My letter to the VP of Customer Belly Tickles

May 12, 2011
American Airlines Customer Relations
P.O. Box 619612 MD 2400
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9612
Attn:  Mr. Craig Kreeger
Senior VP of Customer Experience, American Airlines
Dear Craig:
On a recent flight to California I picked up an American Way Magazine and read the article about you and your department with interest. It certainly is the trend these days to have Departments of Customer Experience, replete with many fluffy titles such as Manager of Customer Belly Rubs and whatnot. Even my own company has started down this path to some extent. So I feel compelled join in the fun and share my American customer experiences of late.
Let’s start with check in. I love the Kiosks. I generally prefer to do things for myself when able, as opposed to waiting in line. Convenient as they are, the kiosks though are where you run into the “a la carte” nature of American’s pricing, like $25 to check bags. Now, I understand with fuel costs, expenses have risen. But in reality ticket cost is a factor when purchasing airfare and this amounts to a $50 hidden charge on a round trip ticket. Even though I fly for business, it’s another two entries that I have to account for on an expense report.
Also, don’t you think that if you charge for baggage that the customer expectation is that the bags won’t be lost? I know that would be my expectation. Wouldn’t you also expect many customers to pass on this fee and carry on?
I can assure you they do. More on that later.
Then, you offer a modest $9 fee to enjoy group one boarding. Now to me, having my Gold membership with priority access lapse, this is a good deal, especially if I declined to check bags. This way after all the premier people board I still retain a dim hope of stowing my bags. That would be my expectation anyhow. Imagine my surprise when they call group one and group three people trot aboard unchecked. Honestly, I’d have been lucky to catch a ticket in a passengers hand to notice this but on my last fight this wasn’t necessary. The rather large group that made it through was joyously celebrating the fact that they are group three and got to board first.
I muttered to the guy in front of me “Good thing I paid for group one”. He responded, “yeah, me too”. Heavy customer sat numbers there.
So if you charge for group one boarding, wouldn’t it behoove you to honor boarding groups at the gate? By not doing so, isn’t that in effect stealing my $9? Seeing this, now I have to think the last four times I’ve done this, I’ve actually just been duped each time. Why wouldn’t I just accept whatever group I was assigned and simply board with group one? After all, chances seem better than average I’d get away with it.
Then we board the plane, usually a shabby MD-80 roughly the same vintage as the movie “Flashdance”, and are greeted by a gracious and pleasant stewardess. Unfortunately, she’s the lead and serves first class. Back in coach, which I lovingly refer to as “steerage” you are generally sized up by a dour older woman, and an effeminate man. Notice I didn’t say “greeted”, although the men tend to be more gracious. It’s the dour one that typically traverses the aisle during the flight with the grace of a hillbilly driving a snow plow bumping into nearly every guy with an aisle seat. Now, I’m not a small person but I can manage to get front to back on an airplane without touching a soul. And I’m not a pro like la vieja.
Then there’s the seat. Now, as I said I’m not a small person. But neither am I huge. I’m six feet, and when I sit on one of your planes my knees touch the seat in front. Knowing this, I pay for the bag check and put my backpack in an overhead. More often than not, I get carped at by the dour one. If I put it under the seat, my feet have nowhere to go. However, baggage space is at a premium, no doubt due to the baggage fee. This being the case, some of the bags people carry on are ridiculously large. So wouldn’t you think that if you charged for baggage, thereby creating a space shortage in the cabin, that you’d enforce your baggage size limits? Keep in mind that it only takes one passenger with a large carry on to gobble up space that would have otherwise served three.
Then the flight takes off, and wouldn’t you know, the passenger in front of me reclines like he’s lying on a chaise lounge on deck of the Queen Mary. His head so close that I could kiss him on the scalp by merely nodding forward. Wouldn’t you think that if you were going to pack the seats so tight that most men’s knees hit the seat in front of them that maybe it would be a good idea to restrict how far back the chairs recline? Apparently not.
On an ancient MD-80, I pity the poor sap in the last row. When everyone else reclines, that person is truly one of the most wretched on the flight. I’ve been that person more than once.
Not knowing any better, I’d simply chalk this misery up to the general state of aviation these days. But having the pleasure of having to switch airlines twice in the last three months I’ve frolicked in the grass on the other side of the fence and it is indeed greener. In each case, both Southwest and Alaskan, the customer service staff was more pleasant and helpful. The stewardesses were polite, accommodating, and half to a third the age of yours. They could even make it up and down the aisles without the “bucket-bump”.  The seats, on airplanes a few decades newer, were more comfortable with more leg room. I might add it was the cost that drove me to those flights as well.
It was a moment of clarity for me.
I have about 200K miles with you guys, about 100K on your competition, and with maybe 50K more miles to go this year, I could be well on track to recover my lapsed status. But now, I’m wondering why I should bother. Due to a promotion in my company, I can pretty much set my destinations and times to avoid American. For those destinations that I have no choice I can use our company agency, with the company airline preferences, and thus not have any of the hassle and missed expectations. Although my expectation of American Air is so low that all I expect is the plane will leave somewhere in the ballpark of the scheduled time, arrive somewhere in the ballpark of the arrival time, and of course not crash on the way to or from. Anything else that happens that’s enjoyable makes me feel like I’ve won the lottery.
I don’t have any answers for you. Maybe dress casual and take a flight every other week or so like in the series “Undercover Boss”. Not as a tourist to exotic locations, but as a salaryman to workaday type destinations. Experience some of the fun for yourself.
My experience with American is one of taxing my patience, endurance, and perseverance so much that after a flight I’m sweaty, exhausted, angry, and achy. So good luck with the “Customer Experience” gig. I have little illusion that you’ll be able to change a whole lot or provide much more than empathy.
Pat —–
AAdvantage 54XXXXX
(972) XXX-XXXX

One thought on “My letter to the VP of Customer Belly Tickles

  1. \”I was asked to respond to your letter…\”Wow, that sure makes me feel important! How many shmucks got to say NO before it landed in HIS lap?And, as you mentioned, an email to which I cannot reply!!! The most impersonal and (dare I say arrogant) way to respond. This response was a chore that was forgotten as soon as he crossed it off his TODO list.


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