American Airlines take customer effort to new level…as they take the “Expectation versus customer experience reality test …and score 3/10”

Arrived in Miami airport to take a flight to Costa Rica and came across the worlds worst airport staff and to be fair to American Airlines that included the Miami airport staff.  Combine this with the latest airline cost cutting that sees even more effort heaped on the paying passenger and it was frankly a nightmare


First issue was getting a ticket out of the self service machine – the only way to get a Boarding Pass it appears.  So with five people in our party we approached the machine and of course it didn’t recognise the passports so we had to manually enter all of the information for each passenger to get the Boarding Pass but then it asked us to pay for hold luggage so the debit card was inserted.  It didn’t register and so we were kicked out of the system and yes…we were back at square one input ALL the passenger information again.  So we asked for some assistance from the AA staff, they assisted but failed to give us one vital piece of information…as you will see below…and we got the Boarding passes and left to join the queue for bag drop.  Whilst in the queue a particularly unhelpful AA staff member said “get out of the queue you don’t have bag tags”…now we didn’t know we were supposed to as at every other airport I have ever been in (100’s) that is done by the airline staff.

Despite our pleas for assistance she just said we had to go back to the check-in terminals again and print out labels and then out them on ourselves….so we again enlisted help from the same AA staff member who had not pointed out the label issue when we were there the last time, input information for a third time and finally had baggage labels spew out of the machine.

Stress levels were very now very high and we had to go to the back of the queue to finally drop the bags.

Having done that we headed for security and as pre-approved Travellers we needed the expedited security queue, “which one is it” we asked a Miami airport customer service person – “down that way” waving an arm in a general direction, so we go to the most obvious security queue, wait a while in line only to be told nope it is another one 250 yards away.

This appears to be an American Airlines terminal where the have a lot of control ver the experience but they managed to stress us so much during the check-in that we made note to avoid AA wherever possible in future – given the choices that now exist in terms of airlines that should be pretty achievable!!

As a footnote the only good part was the TSA as I am Global Traveller they treated the whole family as trusted passengers and we sailed through phew!

What do we learn?  Well the airline journey is all encompassing as the smarter airline shave understood like Emirates, Virgin, Singapore and the rest and in todays world of ever expanding choice you don’t get the second and third chances you might have enjoyed before.  All of the issues raised were controllable, resolvable with minimal or not cost and the experience could have been superb – even when the Airlines is loading more effort on to the poor old fare paying passenger – but they ignore the basics of attention told detail and recognising the customer needs at key points of emotional overload.



Thomas Cook Airlines take the “Expectation versus customer experience reality test” and score….3/10

I decided to use Thomas Cook for one leg of our latest family holiday (or vacation if you prefer) as they now offer a Premium cabin with additional services and you can book even if you are not using them for a package holiday.  We duly took a flight from London to Orlando in Florida, the flight itself was good, plenty of legroom, good food and complimentary drinks – the crew were pleasant and the aircraft was pretty new.  In other words they had done well in terms of setting expectations and then meeting them – this was not a full business class experience but then it was not advertised as such.  All good so far and I was looking forward to giving the flight and Thomas Cook a high score in the test.

Then it all went downhill rather rapidly when we arrived in Orlando……

For a journey to be complete two things have to happen you have to arrive and …your luggage…now given that we arrived as you can guess one of our party (my wife) luggage did not arrive.  We were only due to stay in Orlando for a few days before heading south to Miami and the Florida Keys so time was now of the essence to add to the already stressful situation.  We duly reported the missing baggage and advised to contact the team the next day as they would expect the bag to be on the next flight…..note we had to contact them not the other way around.

24 hours went by and no sign of the bags and given the time difference communication was not easy.  Day 2 we call (at our expense – when good practice says if a customer calls in from abroad offer to call them back) to be told the bag was discovered minus it luggage label (phew) – I don’t know if you have ever tried to remove a luggage label but they are designed not to come off, but maybe that was actually what had happened.  So we are told it is on the flight out and will be with us Friday evening our time.  So we duly waited for it to arrive at the Hotel that evening/early hour of the morning…nothing arrived.  We called again to be told actually it was still in the UK…WHAT/WHY!!!!  We were now due to leave the hotel and head south on the earliest day that the bag could possibly arrive  – time to change our plans and stay in Orlando as the flight/bag would not arrive until the evening.  After a long period and insisting on talking to a Manager (to be told there are none on duty??) we insisted that they put it on the next flight whichever the airline was (eventually to cam out on BA) and call us to say it has happened.  Eventually this was agreed, we delayed our journey and collected that bag at 9pm in the evening then had to drive down to Miami.

