Sunday, February 20, 2005

The real reason American owned airlines are going bankrupt!

Its a rainy Sunday morning here in Tokyo and my body clock is still not readjusted. So time to post some observations from my recent trip back to the States.

I flew United Airlines over and American back. Both ways I saw things that you just don't see when you fly on Asian owned carriers. In a nutshell its this: NO CUSTOMER SERVICE SKILLS!

As I said flew United on the way over. Could not get upgraded because my travel people had booked a non unpgradeable ticket, even though they are not supposed to do this. So back to the "cattle car" that is a 747 I went. United, at least still has some amenities, they do not charge for drinks, and the food was OK. However once they have made that second pass through the cabin, that's the last you will see of the flight attendants for the next six hours. WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?

Coming back on American was where the real horror story begins. Before I had left, I called the American Airlines service center to place my name on the upgrade list. ( Getting upgraded on American is critical, because back in coach, the little weasels charge for drinks!!!! Need at least a couple of beers on a 11 hour flight if I am to have any hope of sleeping.) I reconfirm with the airline the night before. I get to the counter as they start processing the list, talk to the lady at the counter who says we have a seat in business, just need to process it with the service center. They then go back and forth on the phone about how much to charge me for the upgrade.

Charge me? Why, I am using miles, I am a platinum member and I put my name on the list out side of 10 days. There's no charging here, I tell the lady. Besides American is the only airline that flies across the Pacific that charges to upgrade people. ( As far as I know they are also the only one who charges for drinks too!).
Finally get that straightened out and she prints up my business class boarding pass. I'm all set, just waiting for her to hand it to me, when she ( still on the phone with the service center) says, " Oh I am sorry we cannot upgrade you because your ticket was issued on United Airlines ticket stock." WHAT?

ME: "But my ticket was booked by my travel agency and I have no say in whose ticket stock they use. Besides I flew United on the way over"

Her: "I understand, but Tariff has no way to charge"

ME: " Wait a minute. We already established that there is no charge. You just need to deduct the miles from my account".

Her: " I am sorry we cannot upgrade a United ticket"

ME: " But its not a United ticket. I'm in San Jose flying on American"

This banter goes on for another 10 minutes with me getting madder by the second. All the while the flight is boarding and I am looking at a nice business class seat boarding pass with my name on it sitting on the counter. Finally I realize this is going nowhere and ask for someone to complain to. She gives me a printed sheet that HAS NO PHONE NUMBERS ON IT! You either have to e-mail them or send a letter. Gotta get on the plane cause its boarding, anyway.

And thus begins the second half of the problem. Squeezed into my tiny seat, up against the bulkhead, I wait for the service cart to come by, seething the whole time. The grey haired flight crew, finally come around at altitude..with an attitude.

"Yes Skippy-san, you may have a beer..5 Dollars."

Since I knew this coming I was prepared, had a stack of 5's in my shirt pocket. Kind of like being in a strip club, only beer is generally cheaper in a strip club and you get a better view and more value for your money.

Now contrast this to last month, when I flew from Singapore to Bangkok on Singapore Airways. Ticket price was equal to or less to an US company for a comparable distance. On a 2 and 1/1 hour flight got served an excellent meal, by a beautiful group of Chinese and Malaysian stewardesses. Wine and beer served before, during, and after the meal. Upgrading if I had wanted it was straight forward and no charges are involved.

But you say, "Oh but that is Singapore Airways, they are sexist and have young good looking stewardesses....Besides they are state supported". ( My token acknowledgment of feminists and capitalists) To which I would respond---so what's your point? Bottom line is I can get a ticket for the same money, better looking women on board, and free beer. What's wrong with that?

The simple fact is that Singapore Airways, Malaysian Air, and Cathay Pacific as well as the main Japanese carriers of JAL and ANA are learning that they can compete with the US in terms of price and the service is and will always be light years ahead of any airline in the US. If my company did not have assinine rules about not allowing to book my own travel, I would never fly an American carrier across the Pacific again.

If you don't believe me about the price issues, I would urge you to check out Singapore Airlines web site: www.singaporeair.com . Look under the special deals section.

Seems to me if United, American, and the others want to stay out of the bankruptcy courts then they need to go back to basics and learn about how to please their customers.


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