Jun 162004
 

Air Canada has a bad reputation these days; in many ways they are a case study for what not to do in customer service. I recently flew on Air Canada and had some delays in the flight. The way most of the Air Canada staff handled the situation just proved that bad customer service makes for extremely upset customers. It would have been so easy for Air Canada to not make things worse, if they’d just followed a couple of basic customer service rules.

The story: I was coming back from the conference selection meeting, flying from Boston to Vancouver via Montreal. The first flight was delayed by an hour due to mechanical problems so I asked at the desk what the alternatives were and what I should do. The answer to (a) was none since alternative routes were oversold (in itself a problem) and (b) was that an agent would meet the flight in Montreal and help me get on the flight to Vancouver. At that stage it was showing in their system as a tight connection, but not a missed connection, so there was hope.

I was in the front seat, first off the plane, and asked the agent who met the flight (Air Canada Montreal agent 1) what to do, expecting her to know about the situation since the agents in Boston had expressly said that they were notifying Montreal of the problem. She told me to keep going through immigration and customs to the flight. Although we had landed at the far end of the terminal, I made it through immigration and customs in record time (walking fast and running a lot of the way) and headed to the check-in counter, where I asked about the flight to Vancouver. Air Canada Montreal agent 2 told me to keep going and what gate to head for. So, through security, and on to the far end of the terminal (of course!). The gate is showing nothing by that stage so I ask Air Canada Montreal agent 3 where the flight is and she points out the window and says “that’s the one they’re pushing out now”.

Having gone all that way and being told to keep going by all the Air Canada staff, and standing there watching the plane being pushed out, I was understandably and visibly upset. So what does Air Canada Montreal agent 3 do to help? She goes into her office and shuts the door. After I’d calmed down and watched the plane take off, she opened the door, said “you have to go to ticketing to rebook the flight” and shut the door again.

Eventually I found my way to the ticketing counter, and finally found an Air Canada agent who was sympathetic, and offered to call a supervisor to talk to me about what had happened. And for the flight the next morning they put me in business class (which I figured was the least they could do). The supervisor agreed that I’d done everything right and the various Air Canada agents I’d run into had done a lot of things wrong. Mind you, I didn’t get the impression that this was an isolated occurrence, or a problem that is going to be fixed any time soon.

Rather than write a general rant about Air Canada, I tried to distill a couple of rules from the experience that apply to other service-based companies, not just airlines. What Air Canada did wrong is fairly basic: Air Canada Montreal agents 1 through 3 didn’t follow the underlying tenets of customer service, which are:

  1. keep the customer informed
  2. when things go wrong, be prepared to listen and to call a supervisor to fix what can be fixed

Air Canada Montreal agent 1 (who met the flight from Boston) knew of the tight connection (I had that confirmed by the reticketing agent) and should have checked the status so she could tell me whether I’d make the flight or not, rather than ducking responsibility and just sending me on my way.

Air Canada Montreal agent 2 (whom I asked at the check-in counter) should have said “hold on, let me check” and radioed the departure gate of the flight to Vancouver to see if it was worth sending me through security and down the far end of the terminal; they might have held the flight for the 3-4 minutes it took me to get there if it hadn’t already closed.

Air Canada Montreal agent 3 (who was at the neighbouring departure gate) should have shown some empathy or sympathy, listened, and/or offered to call a supervisor. Going in the office and ostentatiously shutting the door was not in any way helpful.

The reticketing agent did everything right. One out of four.

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