You Have the Right to an Apology

There’s been a lot of talk about the need for an Air Traveler’s Bill of Rights of late, particularly since February’s JetBlue fiasco. I’m all for pressuring the airlines to be more proactive in its approach to customer service, as goodness knows I’ve experienced my fair share of delays and aggravations.

More than anything, though, I think that the airlines need to focus on treating all passengers like they treat their elite frequent flyers. Here’s the kind of thing I’m talking about: I flew yesterday to New York, but got delayed in Houston. Not for a long time — we were about an hour and a half late departing, first because of an air traffic control delay, and then because of a mechanical issue. Continental delayed boarding until we were actually ready to go, so we weren’t trapped on the plane all that time. It just wasn’t that big a deal.

However, this morning, I got this email message:

Dear Ms. Kathleen Fitzpatrick:

You are a valued Platinum Elite member of our OnePass program and we strive to meet your travel needs at all times. When we don’t succeed we take it very seriously. Our records show that you experienced an inconvenience while traveling with us between Houston/ George Bush, TX (IAH) and New York/ LaGuardia, NY (LGA) on 03/23/2007.

We work hard every day to ensure that all Continental Airlines flights operate safely and on time. There are times when even our best efforts cannot prevent a flight disruption. We are sorry if this experience was inconvenient for you.

So as a goodwill gesture, 500 OnePass bonus miles have been deposited into your account. Continental Airlines employees are committed to providing you an excellent and safe travel experience. We appreciate your business and look forward to serving you in the future.

The miles, while a nice touch, are more gestural than anything. What actually meant something to me was the apology — and even more than that, that the apology appeared without my demanding it. I hadn’t complained, and didn’t intend to. So what’s amazing here is that the airline noticed that I might have been inconvenienced, and acknowledged their responsibility.

Granted, there are many more passengers than there are Platinum Elite frequent flyers. But how hard would it be for the airlines to issue such an apology to every passenger so inconvenienced?

3 thoughts on “You Have the Right to an Apology

  1. It’s nice to see an apology from an airline.

    I just flew on LAB from Bogota to Buenos Aires and experienced a 4 hour delay in Bogota and then a 27 hour delay in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (At least LAB did pay for the hotel and food). Then LAB flew us unexpectedly to another city, Cochabamba, in Bolivia where there was a 3 hour delay before finally leaving for Buenos Aires.

    Fortunately, our trip wasn’t as bad as the four guys on the flight to Cochabamba who had just been flown by LAB from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz only to learn that they were being flown back to Cochabamba before going to Buenos Aires!

    Throughout this entire ordeal there was not one single apology from anybody on the LAB staff. Generally, South American airlines are very good but LAB doesn’t seem to care at all if their passengers are inconvenienced.

  2. “But how hard would it be for the airlines to issue such an apology to every passenger so inconvenienced?”

    Probably about as hard as sandbagging service to non- ‘platnium elite’ members.

    The difference in treatment might have something do do with your choice to invest in ‘elite’ status with the Airline, ya?

  3. No doubt — Continental stands to lose a consistent customer, who spends a fair bit on plane tickets every year, if they annoy me too badly. So they work on not doing that. But why not cultivate the base of loyal customers, rather than playing only to those already known to be loyal? How many people might become regular customers of a particular airline if, on being inconvenienced by delays, they received an acknowledgment and apology?

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