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Customer Service Up In The Air

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Just about every industry is facing tough economic times and perhaps no one knows that more than the airline industry. With bankruptcy always looming, pilots ready to strike at a moment's notice and higher fuel costs, airlines are always in the news.

But while most industries adapt and are able to provide quality customer service, the airline industry is sorely lacking. I learned that the hard way during a recent trip.

Last Sunday, I flew back from Chicago after a four-day journalism convention. My flight on Northwest Airlines was leaving at 9:00a.m, connecting through Minneapolis and landing in Oklahoma City around 3:00p.m.  I arrived at Midway Airport about 6:45a.m Sunday and was at my departure gate by 7:15am.

Upon arrival, I was told that my flight would be delayed by one hour because of maintenance issues. Instead of leaving at 9, we took off at 10:00 a.m.  

When my flight touched down in Oklahoma City, I went to the baggage claim, only to discover that my luggage was never placed on my flight. It was to arrive later, 11:25 p.m Sunday to be exact.  The airline said it would deliver it.

By Monday afternoon, I still hadn't received my luggage and repeated calls to the Northwest office were not returned.  So I placed a called to Will Rogers Airport Public Information Office, who got a message to Northwest. A polite and understanding woman called me back and said my luggage would arrive at my office by 5:00p.m. Monday.  It arrived around 10:30p.m, just as I was wrapping up my shift.

I couldn't understand why my luggage was not placed on MY flight, since I arrived more than an hour before departure. I wrote a lengthy email to the airline, explaining my plight and asking for a refund of my $25 which most airlines now require to check a second bag. After all, I was inconvenienced.  Two days later, I got an email from Northwest, saying the airline wouldn't refund my bag fee, but would give me a $75 voucher that I could use toward the purchase of a new ticket.

I'm a firm believer that even in a soft economy, passengers would deal with the airline's slashed services (food, bag fees) as long as customer service remained in tact.  This is a shining example that the consumers don't matter and at the end of the day, it's all about the almighty dollar.  I'm not one of those people who believe "the customer is always right." But the customer should expect top-notch service or a refund if that's not rendered, not a voucher applicable to a flight on an airline that clearly doesn't value his patronage.

A footnote: Tuesday afternoon, I went back to Will Rogers Airport to pick up my friend Doug, who was returning from visiting his brother in Virginia.  I pulled up to the Delta pick-up gate and noticed he was empty-handed.

"Dude, where's your bag?" I asked. 

"The airline lost it," Doug said.

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