Date: March 16th, 2013
Jeff Butler, Vice President, Customer Service – Airports
Joe Spraque, Vice President, Marketing
Andy Schneider, Vice President, Inflight Services
P.O. Box 68900
Seattle, WA 98168-0900
Dear Mr. Butler, Mr. Spraque, and Mr. Schneider:
I nearly lost my faith in Alaska Airlines at 10:05 pm PST on March 14th, 2013, while walking to my room, due to a flight cancellation.
After speaking at a conference in San Diego on March 14th, I was looking forward to taking the 6 pm flight 579 to Portland. Everything went smoothly and we all boarded swiftly, the Captain even announced that we may arrive early.
Shortly after the plane left the gate, the Captain announced some sort of button malfunctioned. He pulled the plane back to the gate. First, we waited on the plane, while a mechanic searched for a replacement part. Then, we were asked to deplane and wait in the lobby for further instructions. Finally, the cancellation of the flight was announced roughly an hour and a half after we deplaned.
I was disappointed, but I was not angry. I immediately called the 1-800 number and booked myself on the 6:40 am flight the following morning and went down to the front desk to get a hotel voucher. It took more than 2 hours to get a voucher and two meal tickets. There were two staff members initially, then a couple more personnel were added, but they seemed inexperienced and no one was in charge. The line was not moving. After more than one hour, one representative finally started addressing passengers as a whole with questions such as “Who just wants to get bags, but doesn’t need a hotel stay? Please come here.” “Who would like to fly to Seattle tonight, then take a bus to Portland? Please come with me.” “Who will need hotel voucher tickets? Please stay in line.”
While waiting in line, I told several people to call the 1-800 number ASAP to re-book their seats. One of the ladies kindly told me that there was an earlier flight than the one I had booked, and suggested to call ASAP to change my flight so that I could get home 30 min. early. Seemed like a great idea at that time! I called and changed my ticket from 6:40 am to 6:15 am, while waiting patiently in line.
When it was my turn to get the vouchers, it took her 10-15 min to key in everything for one hotel voucher and two meal vouchers to print. By the time I got my vouchers, it was already 9:45 pm. While waiting for the hotel shuttle bus, I called the hotel to ensure that they would pick me up. Apparently, I did not have a shuttle voucher, therefore, they could not pick me up. I ended up taking a taxi with another three passengers.
By the time I checked into the hotel, a bunch of us discovered the hotel restaurant was closed. Meal vouchers were useless for the night. Several passengers walked three blocks down to another hotel to eat. A young girl wearing the University of Oregon jacket stood at the hotel lobby and told as many people as possible that the 6:15 am flight had been postponed to 9:00 am flight so that we should not get up at 4:00 am… Seriously?! I was thinking: “Alaska Airlines, you are killing me.” Of course, I immediately called the 1-800 number and I was informed that the 6:15 am flight was indeed moved to 9:00 am. Of course, it was too late for me to switch to 6:40 pm flight. It was 10:05 pm and I had not been notified by Alaska of the time change! I expect this kind of screw up to happen at other airlines, not Alaska Airlines.
What went wrong:
Flight cancellation handbook: Was there a step-by-step guide to tell staff what to do to expedite the process? If there is one, I am not sure everyone understood the protocols or what to do and how to do it. By the way, it did not seem as if there was a senior person on hand to direct efforts.
Voucher handling process: Is there a way to shorten the voucher key-in time when more than 50 people are waiting to get hotel vouchers?
Hotel communications: The hotel at which you place us may have been informed that we were coming, but the execution on transportation was poor. The hotel didn’t even offer late night room service. It may be beneficial to evaluate your hotel contracts to ensure they provide the services that meet Alaska Airlines standards.
Flight schedule change: Without that young girl standing at the hotel lobby and telling everyone that 6:15 am flight was changed to 9:00 am, I would have gotten up at 4:00 am. I later found out that it was due to an FAA regulation that pilots and flight attendants are required to have a certain amount of rest between flights. That was fine! Why did this mistake happen at the first place? Why weren’t all the passengers that had been booked on the 6:15 am flight informed of the schedule change as soon as it was made? Other airlines automatically send texts or phone alerts when this type of change occurs.
What went right:
Swift decision on cancellation: From the first announcement of a mechanical error to the cancellation of the flight, the Captain and the crew were informative and decisive. They did a good job making a swift decision.
Sincere apologies from the Captain and crews: I shared my feedback with the airport supervisor and the Captain/crews of flight 7279v. They not only sincerely apologized for my experience but also encouraged me to share my experience with the Customer Care Department. In fact, one of the flight attendants passed the comment cards with all your names on it.
Kindness of Portlanders: I can’t thank that wonderful girl enough. She didn’t have to do it, but she stood by the lobby and told as many people as possible that the flight had been postponed. I kicked myself for not getting her name, but I will always remember her kindness. While waiting in line, I met three great gentlemen: Bob Owen, Tom Merrill and Michael Gerig. We were cracking jokes and shooting breeze, while waiting in line to get vouchers. They turned something negative and frustrating into something positive and memorable.
I am neither an MVP nor a frequent traveler at this time, but I was very impressed when this Alaska Airlines article was published in February, 2012. My experience with your company has always been positive until this incident. I hope you will take this letter as constructive criticism and improve your processes.
A person who still believes in your brand, people and services.