I am supposed to be landing in France in one hour but instead I am posting this blog from my hotel in Philadelphia due to a missed connection. This situation could have been avoided if there were better business processes in place. This unfortunate situation coupled with inflexible business processes on the customer service side of the business has cost this airline a few customers for life. I bet a company with good business processes, like South West Airlines, would have handled the situation better.
Here is my story. My flight out of Tampa on US Air was supposed to leave at 2:15 en route to Philly. Due to weather we left 75 minutes late. When we arrived in Philly, we had 15 minutes to get to our gate which happened to be on the other side of the airport. We showed up at the gate at 6:02 for a 6:00 flight and the plane was gone. My colleague and I were not the only ones left stranded. Here is an opportunity to improve business processes and leverage technology to avoid losing customers. Business Process Opportunity #1. US Air should consider having processes that detect the impacts of delays in connecting flights. They should have known that there were a few customers who were arriving from Tampa and were at risk of being late for the connecting flight to France. The flight to France is seven hours so holding the flight for an extra 15 minutes would not cause a delay in the arrival time. They could easily make up that time in the air.
The story continues. We then had to get another flight to France. We were told that there was no other solution then to wait 24 hours for the next flight to France. We asked about other airlines and the answer was nobody had any other flights. She did not look this up on the computer she just declared it. We argued and argued and it went nowhere. Business Process Opportunity #2. A business process that explored alternative flights on other airlines would be nice. If they could have put us on another flight I would be able to write this off as a bad weather issue. Since they had no acceptable solutions, I will write this off as poor customer service and inflexible business processes.
It gets better. Now we need to get a hotel. This process seems to take an eternity. We get sent to different hotels and get $15 of meal money for a 24 hour period. That's enough for one Philly cheese steak sandwich! If you want to go on a diet fly US Air! Then I ask about our luggage. She has no information on it and directs us back to the original gate that we arrived on. Business Process Opportunity #3. Part of a customer retention strategy should be to have business processes to easily accommodate displaced travelers. Better collaboration with hotel partners and information about the whereabouts of my luggage should be a click away.
Not done yet. Then we grumble and moan our way back to the luggage claim another 15+ minutes away. The good news. Our luggage is at the airport and did not go to France without us. The bad news. We can't have it! It is checked into customs and cannot leave the area. I asked for them to rethink this since I have some mediations that I need to take each morning for my kidneys. Her response, "That will be a problem". Arguing led to yet another reality that their existing processes are very rigid and they have a culture of procedures over customers. Business Process Opportunity #4. Revisit legacy business processes and make sure they still meet the needs of the business. Identify exceptions and see which ones make economic sense. How hard would it be to get me my bag. Luckily I can go a day or two without my pills before my blood pressure goes off the charts. I hope no heart patients had the same scenario.
In total we had to talk to four different people in four different locations to get all of this done. The outcome was totally unacceptable (24 hour lay over with $15 for food and no access to my luggage). Every time we asked them for alternatives we heard the same clear message, "We can't". This is not a people issue, this is a process issue. In fact, the employees were very sympathetic and professional, but their hands were tied due to ineffective business processes. I am sure with the right business processes, these same people could have helped us out. Since US Air does not seem to think that business processes can be a competitive advantage, they have lost these two customers for life and possibly anyone else who reads this.
I would love to hear from anyone in the airline industry how your company deals with delays and exceptions.
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