Airlines, Lost Bags and Customer Service … Oh My!

By Robert Mark on September 10th, 2013

southwest2“Airlines lose bags sometimes. Get over it, ” a guy told me.

Yeah … right.

That nice warm fuzzy reality check didn’t work for me a few months ago when Southwest Airlines lost my daughter’s bag between MDW & LAX.

I’m pretty loyal to Southwest Airlines’ simply because they’ve always handled my travel pretty nicely even if they really did drop the ball this time around. But in the real world of airline flying, where passengers are often looked upon just a few steps above ground sirloin, I’ve come to realize our family experience could have been much, much worse. That said, how Southwest handled me was interesting … to say the least.

The Good and the Bad

Last April we headed to LAX for my daughter’s college orientation, a trip she’d planned and packed precisely “the right outfits” for in her checked bag. Unfortunately, when she and my wife arrived ahead of me at LAX, my daughter’s bag didn’t. Because I followed a day later, I stopped in at the Southwest bag office at MDW before I headed west.

“It’s not here,” a lady in the baggage office told me after looking up my claim number. “Isn’t there a lost bag room or someplace I can look in since I’m right here and I know what the bag looks like?” I asked. “Nope,” she said, abruptly so I left. Nice lady I thought.

During the flight, I Tweeted about the lost bag a few times, enough to catch the eye of the Southwest Twitter people, but that effort didn’t amount to anything either because the baggage folks at LAX had no info when I arrived.

By the third day I really thought the Southwest 800 number might offer something beyond, “we’re still looking,” so I headed back to LAX for a face-to-face. A nice young lady with hair even curlier than mine, spent some time with me thinking through the possibilities of where the aircraft my wife and daughter traveled on had ended up the day the bag went AWOL. I was impressed, even more so when she sent six internal e-mails to the stations asking for help. A day or so later, I called and the same young lady told me, somewhat embarrassed, that not one of the Southwest stations she’d queried ever responded.

Before I knew it, our five days in LA was up and we returned to MDW where of course, I went right to the baggage office to try and find out why no one seemed to know anything about the bag. Not wanting to deal with another abrupt agent, I asked for the supervisor. A nice smiling face lady came out … the kind of people I’m used to at the airline BTW.  She searched the claim number and two minutes later brought out my daughter’s bag. It had never left MDW because it was labeled in bright yellow, “untagged,” … right next to the tag with my business card and cell phone on it.

“Hang on,” I said. “The world has been looking for this bag for nearly a week and the thing was sitting here marked untagged with my cell phone number on it and no one thought I might like to know?” The supervisor did the right thing … she didn’t get mad, she too looked embarrassed, but asked me to describe the woman I’d spoken to on my initial visit. When I did, the supervisor rolled her eyes and immediately said, “I am so sorry … I really am.” Then she printed out a $100 coupon for my next trip and said, “I hope you’ll give us a chance to do better next time.” A few days later, I received two more for $300 total, about the price of my daughter’s ticket.

Over the next week or so, I had a couple of conversations with folks in Dallas about the bag screw up. They were nice and apologized again, but there really wasn’t much else to say and I knew it. Was I frustrated at the mess? Sure. But was I planning on dumping Southwest because of this? Of course not.

And here’s why. The Southwest people go out of their way to make me like their airline every chance they get, I think. They make translating my Rapid Reward points easy, unlike the guys at American who used to have most of my business. When I fly Southwest, the employees seem generally happy to be there and seem to clearly understand that being nice to customers — even when we’re upset –is a pretty decent strategy. In return, I’m persistent when I need something. And I’ve found that getting really angry at any airline employee counters anything you’re trying to accomplish.

There are rumors floating around that what I experienced was not that uncommon as Southwest’s merger integration continues with AirTran. You’ll probably need to visit CrankyFlier for more on the airline politics topic though. I’m just a guy who pays to ride in back these days and is willing to cut a friend a little slack now and again.

But I don’t cut United any, not just because every one of the few United flights I’ve made ends in a problem. Did you ever try to find a live human to complain to at United? I’ve never had any success on that front and e-mails just don’t cut it.

When Airline Service is Much Worse

This past week there were a couple of marvelous examples of customer service gone wrong at two other airlines that are worth reading because they demonstrate the lengths some customers will go to try and capture the attention of an airline’s customer service people. Perhaps if the VPs of customer service at some of these carriers got the boot a bit more often when things go south, the service might improve. Employee loyalty is nice … but customer loyalty — as in responsiveness — is pretty important too.

“I’m here for a business meeting with no clothes,” from Slate magazine and Air Berlin.

“British Airways passenger buys a Tweet to capture the airline’s attention,” from NBC News

Rob Mark, Publisher

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2 Responses to “Airlines, Lost Bags and Customer Service … Oh My!”

  1. Brent Says:

    Rob,
    You hit the nail on the head. I had a similar experience this summer flying my 13 year old out to Seattle. It ended up working out, but we were without stuff for 24 hours and the communication from the airline (United) left a lot to be desired.

    I can’t figure out how they continue to screw this up when they do this thousands of times a day.

    Brent over at iflyblog.com

  2. London Drivers Says:

    The same here in the UK. It’s just such a hustle to get your things back. Longest 24hs ever.

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