To whom it may concern,
I wish to thank you for the unforgettable customer service I received during my recent flight with you. As someone who works in Training and Standards for an airline I am always looking for new examples to demonstrate the necessity of providing a seamless travel experience for our guests. My recent trip with you has provided so many examples that I will be hard pressed to select just one. Perhaps you will be able to assist me in identifying which moment was the “stand out”.
I, like so many others, was adversely affected when Air France’s pilots decided to strike. As an airline employee I had flown standby to Europe with my mother. It was always her dream to see Paris with me and I thought it was time to make this a reality. As you also work for an airline, you are likely well-versed in the tales of limited seats and how passengers are moved around when a flight is cancelled. After ten days of strike action, I knew all too well that the likelihood of returning to Canada as a standby passenger was not looking good. I knew if I could get my mother and myself to Dublin (DUB ) that I could get the both of us home.
As I searched for availability on Expedia (I am not overly familiar with the ever-changing landscape of budget airlines in Europe) I was happy to discover that Aer Lingus departed from Paris (CDG). This worked out given that our car rental return was for the same airport. Having flown with your airline four years ago and having had a pleasant experience, I decided that booking with you would result in a stress-free travel experience. All of my experience has dictated that it is better to book directly with the carrier, and so I promptly downloaded your mobile app.
Convenience and ease of use is something I have clearly taken for granted with other apps. Had it not been for the repeated crashing of the app and the lovely white circles spinning in the centre of an emerald screen I might have not had been able to muster the patience required to withstand my entire experience with your company. I used this time to contemplate all the things I could be doing whilst on vacation and came to the conclusion that staring at the green screen was much more soothing than exploring French vineyards. After approximately an hour, I was able to book a flight from CDG to DUB, along with one checked bag for each passenger. Given the aforementioned speed of the app, I was not inclined to verify the flight information. For this, I do accept the full responsibility for booking the incorrect flight date. Even if a part of me suspects that your faulty app had something to do with it.
It was not until September 23 that I realised my error. Again, the Aer Lingus app took considerable time and patience to load my flight. Once it had, I realised my error and called into the call centre immediately. After a twenty minute wait, I was connected with an agent. I provided her with my booking reference and attempted to explain what had happened. I say attempted because the agent, as well-versed as she is in Aer Lingus procedure, did not care to hear any detail after I uttered the words “I thought I had booked the flight for tomorrow”. Given the length of the queue time, I do apologise for not pausing in my distress to think about how my plight could adversely impact things like her average call time. I asked if there was a late show policy or anything to assist travellers like myself. To which I was told “I would have been able to do something if you called before the flight departed”. I then asked if there was a late show policy. To which the agent scoffed and again told me she would only have been able to help me if I had called prior to departure.
My issue with this is that I thought I was taking care of everything well before the flight departed. In North America, the standard check in time prior to departure is 24-hours, and I was calling around that mark. I would only have noticed that my flight was booked for the wrong date is if I had attempted to check in 48-hours prior. I attempted to express this to her and was told that the “least” she could do was to refund me the taxes. The least Aer Lingus could do is refund me the baggage fees for this flight I never took. We both know that this sort of fee is pure ancillary revenue and as such, should not be an issue to return to me. The least your agent could have done was to feign empathy and make me feel that she at least cared about my plight. Instead I was made to feel that my call was inconveniencing her. How dare I presume to call Aer Lingus for assistance?
At this point the call was ended, leaving me to find my own way to Dublin. I was not asked if I needed anything further. She did not offer to assist in rebooking a flight for the next day. Obviously my expectations were far too high. I have clearly been spoiled when dealing with any other call centre and being asked “is there anything else I can help you with today?” prior to the call ending. After all, I had called your call centre, which had the ability to refund taxes, but not book a flight. In the future this information should be placed somewhere on your website, or in an automated message to set realistic expectations. Once more I was left to navigate the emerald screen saver Aer Lingus calls an app.
