It’s All About Integity - Airport Delay
Recently, I was traveling from Newark to Syracuse, scheduled on a 6:59 flight with a major airline. When I arrived to the gate around 5:30, the flight was already delayed 20 minutes due to the incoming crew being delayed from their incoming flight. The reason for the delay was soon changed to “maintenance issues.” I sat, along with other passengers to watch our departure get pushed back in 20 and 30 minute increments.
Just before 8:30, the flight delay was updated to 9:00. I had doubts the plane was ever leaving Newark. I had a class scheduled the very next day in Syracuse, so it was vital I get to my destination. I discovered online the airline had another flight to Syracuse departing at 9:40. There were a couple seats available on the flight, and the gate agent was able to to switch my flight, if I wanted. So far, so good. Before changing flights, I asked about retrieving the bag I had checked to accompany me on the flight.
“I’m sorry, I can’t” explained the agent “Your bag is already on the plane.”
“You mean the plane out for maintenance? It never even got to the gate. Can you track it on the computer?”
The agent looked a little disturbed and typed onto her keyboard before confirming the bag was in fact already on the plane. She added “there is nothing we can do about it” before adding “that’s what happens when you check a bag.”
I really wanted to get on that 9:40 flight to ensure I could get my rental car, drive to my hotel, and have a halfway decent night’s rest for class the following day. My participants deserve me at my best to deliver an engaging, informative presentation. I asked the agent if there was anyone else I could talk to, and she pointed my to a customer service counter about 50 yards away.
When I arrived at the counter, I told my story again to the new representative. Different employee, same response.
“Help me understand” I said, summoning my years of effective communication techniques “How does the luggage get placed on the plane when the plane never even got to the gate?” I figured more logic and reasoning would break through to the rep. “I fly a lot for work. Regardless of the airline, I always see the bags ride up the belt and onto the plane the same time we board. It doesn’t seem likely my bag would get onto the plane so far in advance, especially on a plane that is being worked on for a maintenance issue, no where near the gate.”
Logic and reasoning lost out that day. “It just is” was all the agent could respond.
At this time, the 9:40 flight was now sold out. I would have to take my chances with my original flight, which was now delayed until 10:00. The two employees I had spoken to were finished their shift and left for the day. Eventually, we would board the plane, just 15 minutes before Wednesday became Thursday, for a 12:10 AM departure.
Sitting down in my seat in row 23, I happened to be seated across from a younger guy I met in the waiting area. He was originally from Nebraska, on leave from the Army, and stationed just outside of Syracuse. He was sitting in a window seat. Right next to him, I could clearly see the outside area of our plane. Sure enough, a luggage cart was stationed outside, and passengers’ bags were being loaded on.
When did it become perfectly acceptable to blatantly lie to your customers? That is the question I had for the person on the other end of the customer service number of the airline. He didn’t have an answer, or a resolution. After placing me on a brief hold to confer with his supervisor, he told me I would need to complete a feedback form on the airline’s website. I did, clearly detailing the situation. The automatic email response assured me that my feedback was important to the airline, and they would have a response to me in 14-21 business days. Maybe my feedback wasn’t that important to them.
This experience went beyond merely poor customer service. To me, it was an issue of integrity. When I asked when it became perfectly acceptable to lie to your customers, I didn’t receive an answer. The correct answer should have been “It’s not.” Employees, especially those serving on the front-line, are the face of the organization. Their actions and behaviors make your organization’s culture, values, vision, and mission statement come to life. Business author and expert Peter Drucker says “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Strategy is created by the top level of management, while culture is created by the employees.
The senior team may design what they envision to be the company culture, but it is ultimately the employees who bring it to life. Imagine you are organizing a birthday party for your child. You plan for it to be fun, include games, and food. Just because you plan it to be fun doesn’t mean the kids at the party will actually have fun. If we put the plan in place and leave the room, they will ultimately dictate how the party will turn out. Employees create culture. It is our job to observe behavior and make adjustments as necessary.
I am curious to hear how the airline responds to my feedback. I’ll keep you posted in 14-21 days on their response. In the meantime, if there is an issue at your organization, perhaps I can help. Send me an email or schedule a call.