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My 2 Cents
3/15/08
The End of Customer Service

Commentary by David Max

I haven't written a commentary since the end of the season when I wrote about the end of the Bill Callahan era. Now I would like to write about the end of customer service. I didn't have any plans to do another commentary until the Spring Game until today (beware the Ides of March). As I start to write this I am sitting at John Wayne Airport waiting for a 3:15 flight. My 6:45 AM flight on Frontier Airlines was canceled due to "mechanical problems" and not because it was only half full. It is Nebraska related in the fact that I am traveling to Nebraska and a lot of Husker fans use Frontier and other airlines to travel to home and away games each fall. I posted my dilemma on the BBS and found that I am not alone in experiencing poor customer service from the airlines or other industries for that matter.

After coming to the conclusion the plane would be grounded the announcement was made that "Denver only" passengers should come to the desk to get rebooked. A large group went to the counter and stood around while the gate agents tried to figure out what to do next. After waiting for around 30 minutes and seeing little movement in the line I decided to get in line even though connecting passengers weren't asked to yet. The two agents decided to start rebooking flights after another long pause to determine what to do next. For our inconvenience each passenger was to receive a $200 voucher for future travel. Each passenger took a minimum of 15 minutes to rebook and some as long as 20-30 minutes. I was number eight in line and it took me 2 1/2 hours to get to the front of the line.

Another Omaha passenger had to be in Omaha by 5 PM and he spent $361 one way on Southwest and said he would deal with Frontier later. I used my cell phone to call the Frontier Airlines 800 number to see if they could help the two gate agents and rebook my flight. The representative on the phone said they got a "situation call" from the airport and he could not help me and said my only option was to wait my turn in line. Customer number 2 in my line was also going to Omaha and was fortunate to get booked on the 10:30 flight getting into Omaha at 4:30. This was around 8:45 AM.

By the time I got to the front of the line at 10 AM the 10:30 flight (which was at the same gate) was booked and my gate agent, a Mr. Jay Hams, said my only options were to go out today at 3 PM and get into Omaha at 11:30 PM or take the same option tomorrow. I picked the better of the two bad options and selected today's flight. At that time another passenger came up to the gate and offered to give up his seat for the overbooked flight. I replied "I'll take it." Mr. Hams told him "That's ok sir, we won't need it." declining his offer and ignoring my request. He printed my 3 PM tickets and went on to the next customer. I got half way to the exit and realized he didn't give me my voucher and I had to go back and get it. It's anybody's guess that my luggage will be in Omaha if and when I get there. Mr. Hams was also the gate agent for the 3:15 flight and offered two overbook opportunities to that flight. Go figure.

I have four questions for anyone at Frontier Airlines that can make a decision to improve customer service.

1. When a flight is canceled why do you limit the number of agents that can rebook flights? Couldn't some passengers be sent to other Frontier gates or back to the front desk for assistance instead of having to wait in a 3 hour line that is only able to accomodate 3 to 4 customers an hour in a time sensitive situation?

2. Why do you call the 800 customer service number when flights are canceled and instruct them not to help stranded passengers rebook their flights?

3. Could you develop some system for canceled flights where the booking agents would know how many passengers on that flight need to go to their final destination instead of taking care of "Denver only" passengers and let the rest get the luck of the draw in line? It shouldn't be too hard to figure out that 10 of the 150 canceled were going to Omaha, 12 to Orlando, etc. and say "All Omaha passengers see the agent at gate 4, Orlando passengers gate 5, etc. or tell everyone to have a seat and each passenger group would be called up at the same time. We had people cutting in line and people that ignored the "Denver only" request get first shot at connecting flights while those of us that followed instructions are still in the airport.

4. Why are you selective in which flights to offer overbooking opportunities?

Feel free to let me know your answers at bigredmax@yahoo.com or call me at 949-623-8425. I will take the time to compile other experiences that other Husker fans have encountered from Frontier and other airlines so they can decide which airline offers the best chance of arriving in time for games this fall. Those experiences can be sent to this email. I have actually booked four different flights on Frontier between now and next fall and I will decide at a later date whether my football game flights this fall will be on Frontier or another airline.

I am finishing this on the 3:15 flight to Denver with the hopes that my connecting flight doesn't get canceled. I opened the Frontier in flight magazine and came across a full page article by Frontier President and CEO Sean Menke touting the customer service of Frontier Airlines. To quote Mr. Menke: "My question to you is did you choose us because of the fare? The destination? The TVs? The customer service? Or was it perhaps because we represent a very important quality that is top of mind for many travelers and even the federal government these days - that we are reliable."

Well, Mr. Menke my answer yesterday would have been yes to all of them as I have experienced good service and reliability with Frontier in the past. Now I'm not too sure. The scary part is my next flight on your airline is for the Spring Game and it is scheduled to land in Omaha a couple of hours before Steve Warren's DREAMOMAHA.org event on April 18th. I hope I make it.

Just my 2 cents. What about yours?

Addendum 4/20/08, 11 PM CT - I am writing this on my Frontier flight back to California that is going to LAX instead of Orange County because our flight from Omaha to Denver was delayed over an hour (due to mechanical problems again) which was just enough to miss the connection. Mr. Menke, you are 0 for 2 for on time arrivals and the customer service could be a little bit better again. The scary part is I have two more tickets booked with your airline in the next six weeks. We were told during the flight that we were going to be redirected to Los Angeles and to check with the gate agent as soon as we deplaned. When we got to the gate agent there was already a line and I told one of the agents we were the only two passengers on the flight to get bumped and that we were supposed to see him about the Los Angeles flight. He had no clue what I was talking about and originally directed us to the Frontier customer service. When again informed him that we were supposed to be on the LAX flight he only said the LA flight is at gate 28. We were at gate 42. My wife ran ahead as I am not too fast with two new hips and as I approaced the gate she was waving for me to hurry so we could make the flight. If we would have gone to the "customer service" counter we would have missed the flight for sure.

Addendum 4/21/08, 4 AM CT - Well, we made it to LAX. At this point it's anybody's guess where our baggage is. The gate agent had no advance knowledge that we needed transportation as promised as there was obviously no communication between the plane and the ground crew. The two gate agents looked at each other and after a long pause said they would arrange a shuttle. After waiting 45 minutes for our bags not to show up the gate agent took us out to the Super Shuttle island, gave the dispatcher a voucher that turned out to be good for Orange County airport only. After making three other stops all over Orange County for other Super Shuttle passengers we finally made it home. At that point the Super Shuttle driver informed us that Frontier had only paid for our transportation to Orange County and he needed an additional 11 dollars. Talk about salt in the wound. I tipped him anyway as it wasn't his fault. Now if Frontier can only get my luggage to me.