Once more I booked a flight with Aer Lingus, this time in a near state of paranoia that I had booked it for the wrong date again. The app crashed five time during this process, lending to my confidence that all my issues were behind me. This time, given the baggage fee donation I had already provided. I was under the false impression that should I need to check an additional bag I could do so at the airport.
I would like to take the time to point out that I never assumed to be exempt from baggage fees. That said, the information pertaining to baggage fees is not intuitive on your mobile app. At no time was the fare class I was booking indicated to me which can be incredible misleading when one finally seeks out additional information after a series of unfortunate events while at CDG.
I arrived at CDG to find the lineup for Aer Lingus snaking down the corridor. The line never seemed to advance, only lengthen. There were three counter positions open: one allocated for bag drop, and two for regular check in. Beside the bag drop queue, there were a bunch of people holding random pieces of paper. I didn’t understand what they were doing outside of one of the predetermined lines but was about to find out. Having checked in online (my father in Canada graciously took care of this because your app would promptly freeze whenever I attempted to and I did not wish to call back to your Customer Apathetic Centre for assistance) I mentally high-fived myself and proceeded into the significantly shorter bag drop line.
The lines were utter chaos. It was like shopping on Boxing Day where people fight over sale sweatshirts. Except instead of sweatshirts, it was basic customer assistance we were all vying for. As I’ve already mentioned, I do have unrealistic expectations. I expected to arrive at the airport, check in my bag, obtain a boarding pass and proceed to my boarding gate without incident. Thank you for resetting this. Clearly I should have trained in both combative and defense skills as both were required to get to the counter with an agent. There was no “wait until summoned” instead there was a mad dash to the counter followed by the sensation of someone glaring at you if you were successful. I quickly discovered that I was not merely competing with the people in the aforementioned queues but also with the random stragglers lurking on the outside of the stanchions.
After fifteen minutes (there was only one person ahead of me in the established line) I expertly weaved and dodged my way to the counter. I had wisely used my time to create a successful strategy. Before I had time to congratulate myself, I was advised by the one and only bag drop agent that he was leaving. He assured me one of his colleagues would arrive to take over for him. This never happened. I can’t say I blame him for leaving the counter as it was clear he was the only one who knew what he was doing. With his departure there was an audible groan from the already frustrated crowd of people attempting to check in for their respective flights. Thank you for allowing us all to bond like that, it’s rare that strangers connect anymore.
We were now left to either be checked in by an agent I will henceforth refer to as “Clueless” and “The Phone” (this name is attributed to the fact that he remained on the phone throughout the entire check in process and would often hold it out to a passenger to indicate why he couldn’t possibly check them in). Really, the only person we had to assist us was Clueless. I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she is new, but my confidence in any member of your contracted staff at CDG is quite low. How do I know they were contracted? The Servisair uniform gave it away. I can’t say I blame you for not wanting anyone to assume they actually worked for Aer Lingus. Uniform or not, they do represent your company.
When Clueless wasn’t asking The Phone for assistance, she was asking the same question over and over to the poor people she was checking in. I decided to take a chance and stood in front of The Phone.
He proceeded to ignore me for five minutes. I think he believed that if we didn’t make eye contact I would just go away. Having actually made it to a counter position, I was not about to disappear.
Finally, he hung up the phone and asked for our passports. Everything went smoothly until I placed my checked bag onto the conveyer. It was overweight. There would be a fee. I asked how much and was told “I don’t know. You’ll have to go to the Customer Service Desk in Section Six to find out.” He then proceeded to write the weight on a piece of paper and told me to submit it there. “You can move things around to reduce the weight,” he offered helpfully, “or check another bag instead.” Concerned about the length of line and the cut off time I asked if there would be enough time. I was told I wouldn’t have to wait in line, just stand off to the side and wait for him. That’s right. I, too, was about to join the ranks of the lineless. Before I could ask another question, he had picked up the phone.
