Yesterday was, by far, one of the most trying days (in terms of patience and anger management) that I can remember. However, once I took a moment to think clearly and allowed my geek reflexes to kick in, I was quickly able to remedy my situation. What you’re about to read is a testimonial for the true power of the modern web and a great use case for how and why you should use social media to your advantage.
Let me set the scene for you… It’s 4AM, and my wife and I are hopping in a cab to head to the airport for our journey home after visiting family back in Kentucky for the holidays. Our journey is one that I have taken many times. We begin with a 6AM flight from BNA (Nashville, TN) to IAH (Houston, TX). Seeing as this was an early morning flight, I anticipated little-t0-no problems and saw no reason why we couldn’t make our connecting flight to LAX (Los Angeles, CA) within the 45 minute time frame we had between flights. The events that followed proved me wrong… Dead wrong.
Before I go into the events of the day, let me make a very strong statement. The airline companies have a severely flawed sense of time. In fact, it’s downright laughable if you ask me. My flight, for example, was scheduled to take off at 6AM. However, the plane did not leave the ground (I know because I was watching the clock) until 6:27AM. However, seeing as they closed the gate and pushed back at 6AM, they consider this a “on time departure.” Cue the obligatory cough sound followed by the word bullshit.
Ok, so we’re already (by my watch) running 27min late. According to the pilot, flight time is schedule for just over 2 hours. This would put us on the ground in Houston by 8:30AM by my calculations. That should’ve been plenty of time to make my 9:15AM flight to LA, right? Yes, one would think so. Feeling confident of this, I chose to doze off during the flight while I was watching a movie on my iPad. Upon awakening, I tapped the screen and noticed that the clock said 8:35AM. Immediately I thought something was wrong because we were clearly thousands of feet above the Earth and I was not safely parked at a gate awaiting to de-plane.
When I was finally able to get the flight attendant’s attention, I politely asked her how much longer we would be airborne. To which she replied, “well, we are running a bit late due to a strong headwind, but the captain should make an announcement very soon. I’d say we’ll be there in about 45 minutes at the most.” My eyes must have given it away that I was instantly irate. I attempted to calmly explain to her that this would put us over an hour late arriving, and also threw it out there that they were nearly a half hour late taking off. She politely shook her head and said we took off on time (standard airline BS) and went on her way. Once the captain came on the intercom and told us what was going on, I calmed down a bit. After all, a 170MPH headwind on a plane barely capable of going over 300MPH isn’t exactly a turbo boost. At this point I accepted the fact that I might miss my plane, but I was still somewhat angry that this was not explained to us ahead of time.
I alerted my wife that we were going to make a run for it once we hit the ground (a fact I’m sure she wasn’t thrilled about). The wheels touched down at just before 9AM, which meant we had 15min to get to our plane. All was not lost… yet. However, what I failed to remember was that this was IAH, and at IAH you never land on a runway within 20 minutes of your gate. This time was no exception.
Once we arrived at the gate I took off like a rocket ship to get to that other plane. My Herculean effort was all for not though, because I arrived just in time to see the plane pushing back from the gate. My wife, who tried desperately to keep up with my gazelle like running, met me as I was ranting aloud about airline timetables and the need for more customer service workers. At this point we found out that we were one of about 15-20 people who had missed the flight to LAX. Now we were all standing in line (along with about 20 other people) waiting for two customer service agents to help us find another way out of the abyss.
As I was waiting in line, I tried calling United Airlines customer service. Miraculously, after about 30 minutes of waiting, I was able to talk to a human. She was very nice and as helpful (seemingly) as she could be given my angry and most-definitely overdramatic state of mind. She explained to me that she could get my wife out on a 5PM flight and have me follow her on a 9PM flight, but otherwise we were stuck in Houston for the day. I explained to her that we did not want to be separated, and that we would fly standby for the remaining flights to LAX, but could she please book me on the first flight out the next day. She agreed to this, but explained that because I turned down her offer to split our flights up, I would be responsible for my own hotel room… Umm, excuse me, what the hell did she just say? Certainly this woman didn’t have the unmitigated gall to tell me that I was to pay for my own room after I missed my flight due to something totally out of my control. Needless to say, the s%&# hit the fan after that.
