Unsung Heroes

"Washington Dulles International Airport main terminal". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Washington_Dulles_International_Airport_main_terminal.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Washington_Dulles_International_Airport_main_terminal.jpg

“Washington Dulles International Airport main terminal”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Washington_Dulles_International_Airport_main_terminal.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Washington_Dulles_International_Airport_main_terminal.jpg

Isn’t air travel when “weather events” occur fun? I have a whole variant on Sartre’s Hell that involves websites that don’t work, long periods on hold, frenzied rushes through unfamiliar airports, flight cancellations, mechanical difficulties, and more. I won’t bore you with the details of attempting to fly from Columbus to Dallas and back because you probably have stories that may easily top mine.

What I want to highlight are the unsung heroes in my own saga, the people who provided good customer service, who helped at key points along the way–not to deal with the weather and its affects nor to fix malfunctioning planes–but to make a lousy situation a bit more pleasant and to get me to my destination and back. My big regret is that I did not get the names of these heroes, being absorbed in my own travel woes. But I can at least celebrate customer service done right in three instances over as many days.

The first was on Sunday night when I called my airline after my connecting flight to Dallas was cancelled and there were no alternatives online. Because so many others were in the same predicament, the hold times on the phone were long–I waited 80 minutes. The first thing the rep did was acknowledge this and apologize–probably a standard script but still helpful. Then he graciously and quickly solved my problem, booking me on a different airline which actually got me to my meetings sooner than I needed to be! And it was all done right, confirmed on the itinerary I immediately received and the boarding passes I immediately was able to print from the other airline. Only afterward did it occur to me that all the time I’d been on hold, he’d been getting an earful from an avalanche of customers. None of that came through in our conversation.

The second was a small thing but helped make the difference between making and missing a connection. My flight out of Columbus on Monday needed to de-ice, which delayed us. We were met by a gate agent who not only gave me the gate of the connecting flight but gave me clear instructions of how to get from one terminal to another at Hartsfield in the quickest possible fashion. I made my connection with five minutes to spare.

The third was the customer service rep who helped us last night as my returning connection from Dulles to Columbus was cancelled after a two hour wait due to mechanical difficulties. This was at 11:20 pm. Before midnight I not only had an 8:20 am flight booked to Columbus (even with TSA Pre-check!) but also was checked into a comfortable hotel room with meal vouchers for breakfast. He even helped navigate me through Dulles, which I’d never flown through before!

I suspect that most of these folks probably feel under-appreciated by both the traveling public and perhaps by the airlines for which they work. They are not making big bucks and probably have to scrape in their personal lives to make ends meet. But I’d propose that they are very crucial in a world where our best laid plans are subject to weather and mechanical vagaries.

So I want to sing the praises of these unsung (and unnamed) heroes. And in the future, I hope to have the presence of mind to get their names to let their employers know how well they’ve been represented by these people when they are getting us at our worst. And maybe that will serve as a small reminder that customer service really pays.

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