Had the opportunity to attend a Customer Response Summit (shout out to Chad McDaniels and Execs in the Know for a great conference) so Sunday I headed to Ft. Lauderdale, a quick 1.5 hour flight for me. Add in 35 minutes to drive to the airport and getting there the required 1.5 hours before departure and the forty five minute shuttle ride to the hotel and my customer journey should have been about four and a quarter hours.
When I arrived at the airport the flight was showing 20 minutes delay. Not a big deal – or it shouldn’t have been. After several more delays, each one pushing it out only twenty or thirty minutes, we finally left 3 hours late. 3 hours on a 1.5 hour flight. I quite literally could have driven quicker. My total customer journey – from home to my hotel – took seven hours and twenty minutes and the entire delay was due to Silver Airways. The shuttle picked me up right on time and the drive to the hotel was actually about five minutes quicker than advertised.
The return trip was actually worse. I had booked an early shuttle, knowing that Miami traffic can be terrible. Even so, the return trip to the airport took one hour and twenty minutes, with ten of those due to the late arrival of the van to pick me up. Slightly nervous about the delays, I logged on to Silver’s website to check flight status and got another shock. The flight was showing a delay of more than two hours!
Once at the airport I wait in line at the counter for seven minutes while both available counter agents assist the same customer – the only one ahead of me. When I’m finally called upon the agent actually has less information than I do. Her system showed a delay now at two hours ten minutes while their website was predicting two and a half.
In a reverse application of Murphy’s Law the line at security was virtually non-existent. I breeze through and head to the gate where, according to the counter agent, I would find the supervisor who could give me more information. No such luck. The supervisor is nowhere to be found as I wait in line for nearly ten minutes. When my turn arrives, the gate agent can tell me no more than the counter agent had. When I explain that this is terrible customer service she looks at me with a blank expression and says there’s nothing she can do. I repeat that this is unacceptable and she asks me what I want. “Perhaps an attempt on your part to rebook me on another airline so I can get home at a reasonable hour,”I reply.
I’m quickly told this isn’t possible. Only in the event of a “very, very” long delay would they even offer vouchers as compensation. It seems to me that a delay of longer than the actual flight duration, extending the trip at least 300% should qualify as “very, very” and I say so. Nope – company policy states that they will only try to provide remedial service when delays reach FIVE hours! Take note – this is a regional airline that makes mostly short flights, what we sometimes call puddle jumps. I’m not even sure they own any planes capable of a five hour flight, yet this is their standard for a delay that negatively impacts the customer in their view.
As I settle in for my lengthy wait I can’t help but take notice of the operation. EVERY Silver Airways flight that left Ft. Lauderdale that evening was significantly delayed except for one flight to Bermuda and one to Orlando. They were cancelled completely.
The posted departure of my flight finally stabilized at 9:28, three hours and twenty-three minutes late. Eventually they announce that our plane has landed and will be available for boarding as soon as the passengers disembark and the plane is cleaned and refueled. We soon see the arriving passengers deplane and almost immediately after they finish, our boarding is announced.
Hmmmmm. I spent almost 15 years flying at least twice each week year round, and often much more. No way could they have cleaned anything and it must not have needed much fuel as there wasn’t enough time to gas up.
We line up and have our boarding passes scanned but are told to wait at the door to the jetway. Not my idea of “boarding” but I have no choice. After waiting about five more minutes a minor commotion arises. It seems there are two arriving passengers still on the plane because they need wheelchair assistance. And guess what they have none of at the gate? If you guessed wheelchairs you win a gold star.
After a couple more minutes to resolve this completely foreseeable issue, we’re told we can proceed. As this is the type of small plane where you walk out and climb stairs to board, we go down the jetway to the ramp that takes us down to the tarmac. But as we reach the bottom of the ramp an agent rushes up and halts us. I look around and quickly spot the fuel truck next to our plane with the fuel hose snaked across the tarmac and attached to the plane.
Both the indoor boarding and the wait on the ramp (I’m at least grateful we’re in Florida and not Minnesota) were diversions. Blatant, frankly demeaning and insulting attempts to distract us with the illusion of progress when none had actually occurred.
But the inept service didn’t stop there. Like many airlines, Silver uses recordings for the standard announcements about stowing your carryon bags and what electronic devices you can use when. These announcements came across loud and clear – almost too loud as they approached the uncomfortable. A few minutes later, the pilot takes to the microphone and whispers some presumably important information about some paperwork, when we might leave, and (I think) when he estimated we would arrive. I’m really not sure as I could only pick out the occasional word.
We finally departed at 9:52 p.m. Once airborne, the flight attendant came by with a tray of 8 ounce mini bottles of water. At least on the slightly less delayed trip down we had a choice of Coke or Sprite in addition to water which I believe was in full sized bottles. We landed at about 11:40 p.m. – more than four hours after the scheduled time. After retrieving my car from the parking lot and heading out I finally arrived home at quarter past midnight.
The incredibly poor customer service demonstrated by Silver Airways resulted in my missing the opening evening session at the conference, getting only about four hours sleep before going to work on my return home, additional cost for parking, and over seven hours of my life being completely wasted. Multiply this times the other passengers on this flight and those on all the other flights, and then add in the much more serious inconveniences suffered by the passengers on the two cancelled flights and this one evening may well qualify as a shining example of the worst possible customer experience.
Needless to say I won’t be flying Silver again and I’ve already shared my experience with at least a dozen co-workers who, I suspect, will also choose alternate options when next they have to travel. As we have offices across the state, our folks fly frequently between the home office, Miami, Tampa, and Tallahassee – all Silver routes.