As a CX professional I find myself more attuned to experiences I receive as a consumer. One of my favorite stories, which happened to me and 200 of my now closest friends, was with airline travel. Traveling today can be filled with pitfalls from weather, overbooking, poor communications and sadly outdated tools in the hands of inexperienced gate agents. My experience unfortunately brought all of these elements together for the perfect storm in passenger delay and annoyance.
It was a dreary, blustery day in Denver with many of the inbound flights coming from stormy ports, hence aircraft delays. Three outbound flights to the same destination as me were waiting on aircraft with delay times being reposted simultaneously, with 100+ smart devices pinging to alert passengers of the same information. All these flights had their expected departing times modified more than once. None of the three planes were at the gates which were fairly close to one another. Ours was the latest original departure time of the three and had flipped to TBD instead of a time. Now we have 600 passengers growing crankier by the minute. If the gate agents had been thinking of their customers, they could have ordered snacks and water to be brought to the area for the passengers as a show of good faith. But you guessed it – they didn’t think of that.
Several savvy travelers began blowing up Twitter with the flight numbers and delays, highlighting their experience with the airline events. You could almost hear the retweets. Within eight minutes water and snacks arrived between the growing lines of disgruntled passengers, but no distribution method. Sadly, because the gate agents were not aware of the process regarding refreshments, they announced these items were not for the passengers – passengers who were mere feet away in a growing line attempting to alter their connecting flights. I am still uncertain as to whom those agents thought that the refreshments were intended, but ah well. It was almost comical when the ranks broke to scarf up the provisions.
Connecting passengers can be at the airport or inbound from someplace else – you just never know. The real trick, of course, is for the stars to align so that everyone with tickets get seats. Admittedly, this was a nightmare circumstance that I’m sure the agents still shudder from thinking about. The middle flight had cancelled their inbound flight and the airline was desperately seeking equipment. The agents began in earnest to rebook passengers to other partnered airlines, or voucher passengers to stay the night and take a flight out the next day. If one thinks of the expense of overnighting an entire passenger list on a plane for one flight, management might afford additional help, training or tools. The “rob from Peter to pay Paul” rules were in play on this day. They had almost completed moving the passengers one way or another when the inbound flight showed up at the gate. No kidding. You can’t make this stuff up. Then the crew for the flight I was on was unable to continue my flight, so the airline was hunting a crew – information I received only when I called the contact center as did my fellow app users. Many of the passengers were in line to determine connections or overnight stays in the next airport for morning flights to their next destinations. All of this was done with no announcements by the gate agents which made tempers flare.
The topping on the cake was when they canceled my flight and yet it remained on the board until one passenger told them of the error 20 minutes later. This situation could have been improved with better collaboration between the workers, improved mobile application integration, and up to date tools for the agents. Safety is the first rule, however communication is paramount to preventing poor information exchanges.