 4 countries in 5 days and you have screwed his schedule royally, the least you can do is allow him to talk to someone. Especially since the automated options HAVE NO OPTION FOR CANCELLED FLIGHTS.
  • Set up drink and snack stations. Not saying cater gourmet food but realize that O'Hare has not meaningful food/drink options unless you go through the security check. You have 1000's of people standing in line outside waiting to get re booked BECAUSE OF YOU (weather but from their pov - YOU!). At least have some quick healthy snacks and bottled water around to help people calm down.
  • Learn from your mistakes. This is the fourth or fifth time this is happening on a massive scale this year. Why is there no improvement in how AA responds to these situations? Weather is going to be a #$%#$, get used to it. But you can at least work harder on your response plan.
  • Prioritize - I would have gladly let the gentleman trying to make 4 countries in 5 days ahead of me but you should help him get there. There is no way he is going to verbally make his case to 250 people and get in the front of the line.
  • Deal with emergencies - I saw no paramedics on post or people monitoring for emergency situations. What if someone went into labour, what if an elderly person got into serious distress. What if 4 of these scenarios happened simultaneously across the airport. There did not seem to be a plan in place...

This is just the top of my head. I am sure Weather is an unpredictable factor for any airline but there is only so much you can blame on weather.

Oh btw AA, nice knowing you. I am definitely jumping on the Herb Kelleher bandwagon. Adios.
(I still want my bag back btw).


The Thomps said...

Amen! As soon as I found out that AA would be charging for the first checked bag, I emailed and said, "Thanks, but no thanks. I will be flying Southwest for all domestic flights from now on." All very good customer service suggestions, btw. And what would seem to be common sense not to incite a riot at O'Hare...

amar rama said...

Hah! agreed. Common sense is a scarce commodity for whatever reason.

Btw, big hair cool no matter what Kevin say ;-)

MJSamuelson said...

The way you feel about AA is how I feel about United. We had a similar experience at LAX in January.