The CCCCs, Day One (Sort of): Nortwest Airlines Sucks, Part One

I’m writing this several hours before I can post it since I’m in the Detroit airport, soaking in textbook (perhaps that’s why it belongs on my official blog instead of the unofficial one?) examples of bad (with bursts of good) customer service.

First the bad: per my fetish for getting to the airport very early (almost 20 years ago now, I missed a flight because of the friend who took me to the airport, a chronically late sort of guy), my wife and I were sitting at our gate about an hour and a half before we were scheduled to depart. There was some flight leaving for Buffalo at our gate, and we didn’t think much about it. Around 45-30 minutes before we were scheduled to leave, my wife goes to the desk at the gate and finds out that our flight has been canceled entirely.

Now, I’ve been in situations where flights change gates, and I’ve been in situations where flights get canceled. But I’ve never been sitting the area near the gate and NOT heard this sort of thing being announced. Anyway, finding this out like this makes me mad. Really REAAAALLLLYYYY mad, and for those of you who have seen me shift into “Hulk Angry at Customer Service Person� mode, I have to tell you that it’s not pretty.

I get up, gather my stuff while my wife is doing the same thing, and go over to the podium. “Why wouldn’t you announce that the flight was canceled?â€� I yell pretty much as loud as I can (oh, and this is something that many loyal readers can confirm– I pretty much have the loudest voice of anyone you are likely to meet).

“Hey, didn’t you see there was no one around here?� the Northwest gate guy says.
Not having time to deal with this jerk, my wife and I scurry to some area to reboarding our flight. “I’ll do the talking, I’ll do the talking,� my wife keeps saying. Fine. So while she goes and actually arranges for the re-booking, I’m asking to speak to a supervisor, who turns out to be the person managing the line of people rebooking flights because of other cancellations. Angry at Northwest, this person, the world, etc. with a passion of a 1000 burning suns, I proceed to tear this person a new one, so to speak. This proved to be somewhat cathartic for me and great theater for the growing line of people, some of whom I am sure were waiting for their opportunity to have at this person.

Given that this “supervisor-type� seemed to have the job that might be best described as “get yelled at by angry customers,� this person was not going to give us a whole lot of satisfaction. We did end up getting booked onto a flight to JFK instead of LAG, and we headed to the gate.

I was still pretty pissed off, so I went to find a white courtesy phone to try and complain to some other Northwest supervisor. There was nothing on the other end of the phone– no dial tone, nothin’. So I hiked over to some desk with some other customer service folks hanging around, was told “oh sure, eventually someone will pick up the phone,â€� and hike back over to the not so curtious phone. Anger is seething in me, and I imagine the tease for my story on the local TV news services all over the country: “A seemingly mild-mannered college professor killed three Northwest customer service reps today at Detroit Metro. More at 11.â€�

Finally, a different Northwest rep comes over and says “hey, is there anything I can do?â€� I give the version of my story (at slightly lower volume), and tell him at this point, what I want is to figure out the deal with our luggage and to make up the difference in a cab ride from JFK (further away, a bit more expensive, etc.) Finally, this guy tries to make it right, explains the weather situation that canceled these flights, and he gives us a voucher for a limo ride to Manhattan. Okay, fine, there’s a brush of good customer service in there.

But then, when we get to JFK airport, and find out that a) we have much confusion regarding our the location of our luggage, though we’re told that we should receive the luggage yet tonight, and b) the car/limo service for which we receive a voucher does not appear to exist. In other words, what I was given in Detroit turns out to be worthless.

There’s more, but I’ll shake it off and get on with some conference things. But the point is this: There were any number of opportunities for someone at Northwest to try to make things right, and instead, they decided to keep making things wrong.

I’ll still end up flying Northwest because if you stay in the metro Detroit area and you want to get on an airplane, you pretty much have no choice but to fly on Northwest. But just to repeat: Northwest really sucks.

2 thoughts on “The CCCCs, Day One (Sort of): Nortwest Airlines Sucks, Part One”

  1. Well, Steve, they don’t call the airline Northwurst for nothing. We too have had our ‘adventures’ in flying with Northwurst, one of which was on our way back from Mexico. It was sort of a combination of delay and comedy of errors which wasn’t all that funny at the time since we were exhausted (no not from the beach but from waiting for hours in the Cancun terminal) and then arriving home at 4am. Another fun trip on Northwurst. (however, though they didn’t actually lose our bags, they did sort of misplace them)

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