I recently wrote about a man ejected from an American Airlines flight to Miami after throwing up in the coach lavatory prior to departure. He threw up again – on a passenger in first class – as staff guided him off the aircraft.
Fortunately the first class passenger had a change of clothes in the cabin with him. Since American employees literally guided the man, leading to the mess, he wrote in to customer service about the experience. After all, this wasn’t part of the bundle of experiences purchased with a first class ticket.
And the response he got from American says a lot about modern customer service. It’s common for major companies to have canned responses, with staff given mere moments to review a complaint and figure out which pre-written response most fits the situation. However any decent use of the strategy,
- Figures out whether these canned responses are in fact apropos
- Tailors them, repeating back specifics of the issue so it’s clear they were heard and understood
- Offers concrete next steps
None of these things, unfortunately, happened here. Judge for yourself:
Thank you for reaching out to us here in Customer Relations. I’m sorry to hear of your recent experience on board your flight to Miami.
Our employees strive to provide all of our customers with a safe and pleasant flying experience. In any public gathering, there may be occasions when conflict arises between people or when one individual’s actions bother another. We want to respect everyone’s rights, and we try to ensure you are not subjected to uncomfortable situations by other customers. For that reason, our flight attendants are instructed not to serve alcoholic beverages to any customer who appears to be intoxicated. In the face of any serious disturbance, our crews are trained to diffuse potentially volatile situations so as to ensure the safety and well-being of all our customers and crew members.
The comments that you shared with me today will be made available to our leadership team for further review and will be used to refine and update our practices. We want our customer journey to be the best in the industry, and we thank you for giving us the opportunity to drive change.
XXXXXX, from all of us at American Airlines we appreciate your loyalty since XXXX and we look forward to offering you a better experience aboard your next flight with us.
They clearly picked the generic “another passenger created a disturbance” not the “American Airlines staff guided a passenger to my seat where he threw up on me” email. And in the former case American’s position is stuff happens and it’s not our fault so pound sand.
Stuff that makes flying less than “pleasant” happens “in any public gathering” and American’s obligation is met by refusing to serve alcohol when a customer already looks intoxicated. Of course here the passenger came on board incapacitated in some form, and likely shouldn’t have been boarded. However the airline’s new push to limit staffing at gates makes this more difficult to screen for.
I’m not sure, though, that this is the best customer service response to the situation, or to a decades-long AAdvantage member who frequently buys first class tickets – even in the current environment where the prices aren’t reduced but the service provided in exchange is.