Cheap Air Travel - The Hard Way
Crowded airports, delayed flights, uncomfortable seats, long waits, missed connections, lost luggage. Air travel for me is almost never pleasant. One time it was particularly frustrating when it became apparent that an airline gate agent made false promises just to keep me moving along by pushing the problem down the line.
My wife and I and our two teenage sons were on our way to Las Vegas. We had to travel through Atlanta, and we missed our connection in Atlanta because our arriving flight was late taking off. The gate agent told us that there were no later flights to Las Vegas but if we agreed to fly to Dallas we could get a flight to Vegas the next morning. She promised to put us up in a hotel in Dallas for the night and offered free ticket vouchers for our inconvenience. She then handed us coupons for a free meal at any airport terminal concession while we waited for our flight to Dallas. As we walked away she said to check our email when we got home for those vouchers. We had about an hour before our late night flight to Dallas so we thought we’d cash in those coupons and have dinner. Nothing was open. That should have been a big red flag, but we proceeded to Dallas anyway.
When we arrived in Dallas and picked up our luggage, there was no one at the airline ticketing desk to direct us to the hotel that was promised. I wandered around until I found an airline employee. I actually started knocking on office doors until I found one. He was a supervisor and agreed to help my family and two other couples in the same situation. At the computer screen he found no evidence that we had arrangements for a hotel, nor did he find a flight reservation to Las Vegas the next morning. The gate agent in Atlanta merely pushed us to Dallas to get rid of us.
This guy that I found was great help and very compassionate, which was fortunate for him since I was in the mood to kill someone now. He booked our connecting flight from Dallas to Las Vegas and started calling hotels. No rooms in the area were available. Lucky us. He apologized and said “How can I make this right for you guys?” No one spoke up so I, uncharacteristically took the lead. I told him to bump us up to first class for the remainder of the trip to Vegas and home AND provide more vouchers for tickets on future flights in addition the ones promised and Atlanta. I told him to make those voucher for first class also. He agreed and I was a little surprised. He gave us all a reference number to check for those vouchers when we got home.
Then he went above the call of duty. We would have to sleep in the airport for the night but offered to drive out to get us food. We all told him it wasn’t necessary so he took us to a more comfortable lounge area and brought us soda pop, water and snacks. He then gave me his business card and said to contact him in the future if we ever had any problems again with his airline. He wished us luck, apologized again and left us in the lounge. The rest of the trip was without problems and flying in first class was nice. The other couples thanked me for making those demands.
When I returned home I checked with the airline to be sure the vouchers were indeed credited to my account. Not yet. I waited a week or two. Still NO. Not again, I thought, they screwed me. I began to do some investigation online and found the name of the airline’s Vice President of Marketing and the email address of other employees. So I put the info together and guessed at his email address, then crafted an email to this executive. I told him first the story of the employee in Dallas who should be recognized for great customer service, and who prevented me from swearing to never use their airline again. I then told him the rest of the story and stated exactly what I wanted him to do. 1. Give me the ticket vouchers that were promised. 2. Recognize and reward the Dallas employee who helped us. 3. Investigate and reprimand the Atlanta employee who thoughtlessly pushed us along so she didn't have to deal with it.
I included my phone number in the email and clicked send. As I was printing the email for my records, but expecting never to hear anything from the airline, my phone rang. On the other end was the executive I had just emailed. I was very surprised. He apologized and said my request would be granted. He also told me that many people who complain never say exactly what they want in compensation and never provide a phone number.
About a week later Fed-EX delivered a package containing 8 vouchers for first-class tickets to anywhere the airline flew within the continental United States!. We used them to for two separate trips to visit my sisters, one in Denver the other in San Francisco.
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