My mother and I dutifully left the counter and made our way off to the side. We opened the checked bag and proceeded to move items around into our respective carryon pieces. I then happened upon a scale and reweighed the bag. We had successfully removed 5kg from the bag. ‘How bad could the bag fee be?’ I thought as I made my way over to the Customer Service Desk.
It was there I was to discover all of my efforts had been for naught. You see, there was no scale at this Customer Anger Desk. It didn’t matter that I had rearranged my belongings in an attempt to save a few euros. Apparently, after I had done so I was supposed to return to check in for another piece of paper before paying my dues. I was not informed of this. It’s possible The Phone forget to pass this information along because he had to call someone immediately.
I would like to congratulate you on the choice of staff for the Customer Anger Desk because she was, quite possibly, the most miserable person I have ever encountered. I can’t say I blame her. As I was about to learn, Aer Lingus has exorbitant baggage fees and I am quite certain that I was not the first person to feel blindsided by them.
I handed the woman behind the counter the slip of paper and she told me I owed 107 euros. I balked. That was nearly the price of my ticket. I said that I had moved some items and asked to reweigh the bag. “There’s no scale here,” she stated in a way that can only be construed as defensive. Apparently asking questions to Aer Lingus representatives is not allowed. I checked both your app and your website and could not find record of such a policy. It might be advantageous to add this tidbit so others can avoid my experiences.
As I clearly have not learned my lesson about not asking Aer Lingus questions, I would like to pause my tale here to ask another: how is it acceptable that the area accepting payment for baggage fees is not equipped with a scale? The Phone couldn’t tell me how much I owed because this was outside of his responsibilities, yet the person entrusted to collect the fee couldn’t verify the weight. In my opinion this is nothing short of asinine. It comes across as nickel-and-diming the customer and raises questions about the integrity of the process. I was told I could rearrange my belongings and then required to pay based on the original weight. This means I was not only blatantly lied to by your representative but that I paid for weight that was no longer in the bag. In short, I was ripped off.
Still in shock at the price, I asked if I could pay to check in a second bag and move the excess weight into that bag. I was told that I would have to not only pay for the second bag but also the weight. “It will be more expensive.” With this logic, I could have to pay for the privilege to check in a bag full of air with Aer Lingus. If I happened to make the dire mistake of bringing any belongings with me, I would then have to pay for each kg. I have worked for an airline for eleven years. This makes no sense to me. At the very least, I should have been allowed to check in a second bag. I should have been allowed to move the excess weight into that bag and save a few euros. As your customer, I should have had some options presented to me.
I questioned this policy, stating that I work for an airline and that I didn’t understand the logic. The woman behind the counter glared at me and said “if you work for an airline, you know it’s not about the number of bags but the weight.”
I have previously stated that I work in Training & Standards but did not say for which team. I work in Flight Operations. This means I am fully aware of things like baggage matrixes, weights, numbers, etc. It is for this reason that I do not appreciate being lied to. Perhaps this agent is not well-versed in the operational side of the airline. After all, she had the misfortune of robbing your passengers all day long. Given that she was contracted, I opted to bite my tongue rather than engage in a dialogue with her about this. She gave me the distinct impression that she would have liked nothing better than to deny me boarding.
Here, however, I wish to discuss this. The baggage fees paid prior to ever arriving at the airport can only, at best, provide you with an estimate for the flight. It is not until everyone is checked in and all of the bags are loaded that you will ever have an accurate number. Typically this number is provided to the pilot about ten minutes prior to departure. Baggage matrixes combine both the weight of a bag with the number of checked pieces. The airlines I have dealt with over the years will tell you that they would prefer two bags to be checked in that are under weight than one which is over. So in a sense your agent was correct in saying that the weight was more important. However with that logic I should have been afforded the option to check in a second piece. Your emerald green screen saver of an app did not provide me with any opportunity to add additional baggage. I had no option but to deal with the staff at the airport. There were two passengers travelling and one piece of checked luggage. If I had opted for a higher weight limit online and been significantly under, I am certain you would not have issued me a refund for the difference. This is exceedingly shady to me. As a customer, it comes across as nothing more than an attempt to extort as much money from us as possible.