Throughout this whole ordeal thus far I was randomly tweeting my dissatisfaction for the United Airlines customer service at IAH. Here are some of those tweets…
As you will see later on, it was right after American Airlines engaged me on Twitter that I FINALLY got a response from the United team… and what a response it was!
In the end I agreed to fly standby for the flights that day, and even decided to just bend over and take the hotel bill. I was then instructed to go to the gate for the next flight to LA and check in as a standby passenger. My wife and I made our way to the gate, asked the gentleman to check us in, and were promptly denied. Seeing as we were at the counter 2hrs before the flight left, we were told to come back at 1hr prior to takeoff and we could check in then. No problem. We went to grab a bite to eat, and didn’t think much of it at the time.
When we returned to the gate they were posting a standby list which, upon closer inspection, I was not on. I promptly went up to the gate agent and explained that I was not on the list, and asked what I needed to do. She then told me that I should’ve checked in at a customer service counter (that place with two people working) hours ago in order to be on the list. She said she could add me now, but I’d be dead last in line. At this point I’d had enough. The only thing that kept me from going thermonuclear on this woman was the message I got from United’s customer service agent via Twitter.
As you can see from the tweets above, I was getting some attention from other airlines at this point. I can only guess that upon seeing that I had American involved and that I had a few thousand followers, United decided it was time to engage me and solve this small (but still public) dispute. Their first tweet can be seen below:
I immediately obliged their request and followed them and sent them a DM of my confirmation #. At this point my only wish was that they recognize their mistake and offer to put my wife and I up in a hotel for the evening. Seeing as we were booked and confirmed for a flight at 10AM the next day, I had already accepted that we were stuck in Houston for the remainder of the day. However, upon speaking with their Twitter team member, codenamed JH, I realized that dreams really do come true.
After a few exchanges about how they could get me to Orange County (an airport near LAX) and also how they could split my wife and I up again, I had all but given up hope. Then miraculously, two seats opened up out of nowhere and this person got us in.
Upon seeing this message I immediately tried to access my United account via my iPhone so I could check us in and get our mobile boarding passes. However, they didn’t show up. Seeing as I was close to customer service counter (yes, the same one I had been frequenting all day), I decided to give it one more go around. I raced to the counter and, surprisingly I didn’t have to wait in line. The same woman I had been quarreling with all day asked me to step forward. This time, I was ready for her. I walked up to the counter almost strutting because this time, I had a confirmed seat on one of her “full flights” and there was nothing she could do about it.
The first words out of my mouth were probably a little shocking… “So I’ve been talking to your people via Twitter”, I exclaimed. The lady immediately laughed as if to say “whatever dude, you still ain’t gettin’ out of this airport”. I then asked her to check and see if my wife and I were confirmed on the 1:45PM flight to LAX and if she could please print our boarding passes. She huffed and reluctantly checked her computer. I could instantly tell that we had been confirmed on the flight because her face went from joyfully annoyed to angry and defeated almost instantly. She knew that I had beaten the system, and she was shocked. As she handed me my boarding passes, I smiled, winked, and told her “never underestimate the power of the internet”.
As you can see, this was a very long day, filled with ups and downs. In the end, however, it shows you just how powerful your voice can be on the world wide web. Maybe I got lucky. Maybe I found the one customer service agent with a heart of gold. Or, maybe United cares enough about the perception of their brand that they saw this as an opportunity for social media success. They saw how many followers I have. They also could’ve seen that I’m quite tech savvy. Therefore they could’ve reasonably expected that I would blog, podcast, or tweet about this experience even further. The exact tone of those posts & tweets would be dictated by how they responded to this. In the end, it’s a win-win situation for everyone. My wife and I got home safe and sound without having to spend the night in Houston, and United Airlines gained my respect and business in the future. This is what social media is all about. This is the humanization of business. This is everything I preach to people and brands every day, and this is why social media is (and will continue to be) important!