While some corporate blowhards blog about the notables they meet around the world jetting around in private planes, I recently found my little scrappy self living the Everyman Airline Nightmare.
I am currently finishing my annual vacation in Mallorca, an island east of Spain and like every year we flew from Atlanta to Madrid and from Madrid to Palma de Mallorca. It is a tough flight, not only because you have a crappy connection after the overnight and oversea trip but also because we are travelling with the whole family. So picture, Nathalie and I, our 6 year old girl and our twin boys, who are in their terrible twos, add two nannys for good measure and you get the picture of a gypsy caravan travelling.
So, with 8 hours of flying and 6 hours of jetlag and no sleep, we get to Madrid and all walk from one end to the other the Barajas airport and are informed at the last minute by Iberia that "Delta cancelled our reservations to Palma". WHAT? They CANCELLED our reservations? Yup! They cancelled them! Mind you this is the 20th of july, which is one of the busiest days in Spain air travel due to a national holiday and half of Europe travelling to Mallorca. They inform that there are no more available flights for the morning and we will get put on standby IF WE GET LUCKY and Delta actually straightens the mess out.
So we have to walk all the way back across the airport to Delta again. By now the airport is a massive sea of people and imagine the caravan slowly making its way across. Nathalie is so out of it that manages to get lost in the crowd and it is a good half hour before we find her again in front of the Delta counter. There, at least, a pretty lady attends us, she calms me down. She is just as incompetent as the rest we are about to find out but at the time I didn't know. She informs us that our reservations are still valid but too bad we have missed the flight while trekking across the airport. She issues new reservations, in standby for the next flight and we are off again for the hike across the airport. This time we feel slightly more calm, since we have our reservations in hand but I am pissed off since she told us that Iberia does this EVERY DAY, cancelling US travellers who don't originate with Iberia, due to overbooking. I hate overbooking, who doesn't, it is such an obnoxious practice specifically when you arrive from overseas.
So we make it back to Iberia, and I have mulled over the complaints I was going to unload on the ticketing attendant. The lady gets upset and says "sir, I am a person". That got blood boiling, "and what I am?" I ask in spanish... "a number? An overbooked casualty?". Anyway she brings her boss and things get worse. Turns out, Delta STILL did not make the reservations or Iberia can't see them. I will censor the rest of the event, suffice to say we couldn't travel with Iberia, they banned me for "bad attitude". A word to the wise, I learned this too late but if you ever have trouble with a Spanish airline, demand the "libro de reclamaciones" as apparently making a formal complaint does carry weight over there. However you should do it the same day otherwise I hear they will just lie and pretend you never showed up for your flight. So back to Delta, meanwhile, Delta has closed their office at 3PM and we are there, my feet hurting, children screaming and nannies confused stranded in Barajas. The joke cost us 2500 euros to buy new tickets and the last minute hotel room we had to book to wait for the first available flight the following morning.
At first I was convinced that Iberia had purposely cancelled our reservations since they were the only party that had an economic motivation to treat us like that. Then thinking on Delta, Delta had RANDOMLY cancelled our return trip from Madrid to Atlanta (hopefully that is fixed, I am still writing from Pollensa in Mallorca). And then it downed on me, we were just victims of a flawed software application. There is little integration between the companies, each company has a crappy system to boot. Did you ever wonder why gate attendants have to type in 1200 keys to check you in in their dumb terminals? Because they have crappy software. I mean they have to learn the acronyms for the destinations when drop down lists were invented 20 years ago! Argh!.
But here is what really gets me. It is the fact that systems without humans are useless. Neither of the airline attendant ever picked up a phone to call the other airline and solve our problem despite our vehement requests. All they cared about was getting rid of us as quickly as possible. Systems that become solidified tend to breed the worst human behavior in service industries--that of the "low level bureaucrat". A low level bureaucrat abuses his own system. The low level bureaucrat knows that the powers that be back him up to NOT serve the end user but instead defend the system, its inertia and its flaws. When humans stop caring about the systems they create and serve, the system will break down. A system is as valid as the people who serve it and maintain it. Stop caring for a system and your customers and your business will quickly dry up. In the case of airline companies, they still enjoy semi-monopoly status (yes you can fly other airlines out of Atlanta, but they don't always have direct routes) and the escape hatch of federal governments and your and my tax money to bail them out for a level of incompetence and poor service that would sink them in other sectors.
At Jboss we don't make any money besides service, there are no licenses to sell. Usually when software is sold, service is treated as an afterthought. This is not our case. I hope we never develop this spirit of mediocrity and meanness that creeps into large companies and entities. We commit to customer satisfaction.
PS: avoid Iberia if you can to come to JBoss World Barcelona