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Crash and burn: aviation customer service in hindsight

Crash and burn: aviation customer service in hindsight

There’s nothing better then being pampered while you’re stuck in a metal cabin more than 30,000 feet above sea level. So why can’t some airlines do it?

June 5, 2011 6:54 by

Kipp loves hearing from its readers, especially ones who like sharing sordid tales of woe and speculation….yeah, the juicy stuff. And in the GCC, it seems customer service is always a hot topic.

Remember that story you guys begged us to write about the banking sector? Well now it seems the aviation industry’s also got to get their act together.

A Kipp reader shared a letter he wrote to Qatar Airways about a recently mishap on a QR flight. Worse in this issue, this reader is an admitted Qatar Airways fan, having loyally flown with them for the past nine years. He says he has always been “satisfied and well received as a privilege club member” and has chosen to brush away any stories of bad service he’s heard some Qatar Airways passengers share.

But during a holiday trip to Male with his family of nine, his views on Qatar Airways did a 180-degree turn. And it seems it’s all because of a miscommunication that can only be akin to the movie Anger Management.

Our reader’s story starts with him having slept throughout the flight, woken up only by the seatbelt light 23 minutes before landing. He got the call of nature and preceded to go to the bathroom. A steward then advised him to remain seated. But he said he’d only be a few minutes, so the steward let him go with a warning to be quick about his business.

A few minutes passed and when he came out, a security personnel (SCC) was waiting for him near the door and started to raise his voice at him — loud enough, he says, that passengers started to look at them. Humiliated, our reader raised his voice back asking the SCC to “shut up”, which promptly ended him up at the police station.

It was a 15-hour wait, with his flight cancelled and his family waiting for him at the airport.

He tried to make peace with the SCC but he was only met with accusations that he had forced his way to the airplane bathroom and had been really impolite.

“It was big lie, but at this point it’s my word against his,” this Kipp reader wrote.

“The steward that let me go to the bathroom was there as well. He…told me that he doesn’t understand why all this is happening, but that he had to take the position of his senior,” he continued.

What is most puzzling about this situation is that such a simple issue ended in a big mess at the police station. In fact, this passenger is more distraught about the way Qatar Airways handled the situation–especially as he has been a patron of nine years.

Kipp’s no customer service guru, but we do think that a customer of nine years and one of nine days should be treated to different degrees of personalised service. Now it seems, instead of a staunch Qatar Airways advocate, the airline now has a devoted anti-fan.

He ends the letter to Qatar Airways, with this gem:

“I wanted to tell you that you don’t deserve your 5 stars as everything should begin with treating people, and for that you became really bad.

“You just lost few passengers, and won’t get them before you accept that we don’t treat people like that, and send me your apologies for my family and me and try to compensate me on my screwed holidays.

“I’ll be waiting for your answer, but please skip the regular prepared and polite answers, or don’t answer back, in all cases I’m really upset and won’t be talking nicely about QR, and believe [me] my words will affect lots of people around me.”

There you go: Word-of-Mouth. That thing that brands fear and covet at the same time; used well, it could be a boon to brands, ignore it and its influence will take over any brand perceptions.

What Kipp doesn’t understand is that even with the amount of hoopla around better customer service in the region and around the buzz of brand-customer interaction that digital and social media bring, companies are still scratching their heads when it comes to maintaining healthy customer relationships.

Qatar Airways may have lost merely one family here, but in the grand scheme of things, with the help of social media, online, and the strength of word of mouth, ignoring this man’s plight may have done more damage then the airline may realise.

But then again, Qatar Airways isn’t in the spotlight alone. Kipp reader Georgia Lewis shared with us a couple of her experiences on Emirates and Singapore Airlines.

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  1. Matthew on June 6, 2011 2:01 am

    This passenger is absolutely in the wrong. He has shown total disregard for his own safety, and for the safety if those around him. Only last week, I was on a flight that hit turbulence with the seat belt sign on, and one idiot passenger who had taken his seat belt off even after being told by an attendant to fasten it, flew up and hit the roof, knocking himself unconscious. He had blood pouring from his head, laying motionless in the aisle.
    Your reader may well have ended up in the same condition. It is a criminal offence to disregard the seat belt sign for a reason. Crew are not meant to physically restrain people who argue about getting up. They need to be told no once an that is fair warning. Your reader should have been charged and fined without question. The crew in this case are absolutely in the right, and the reader is ignorant. I hope he never gets on a plane I am on.

  2. Farah on June 6, 2011 12:08 pm

    While I sympathize with this gentleman for being treated poorly, whats interesting about this story is that when the pasenger came out of the loo he claims that SCC was already waiting for him. This probably means he came out of the restroom only after the flight landed as SCC guards are usually not on flight and are only at destination, unless its a USA flight.
    If this is the case I can understand the airlines distress at having a man locked away in a restroom while the aircraft was landing as the security procedures for take-off and landing are pretty strict.

  3. Andrew on June 7, 2011 7:14 am

    Whilst I agree with the previous comments that the first passenger was in the wrong, it doesn’t change the fact that one bad customer experience can permanently colour the perception someone has of a brand.

    I had an atrocious flight on Singapore Airlines in the late 80s, and still refuse to fly with them even after 20 years. Whilst I’m sure things have improved, and heard great things from friends and colleagues, I’m simply not willing to take the chance.


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