Customer Service: It Only Takes One!

American Airlines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, EMS and Customer Service

I bet that you never would see the above words used together. This story is about ownership and problem solving and that is what we do every day in EMS. This story is about the adventure with American Airlines and Royal Caribbean and their customer service I encountered last month. I promise I will tie back to EMS. My wife and I were headed to Barcelona 2 days before a cruise to check out Spain. We booked everything through Royal Caribbean (RCCL), so if we had any trouble, they would help.

Now my wife and I are not strangers to having bumps occur when we travel. It started when we were dating and had an 8-hour delay in Pittsburgh because of weather. I worked a cardiac arrest (told you I would tie back to EMS) during that delay. Then on our honeymoon, the plane was missing a bolt for the engine cover, which caused us to miss our connection in Chicago (I did handle a medical emergency on the third leg of the journey). In between the 28 years we have had a few other occurrences. Fast forward to this September and the FAA ground stop at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Our flight from Raleigh to Charlotte (30-35-minute flight time) was delayed for 5 hours, with us sitting on the tarmac in Raleigh (RDU) for 3 hours.

We arrived back at the gate at RDU and the Gate Agents, were not customer focused. They were rude in answering questions and not forthcoming with information. I understand stress and I am sure this was not their first rodeo. In EMS we handle emergencies and unusual circumstances every day. The difference is we don’t have a big company and lots of resources to fall back on and we have to make split second decisions. The funny thing is none of the passengers were screaming, angry, demanding or rude. They stood in line in an orderly fashion and waited. I was on the phone with Royal Caribbean trying to rebook and find another way to Spain. The Gate Agents answered one question: they were not taking luggage off the plane and would not look for individual bags. I guess I can understand that it would be a logistic nightmare. Though how they said it could have been nicer. You could not ask them any “what if” questions either. Their faces described their mood. They looked like the world had just ended and they projected this in the way they dealt with the passengers. Could American Airlines sent a few other employees to help? This might have been a good idea not just for the agents but for the passengers as well. They did not. Then after about an hour or so, we were able to re-boarded the plane and the flight took off for Charlotte.

We figured since we already missed our connection, we would collect our luggage in Charlotte and drive to DC as we rebooked our flight for the next day on United from Dulles Airport.  Boy, were we so wrong. Upon our arrival in Charlotte, we were told in no uncertain terms, we could not retrieve our luggage. American Airlines Baggage claim area was staffed with enough personnel giving the same message to other passengers. Some of the employees had their feet on the desk and leaning back resting their head in their hands. They were smug in their responses and said that a decision was made not to give anyone their luggage if Charlotte was not their final destination. One word came to mind about how they were acting: Power. They had it and we did not. This made no sense to me as our luggage had to come off the plane anyway since Barcelona was our final stop and that flight had already departed.

We explained our situation and asked for the Supervisor. We were told one was not available. The representative said they would place the bags on the next flight to Barcelona. It seemed way too easy. We provided the information for our next flight and the representative placed the information in the computer. What we found out is that she lied.  After driving 6 hours to DC and getting some sleep (RCCL insurance agents were great and provided great customer service). They rebooked us and found us a hotel. We called American Airlines and we were told our luggage was not going to be placed on the flight. Again no one seemed to want to help. I tried the Social Media route and even emailed the VP of Customer Relations. By this time my wife went through the gamut of emotions. You name it, she experienced it. At no time did we raise our voices or scream at anyone.

We arrived at Dulles and my wife stood in line at American for 15 -20 minutes to speak to a representative. We got lucky and spoke to the Operations Manager Mr. Lawrence Klein. After a 5-10-minute conversation with Mr. Klein, I saw my wife’s head drop and she started to cry. I walked over and my wife said, there is nothing they can do about the luggage. I shook Mr. Klein’s hand and said, there is something you can do. You can’t tell me that luggage does not fly without the passenger being on the plane (this is what was used as an excuse throughout our journey). I said look how upset my wife is and we have been saving up for this adventure for 4 years. I commented if I was the CEO of any airline or a celebrity my luggage would have been given to me in Charlotte and I would not be standing here having this conversation. He nodded in agreement. There is always a solution. Mr. Klein took the time to listen and even understood our plight. We both started throwing out ideas. Then Mr. Klein stated that we should start a claim and a new way to track our luggage. At least we were getting someone to help.

Well, after a long discussion and phone calls to Charlotte a claim was filed. Mr. Klein took a personal interest in our problem and trying to solve and help. It only takes one! There was nothing else to do now, but keep our fingers crossed that the luggage would be on the flight.  Because Mr. Klein took an interest and wanted to help we were feeling confident. Mr. Klein called me at the gate and said the bags will be on the flight that night from Charlotte to Barcelona. There were a few more hiccups (another post maybe) but we did have our luggage before we boarded the ship. Because of Mr. Klein’s customer service and owning and solving the problem everything worked out. He followed up with us numerous times over the next 12 hours, which was outstanding.

Do you go beyond the standard of care for the patient or the family? Think about this for a second. Have you every stored a patient’s groceries in your stations’ refrigerator, walked their dog, made a sandwich or took care of their family by siting with them and explaining what was occurring with their love one? It takes only a few moments to listen and make the effort to help someone in need. This is what we do in EMS. We solve problems both on the medical and non-medical side. It is simple to do the right thing for your patient and their family.

I did receive a follow up from American Airlines. I spoke with a nice person from Customer Relations. She listened and said the usual scripted responses. My praise for Mr. Klein was voiced and I said I wished the employees we encountered in Raleigh and Charlotte had a little bit of Mr. Klein’s ability. I offered to teach her employees in Charlotte/Raleigh a free class on customer service. I am still waiting to see if they take me up on the offer….


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