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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How Does One Value One's Flying (or Waiting) Experience?

LAX
LAX Security

Moshe's post today got me thinking about a recent experience that I had not thought about in contracts terms.  I was returning from a conference in Las Vegas (don't ask!) on my favorite airline, Southwest.  Because it was Southwest, I know exactly why my flight was delayed.

There was a mechanical problem with a plane bound for San Franciscio.  Because that flight had some connections that gave it priority over our flight to Chicago, Southwest decided to pull our plane and give it to the good folks heading off for San Francisco.  At first, they told us there would be a two-hour delay while until they could find a replacement jet for us.

As two hours became three hours, passengers became upset.  They voiced their anger at the gate attendants who were incredibly patient professional, courteous, and firm.  They provided the limited information they had; they acknowledged that the information was incomplete and that the lack of complete information caused the passengers to be justifiably frustrated.  They accommodated the needs of passengers, including someone who had checked her medication thinking that she would not need it on a three-hour flight that now was going to take (at least ) six hours.  And then, as David Bromberg would put it, they did something so incredible that to this very day I indict my own susceptibilities and reject my own anachronisms.

They called passengers up in alphabetical order and gave us $100 vouchers.  Some rejected the offer, saying they would never fly Southwest again.  "Who you gonna fly?" I thought, but the Southwest employees, just confirmed that the passengers were rejecting the offer and apologized again for the inconvenience.  The passengers responded by complaining that this was the worst travel experience they had ever had.  "You don't fly much," I thought but the Southwest emplyoees just apologized again and assured the passengers that they would be departing soon.

Then we switched gates and eventually piled into a plane. 

Which wouldn't start.  Whatever machine was supposed to start it wasn't working, and then the cart holding the backup to the backup broke, and then the backup to the backup to the backup didn't have enough power.  Word.  It was 100 degrees outside of course, and without power in the aircraft, it was more than a little uncomfortable inside as well.  But there would be no second $100 voucher.

So, Moshe, is $100 a reasonable offer?  I mean, there wasn't a corpse next to me, and in fact I didn't expect to get even $100, because frankly getting a sincere apology from an airline is a coup these days.  But if Southwest is going to compensate passengers for inconveniences caused by their own faulty equipment, why stop at a $100 voucher?

[JT]

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