On Airline Seats and Service

July 23, 2009

airplane_seatsI was recently at the airport, waiting for the announcement to start boarding the aircraft.

Casually sitting on the floor, since all of the chairs in the waiting area were filled with half-awake restless people waiting for the same plane, I overheard the customer service clerk speaking to an irate “potential passenger” that was unable to board the overbooked, sold-out flight:

clerk: I am sorry ma’am, this flight is sold out and we do not have space for you.

irate customer: I bought a ticket for this flight!  Now you WILL let me on this flight!

clerk: Actually, you bought a RESERVATION for a seat on this flight.  You did not actually purchase a guaranteed seat.  That’s how all the airlines do it nowadays.

irate customer: That’s not right.  I will never fly this airline again.  Let me speak to your manager!

There were also some choice words spoken, which I have left out.

I will say that the clerk was very calm and professional, even though the customer was making quite a scene.  It was, after all, not his fault – that is the way the airlines are set up to work these days.

They overbook all flights.

I understand WHY they overbook the flights – there are a statistically calculated number of passengers that will not show up for the flight for whatever reason, and the airline needs as many seats filled as they can.

Of course, hopefully they understand that they do this at a risk of losing customers when everyone shows up for the flight.  And, if everyone does show up, as did that day, they gave out four free round trip tickets to people that volunteered to take a later flight, which was not until six hours later.

So, not only did they manage to lose a customer, but they also had to give away four tickets to other people, round trip, which equates to eight seats on their airplane.

But in reality, what choice do we, the customers, have?  There are only so many airlines to chose from, and they all pretty much go by the same rules.

Unless….

Enough people complain about the rules, and they make a change (I am guessing that not many people will actually call and complain enough for anyone to listen) – or – an entrepreneur comes along and starts an airline company with a solution to this problem.

I know, starting a new airline does take a bit of money, and is all near impossible nowadays.  But the point is: be very careful how you treat your customers.  If you manage to anger enough of them, you will find yourself on a downward slope of sales and, and upward slope of negative publicity.

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