I didn’t expect to follow up on the previous post about brands destroying themselves through broken promises with another example of poor customer service so soon, but US Airways is too blatant to ignore.
You may be aware that US Airways is undergoing a merger with American Airlines and will be the surviving airline. It also will be the biggest. There has been much news reported about how this merger will benefit investors, the airline industry and US Airways employees. You don’t see or hear much about the impact on customers other than speculation about fares. And I can see why US Airways doesn’t advertise its customer service – because it stinks.
My brother experienced this first hand just a couple of weeks ago. He booked a flight that required a change of planes in Charlotte, N.C. His originating flight departed late because of weather and he landed about 10 minutes late. Incredibly, the plane sat at the arriving gate because – according to the pilot – there wasn’t an agent at the gate to direct departing passengers to connecting flights.
My brother said that people on the plane were yelling to the flight crew to let them off the plane. The pilot announced an apology and said he had called three times for a gate agent. They all waited, standing in the aisle, for 12 minutes.
When passengers finally were allowed off the plane, my brother ran for his connecting flight. Great news – the plane was still at the gate! But no, the agent wouldn’t let him board because the doors had just closed. He asked her to find him a hotel. She told him no, his delay was caused by weather, which the airline has no control over and doesn’t compensate passengers for. He told her the delay was from waiting for 12 minutes to exit the plane and if it weren’t for that hold up by US Airways, he would have made it on the connecting flight before the doors closed.
The agent refused so he had to find and book his own hotel at a cost of $150 and was rebooked on a flight the following morning.
I started tweeting about how US Airways was trying to use bad weather on one leg of the trip to explain its poor gate service and get out of refunding my brother for a hotel bill he should never had to incur. This is not an unusual tactic used by airlines, which I pointed out in one of my tweets.
Suddenly, my brother heard again from a US Airways “customer service” representative, who this time admitted the airline was at fault, but said they still wouldn’t refund his hotel expense because the airline only reimburses when there has been a mechanical issue. Except this is not what the US Airline website says:
Non-diversion cancellations and missed connections
When a US Airways flight on which the customer is being transported is cancelled or causes a missed connection, due to reasons within the control of US Airways, creating an overnight stay for the customer, US Airways will provide one night’s lodging. US Airways will pay for:
- Hotel room (US Airways will not cover: room service, alcohol, or movies, laundry or other hotel services)
- Ground transportation (if not provided by the hotel)
- Passengers without baggage will be reimbursed upon presentation of receipts for reasonable incidentals such as toiletries needed until they are reunited with their baggage
US Airways will not provide hotel accommodations when a flight is cancelled or causes a missed connection due to circumstances beyond our control, such as weather or Air Traffic Control decisions. Additional exceptions where US Airways will not provide hotel accommodations include:
- When a customer’s trip is interrupted at a city which is his/her origin point, point of scheduled temporary stay or his/her permanent domicile.
- When the destination designated on the customer’s ticket, and the flight on which the customer is being transported, is diverted to another city or airport in the same metropolitan area due to weather or other causes beyond US Airways’ control.
In cases where US Airways will not provide one night’s lodging, US Airways will provide passengers a list of hotels/motels, which offer a distressed rate when flight(s) are cancelled.
Whether or not this is legally binding is not the point. It constitutes a brand promise that US Airways has broken. I posted a link to this on one of my Twitter posts and, guess what – my brother got another call from US Airways. This time they offered to pay $75 of his $150 hotel bill.
Getting a full refund for a delay US Airways finally admitted was fully within its control and at fault should not require passengers to play Let’s Make A Deal for US Airways to honor its promise.
Assuming the merger goes through, passengers can expect this kind of “service” to continue. And we as the flying public are apt to see US Airways ad touting size and routes – but not customer service.
Seriously, what was Kenneth Cole thinking when he posted a tweet using the current situation in Egypt as a springboard for promoting his spring collection?
There’s no excuse for this PR disaster when so much information about the do’s and don’ts of Twitter is literally at Cole’s fingertips. All it takes is a few minutes of Internet research. If you’re going to participate in social media, then the least you should do is do a little online investigating to get the lay of the land first. Before you insert shoe in mouth.
Contrary to what some people say about there being no such thing as bad PR (and they might want to give some serious thought to Enron, Toyota and BP), it can never be good when you or your company name is viewed negatively. Gini Dietrich summed it up nicely with this analysis:
Anytime you have to issue an apology and interrupt your work growing your business, that is bad PR. No matter how many people are talking about you.
Who knows whether Cole did this on purpose as a PR stunt. It really doesn’t matter. No matter what the long-term impact turns out to be, this was insensitive and showed poor judgment.