So what do we learn from this incredibly stressful incident…firstly; do not lie to customers (“it is on it’s way”/”their is no Manager in duty”) because it means you can put the phone down and pass on the now even bigger issue to someone else tomorrow; second this is the time when your reputation and brand are truly on the line it may cost some time and money but if you fail when it matters the impact is exponential in terms of brand damage, loss of future revenues and reputation impact; third when you run an international operation it is not acceptable to work UK office hours meaning that customers cannot contact you; fourth when you have ‘screwed up follow up’ – we have had no correspondence from Thomas Cook, why are they not advising us of compensation due/apologising for screwing up our holiday – ignoring things does not make them go away.

All of these could be addressed with minimal cost and the benefits would be enormous for the brand

So Thomas Cook managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as is so often the case the experience design around a service failure is about process and not about emotion and that amounts to  a serious mistake in an increasingly competitive world.


Virgin Atlantic take my ‘Expectation versus Customer Experience reality’ test and score…and score 6/10 !!

First I have to come clean, Virgin Atlantic are one of my favourite airlines I have been a member of their Flying Club since 1992 and have travelled in all classes on their aircraft over the years.  So I have  a lot of experience and a very high expectation of the experience that I will receive whenever I fly Virgin.

I also watched and thoroughly enjoyed the documentary series ‘Up in the Air’ last year as it gave a fly on the wall view of the inside workings of Virgin Atlantic (check it out on You Tube) and in particular the design and commissioning of their first Boeing 787 Dreamliner – we saw close up how much thinking appeared to go into the design of tiny details…so I was excited to fly on this new aircraft to San Francisco.

All of the brand advertising certainly sets the bar high in terms of expectation of the service and overall experience with Virgin and my history was overwhelmingly positive to date – that is not to say they do not have issues but more of that in later posts!

So what happened and what did I discover?

Arrived in my seat in Upper Class and prepared for the flight, the usual announcements started about in flight safety but then stopped, then started again, then paused for a while then started again – it felt like the announcer was having a chat with someone and doing the announcements, not very professional or ..if you are a nervous flyer…very calming!!

After take off I opened the tray table to discover the previous occupants left overs – maybe when cleaning the cabin tray tables should be opened mmm nice ???

Then it came to dinner which as usual was pretty good on Virgin flights, the problem was that I was a little slow finishing my dessert that, shouldn’t be a problem but no one turned up for 45 minutes to finally remove it meaning either I was trapped in the seat or had to call for assistance which I duly did BUT my call button was simply and consistently ignored.  This is a fundamental failing not of the new aircraft but of the crew and maybe a sign of the times with Virgin (I truly hope not) the notion of ‘eyes off’ service is already the hallmark of too many airlines where the cabin crew can walk past an obvious opportunity to provide service because they are focussed on another ‘task’, this not only applies to leaving a dinner tray that has clearly been finished.  As another example of listening, during the dinner service I asked for a full glass of ice when it finally arrived there were three cubes…this might seem trivial but at 35,000 feet and on a 13 hour flight these things get magnified in your mind as there is little else to really focus on.

On the plus side the new TV screens are a massive improvement….

I then went to the new bar area, it look good and I applaud Virgin for sticking to principles and providing this iconic option and not using the space to cram in a few more seats  – something that BA under their new leadership would DEFINITELY be doing!!!  That said I am not sure how much road testing was done as a passenger – so as a passenger on long haul I remove my shoes and use the socks provided, when you do that and go and sit at the bar what you discover is the seats look good BUT the footrests are so angular and sharp that it is almost impossible to comfortably rest your feet on them for any period of time.  Whilst I was there it was manned for no more than 10 minutes and the absence of crew/staff meant that I even ended up having to serve myself  – it really was like the Marie Celeste in terms of Virgin crew.

My final gripe was that there was no bottle of water in my seat a detail but I always saved it for the end of the flight to take into the Terminal ready for a long immigration wait -I know you can probably ask for one but once again that is just pushing the effort onto the passenger.

As a true Virgin loyal I have to say that the new aircraft was great, quiet, comfortable, the bar just needs some fine tuning in terms of the seating – what let this flight down was the Virgin crew and that is one of the first times I have felt a decline in the quality of the in-flight service not something you want to coincide with a big capital outlay on the kit/aircraft.

As ever I am pointing out details here and the general standard remains high but it is in the words of Alan Sugar “with some regret” that I cannot ignore the decline and so my overall score expectation versus reality is 6/10, I truly hope this was a one off time will tell!!