Overweight fees are typically attributed to the following reasons: the additional fuel required for the aircraft and the strain on the baggage handlers for having to lift a heavier suitcase. Again, I should have been allowed to check in a second bag for a specified weight. There should have been a scale at the Customer Anger Desk to facilitate this.
Instead of saying any of this, I took a deep breath and asked the agent to process the payment because I knew I would have to return to standing in the non-moving queue back at check-in. She told me “It takes time. You need to wait. I can’t do my job if you keep this up” and then proceeded to purposefully type with one finger at a time as slowly as she could muster while muttering “bitch” under her breath.
I suppose you could argue that it was my fault for not interacting with her in French to begin with. Clearly I was not supposed to understand what she had said. Regardless, even if I did not speak French, the contempt with which she uttered this could not be mistaken. It might be worth mentioning in future training that when insulting a customer, wait until he or she has walked away and is no longer within earshot.
The process of entering my credit card information took five minutes. My mother, standing off to the side, timed it. By the time she handed me the receipt to sign, I had been at the Customer Anger Desk for approximately ten minutes. The agent handed me a pen and told me that I needed to sign. I did and began to gather my belongings. I was then informed by the agent that if I wanted my credit card back I would need to return her pen. I, too, am guilty of taking pens from various hotels and know how collectable they are. Therefore it is entirely reasonable to hold my credit card hostage while I, the paying customer, floored by being called a bitch by Aer Lingus, forgot to immediately hand over the pen.
Naturally, I returned the pen immediately and returned to the no-man’s land section of the check in counter. By this time Clueless had moved over to the Bag Drop line. Like the many passengers before me who had the treat of dealing with the Customer Anger Desk, I watched the crowd for an opening and dashed up to Clueless.
At her counter I handed her the receipt and proceeded to place the only piece of checked baggage I was allowed back onto the conveyer. Again I was asked for my passport and reservation information, which I provided. Clueless then informed me that my bag was overweight and I would have to pay. I told her that I already had, to which she told me “No, you haven’t.”
“I gave you the receipt.”
“I don’t have it.”
I then leaned over the counter and pointed to it. At which point, Clueless stared at in a manner befitting her name before saying “Oh, I do have it.”
I then inquired about our cabin baggage. Every person I had seen leaving the counter had a sticker affixed to the items being brought into the cabin with them. Clueless told me “You’re fine.” No longer confident that anyone at CDG knew how to do their job, I asked if she was certain and motioned to my black roller bag. “It’s fine,” she repeated.
With that, we were checked in and made our way to the boarding gate with only minutes to spare.
When it was time for my rows to be boarded, I approached the gate. The person scanning the boarding passes took one look at my carryon and said, “That needed to be checked at the counter if you wish to bring it on board.” I told her that it had been and was advised if it had been that it would have had a sticker. I told her that the agent told me that it didn’t need one. Thankfully someone behind me distracted her and I proceeded down the bridge without further incident. I am confident, however, that had I stayed there much longer I likely would have had to offer up my first born to pay for the privilege of bringing the bag into the cabin.
And this brings me back to the first question I posed: which one of these customer service failings do you think stands out the most? When I use this example, and believe me I will, I think it is a snowball of small things amounting to one exceedingly horrible experience. I wish to thank you for taking the trip of a life time and ending it with such indelible memories. The image of my mother shaking because she was so stressed whilst waiting to board the flight is particularly lovely.
I am curious how you will attempt to atone for this and perhaps change the outcome from “Aer Lingus does not care about their customers” to a story about how despite the numerous things that went wrong, Aer Lingus sought to make things right. My gut instinct is that you will send me a blanket apology without actually reading this account. After all, I am just an airline employee from Canada so it is likely I don’t matter much in terms of your bottom dollar. I do, however, have a lot of friends who live in Europe, and my father is also a travel agent who has sworn to not book anyone of his customers with your carrier and advise his colleagues to do the same pending a resolution to this.