Auto Service World
Feature   December 1, 2005   by Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

Customer Flight Risk

Leaving Las Vegas was tougher than I thought. No, not because I love the place so much, but because it simply would not let me leave.

My feet were still buzzing from the miles of aisles and the multiple events that make up Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week as I took my seat for my flight out.

Having flown more than a few times, I couldn’t help but wonder at the lack of activity by the flight crew as our appointed departure time came and went. It was soon clear we weren’t going anywhere. First, they rang off a few connections and asked them to get off the plane for rebooking, then a few more, then everybody got off.

Okay, I thought, I know the drill: get in line, get rebooked, have a snack, then be on my way. “And what’s your final destination?” asked Geri, the senior service representative. “Toronto.” She pulled a face and made a noise like my cat when I step on his tail. Not good, I thought.

Lots of keys were clicked. Phone calls were made. Geri was hard at work performing exemplary customer service. Luggage was described so it could be pulled off the plane. I offered her some gum; graciously accepted.

No flights out in the near future. Perhaps the red-eye on standby. Yeah right, come back in 11 hours only to be told you aren’t getting on? Thanks, but no thanks. “Nothing else today?” Nothing else today.

Tomorrow morning then, on the 7:00 a.m. to Phoenix, with a connection to T.O. “You’re definitely on that one.” Thanks, Geri.

Hotel, meal vouchers and booking confirmation in hand, I head down to the baggage claim. Hmm, no bag. Maybe I’ll wait a bit. Talked to Paul in baggage claim. “If it’s not here by now, it went on the plane.” Huh? “Oh, the plane went, it just went late.” Great, nearly 24 hours to kill and not even a pair of clean socks. I started to feel pity for those who would be my seatmates when I finally did get on a plane. I also felt envy for my luggage, by now sunning itself in Phoenix. But Paul helped out, with a shaving kit and vouchers for $50 off my next flight. Nice guy, Paul. Good at taking care of the customer.

Well, nothing left to do but head to the hotel and kill time. Check in, walk around, have a meal. Have a beer. Watch four football games. I hate football. One can, I discovered, also kill a lot of time cringing from the sound of car alarms going off every half hour in the middle of the night awaiting that 5 a.m. wakeup call.

Of course, that doesn’t come, which puts me on major rush mode when I’m least able to, well, get into first gear, never mind top gear. Not bad though: clean, dressed–at least I didn’t get slowed down deciding what to wear–and checking out by 10 to six, only to find that I’ve missed the shuttle bus to the airport, and wouldn’t have been able to get on it even if I had made it because I didn’t make a reservation.

Ended up on the aforementioned shuttle bus which was already back at the hotel from his 5:45 run–the driver had to check if it was okay to make the five-minute trip even though he was going to be sitting for an hour, which, in the name of customer service, his supervisor allowed him to do. Get to the airport just in time to be told by Geri–a different Geri–that I missed the one-hour-before-flight cutoff as per the airline’s international traveller policy (the fact that Phoenix is in Arizona is, apparently, irrelevant). Damn. Next flight?

Geri Number Two proceeds to write War and Peace on her terminal making arrangements. Just trying to take care of the customer. There was the flight through Denver with a four-hour layover. And another through L.A. I was waiting for the Denver-Seattle-Chicago-Baltimore-Detroit flight to come through when a direct flight leaving a mere eight hours later is spotted. “Oh, and here’s a $200 voucher for your next flight with us.” Great customer service.

Half a day later I arrive in T.O. to find my bag, having spent a day in Phoenix, still beat me to the airport by half a day. Lucky bag. They even brought it to the right terminal.

In fact, there was great customer service the whole way through. Each individual I came into contact with was very customer-focused. They were so customer-focused I began to think that the only reason they kept me around was to show how great their customer service was.

Of course, the only thing the folks who operated the last plane did was put me in a seat and get me home. I don’t even know any of their names. You call that customer service?

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