The Ministry of Customer Relations

Customer Complaints DepartmentHave you ever noticed how almost every airline has a script that the cabin crew say on arrival at your destination? There’s a welcome to whatever city, the time, temperature, and usually some form of promotion à la “We thank you for flying XYZ airlines, and we hope that when your plans call for air travel that you choose to fly with XYZ Airlines again.” And the person reading the script usually says it with the same enthusiasm as they had for the safety briefing at the start of the flight — that is to say, not much.

Airlines get a bad rap when it comes to customer service. I’m a big fan of Louis CK’s miracle of flight monologue – and sometimes guilty as charged! But, it’s one thing to complain about having to pay for a sandwich or sitting on the runway for 40 minutes, and another to expect some semblance of customer service when you speak to a customer service representative.

After more than a year trying to get a ticket transferred or refunded, I spent 35 minutes on the phone today with US Airways. I ended up speaking with a “customer service” representative, albeit from their reservations team. The corporate “customer relations” department — as they call it — has no outside phone number and can’t be reached internally by phone either, allegedly. Think about that for a second. A department that is called “customer relations” and there’s no way for a customer to contact them.

Here’s the back story: last year my mother was supposed to come over to the States for my son’s First Holy Communion. We booked the ticket in February and she was supposed to fly here in April. Just before she was due to travel, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and her doctor advised her not to fly due to a concern they had with blood clots in her type of cancer and treatment. I contacted US Airways right away — before her departure date — to see if we could transfer the ticket to a family member or to refund it. I was advised to go online to their “customer service” portion of their website to provide the details. Which I did. And, I got a response — in August — with a case number that should be quoted and advising me that my mother should contact them directly for privacy reasons. So my mother sent the doctors note requested (there’s no way to upload that online, of course) and referenced the case number, and we waited. And, at irregular intervals we sent a note asking for a response to the original email, but none came.

Today, I tired of emailing into the ether and called US Airways. I got through to reservations because that seems to be the only place one can call when you call US Airways. The first rep I spoke to told me that it is unlikely that I’ll have the ticket refunded because a year has passed since it was purchased. The supervisor — who was quite the expert in monotone policy recitation — suggested I go to the website and fill in the form I filled in more than a year ago and explain my story. Why? Because there’s no way to speak to someone in “customer relations”.

You couldn’t make this stuff up. Why don’t they go the whole hog and call the department “The Ministry of Customer Relations”? Thank you US Airways for demonstrating that even when we thought airline customer service couldn’t get any worse, it can.

Pretty soon, if I keep going at this pace in my airline relationships, I’m going to be swimming back to Ireland!

Cheers,

Dave

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