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What's going on in Consumerland? It's awful out there. First, it was the fiasco with the airline and the travel agency that booked our flights, followed by a ridiculous experience when I tried to print our vacation photos. Thank goodness we had a good time at our destination, 'cause traveling SUCKS!


Aside from experiencing catharsis in writing this post, I'll try to keep it short, as I'm sure you don't want to read my entire diatribe. Here's the synopsis:
1. Won two tickets in a silent auction fundraiser; had to use donor's travel agency (local Carlson Wagonlit). Two seats booked on Delta, Phoenix to Buffalo through Atlanta (February 2009). Booked Alamo rental car to drive over the border to Toronto.
2. Our son decided to join us, so I booked an additional ticket online at delta.com. Entered contact info in the online itinerary - e-mail and telephone number.
3. The day before departure, I went online to print our boarding passes. I noticed that the seats I had selected in February were gone. I called Delta and the agent advised me that there had been a change.I assumed that meant a change in equipment. She confirmed that my husband had an assigned seat, but that my son and I did not. She proceeded to assign me an exit row seat but said she could not assign my son's seat, nor could she change my husband's assignment so we could sit together; we would need to do that at the airport. I assumed that meant check-in at the Phoenix airport. Apparently, there are a specific number of seat assignments allocated for online reservations, telephone agents, and airport gate staff. I asked to speak to a supervisor.
4. The supervisor listened and reiterated that she could not do anything for us over the telephone (the telephone quota is now used up); we will need to ask for seat assignments at the airport. I asked why Delta had not notified us and she said it is customary for the airline to contact the travel agency and not passengers directly. She indicated that Delta made three attempts to contact the agency. It wasn't until after this call that my husband called the travel agency and they said had no record of receiving any Delta notifications about our flight. And what about notifying my son? We booked his seat on Delta's site.
When I asked the supervisor what would happen if we got to Atlanta late and there were no seats together, or not enough seats, I heard her say under her breath, "Oh, my God" with an exasperated tone. That's when I saw stars. I admit that I raised my voice a decibel or two, repeated her comment and asked, "That's what you say to a passenger?" When I asked for her name and employee number, I heard a series of beeps - yes, disconnected.
5. Now, I'm livid. I delayed packing and took the time to compose a letter to John E."Ned" Walker, VP of communications at Delta. And that was before departure when the experience worsened!
OK, I'm rattling. Bear with me.
The Atlanta flight had indeed been changed, as the agent advised. It had nothing to do with equipment. They changed the flight number and the departure time - by three hours! We arrived in Buffalo at 6:30 p.m. instead of 3:30 p.m. That meant I would miss being honored by my former congregation in Toronto that evening. They called my name, showed my photo, and I was nowhere to be found. :(
On the return trip, we tried to check in at the Buffalo-Niagara airport, and not only did the kiosk reject us, so did the ticket counter agent and her supervisor. Apparently, the travel agent reserved and ticketed our outbound flights but not the returning ones. The reservations were in the system, as were my seat selections, but Delta's automated system did not flag my online itinerary or send me any notification (between February and July 7) that our reservations had not been ticketed. Our flight left with my son on board but without hubby and me. Meantime, my hubby desperately tried to reach a live human being at Carlson Wagonlit's emergency number. After about 90 minutes of voicemails and waiting on hold, he reached someone who was kind and helpful.
We departed two hours later for Atlanta with new boarding passes, including confirmed seats on our original connection flight. Atlanta was experiencing bad weather, so many flights had been delayed in landing. The Buffalo-Atlanta captain announced that there was a good possibility that our connecting flight would also be delayed.
We arrived in Atlanta at 7:00 p.m., caught a transportation vehicle and rushed to the next Delta gate for a 7:30 departure. We got to the gate 10-15 minutes ahead of time. No people, no gate agent, and the door was locked, but the plane was still sitting at the gate. Hubby called our son on the cell phone and our son asked the flight crew to open the gate and allow us to board. No way. The flight was apparently OVERSOLD, and even though they told us we had confirmed seats, the plane left without us and about five other passengers. Another two-hour wait for the next flight.
We spent almost 20 hours in transit that day, including driving, waiting, and flying.
Now the final clincher. We had celebrated my mother-in-law's 90th birthday, and I wanted to send her copies of the pics we took. I had just purchased a new Kodak Easy Share digital camera and uploaded them to the Kodak Gallery. Kodak is running a free shipping promotion this summer, in addition to receiving 20 free 4 x 6 prints with new registration.
I entered all the necessary details and received my discounts. But, wait. After I entered my credit card information, I was prompted to re-enter my log-in and password. That's when my shopping cart returned to the original price without the shipping discount. The system automatically selected $7.99 for first-class mail to Canada. After a very long online chat with a Kodak representative, who made several unsuccessful attempts to provide different discount codes, she advised me to call the Kodak 800 number.
The end results of a 72-minute phone call? Hadn't I read the details on the free shipping offer? The agent advised me that the offer is only valid in the US and my shipment was destined for Canada. Funny, how the shipping address fields include "province" and "postal code." Well, yes, I said, and it doesn't say a word about restrictions. Here's the copy:
Offer valid through 8/31/09. No coupon code necesary. (Yes, that's their typo) Must spend $4.99 not including sales tax or shipping fees to receive free Standard 3-10 business day shipping. Does not apply to Same-Day Pickup orders, Gift Certificates, Photostamps, KODAK Cameras and other KODAK products or services sold through www.kodak.com, subscription fees for the KODAK Gallery Premier service, or products for mobile phones. No substitutions, transfer rights or cash equivalents will be given. We reserve the right to modify or discontinue promotions at any time. Discount valid only at www.kodakgallery.com.
Well, too bad. People should realize that the offer is on the Kodak.com site - the American site, he said. He couldn't do anything, even when I advised him that it is false advertising not to include any restrictions or disclaimers on the details page.
Lessons these companies need to learn:
- Communicate with the customer! No excuses about travel agents or third-party sellers. I am the end user, so talk to me!
- Don't promise something and then can out on delivery. Overselling airline seats is just plain wrong. It smacks of pure greed.
- Don't make policies and protocols that are good for the company but bad for the customer.
- When offers come with restrictions or disclaimers, make them prominently available. If you don't post it, it doesn't exist. Therefore, you come across as sneaky liars.
So, now I am back in Phoenix, totally disgruntled with Delta, the issuing travel agent, and now Kodak. I head out again this week to Chicago via American Airlines. Let's hope that's a better experience.
For my next vacation, I think I have the answer. Spend it in my backyard!!!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Elaine Fogel

Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of Solutions Marketing & Consulting LLC, and a marketing and branding thought leader, speaker, writer, and MarketingProfs contributor. She is the author of the Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most for Small Business Success.

LinkedIn: Elaine Fogel

Twitter: @Elaine_Fogel