< Rant follows >

I was reading Luis Benitez's tweets tonight where he said:
Image:The travel industry is the best and worst at customer service
and I thought, gee, what's so surprising about a lying airline gate agent?  It's happened to all of us.  For me, it was that time I was at New York Laguardia trying to get to Boston; American blamed our six-hour delay on "weather", while US Airways and Delta were flying the same route with only minor delays.  The giveaway was the time we boarded a plane and then deplaned a few minutes later, only to board a different plane.  Yeah, that wasn't exactly "weather".

When I wrote to American Airlines about the problem, giving specifics of the people involved, the other airline flights that flew, etc., I asked only for a personal apology for being lied to.  Instead I got a form letter and 10,000 frequent flyer miles.  I like the miles, but I would have valued a human admission of error more.  I asked again for the personal apology, and got no further response.

This week, Hertz sent me a congratulatory note that I had re-qualified for their "five star" status.  One of the supposed perks is an as-available one-class car upgrade.  Except that on my last four rentals, I've had no upgrade -- and was even downgraded once.  Every time, they've had hundreds of cars on the lots.  One recent rental, my car was dirty, snowy, and parked far away.  Not good.  So I sent Hertz an email in response to the congratulatory note, again providing specifics of issues and places, and...got a form letter reply.  The form letter apologized in two different ways, but that was it.

Today, my wife was calling hotels for some of our upcoming travels -- she's coming with me on some of my business trips.  We need a crib for the 5-month-old, and it seemed best to call ahead.  Embassy Suites was the big winner -- I was able to reserve a crib online.  But a Doubletree told her "sorry, we don't reserve cribs, they are first-come, first-served".  As if we have any real options when we arrive at a hotel expecting a crib and none is available.  Even worse was the Four Seasons in Toronto (which yes, is on the IBM hotel program), who told her matter-of-factly that the room I had booked was "too small" to accommodate a crib.  They told her they could waitlist us for a larger room, or we could pay C$275 - more than 2x the IBM rate/night - for an upgrade.

This last bit was too much for me, and I decided to call out the big guns.  All those status cards that George Clooney flashes at Vera Farmiga in "Up in the Air"?  Yeah, I have some of those.  Despite Toronto hotels basically being sold out the days I'll be there (for the Lotusphere Comes to You in two weeks), I found that the Toronto Sheraton's website would, oddly, give me the IBM rate for any given night of my trip.  They just wouldn't for all three nights.  So, I called the Starwood Hotels "platinum" line.  In ten minutes, they had kindly agreed to honor the IBM rate for all three nights of the trip, and book the crib in the room.  (Thanks for the coaching, Kathleen)

I often daydream what it would be like to be in a similar job in the travel industry.  There are so many millions of decisions that go into smooth operations of an airline/hotel/car rental company, it's no surprise that things often go wrong.  Just on percentages alone, if 1% of all American Airlines passengers in a year have issues, that's nearly a million of their 85 million passengers.  In some ways, it has to be easier to tell little white lies, redirects, and hold details, and deal with the consequences later.  I'm not sure I could do that, personally.  On the other hand, there are so many easy ways to delight customers with small perks, those other 99% shouldn't always be made to feel like sheep.  

There must be a good reason why the room at the Four Seasons is "too small" for a crib (fire code? I had booked a closet? The ice bucket service gets in the way?), but that inflexibility resulted in a cancellation.  Given how busy Toronto is that week, they'll probably garner a replacement customer, so maybe it's just playing the percentages.  And obviously, even in this economy, they don't appear to be hurting.  But I have this belief, perhaps a blind faith, that those who do right, win more in the end.  For sure, the little things mean a lot, and affect my decisions for a long time to come.

< /Rant off - reminder, the views expressed herein are my own and not my company's >

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