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Don’t Monkey Around With Airlines!

Tim Gard Blog - Monkey

Act In Haste Only If Prepared To Repent!

I’ve flown over 2 million miles just on United Airlines alone in my career as a Motivational Speaker and Professional Trainer. United Airlines has always treated me really well and I’ve sincerely enjoyed flying with them over the years. However, since I travel so frequently and often must navigate complicated itineraries, I am sometimes forced to rely on an alternate airline if I am to stay on schedule. This story is about what I learned several years ago when I reacted with haste to an unfamiliar airline’s terrible overall service.

The story begins with the challenge of needing to be in three different cities, all within five days. Normally, I would simply make one call to United Airlines, provide my required travel schedule with my frequent flyer number, and in moments, all was set and settled. But in this particular case, the only airline that could accommodate my complex and tight travel schedule was one with which I rarely flew and subsequently had no frequent flyer status, whatsoever. With no other choice, I reluctantly surrendered my fate to this infrequently utilized airline, and crossed my fingers that my trip would be a smooth one.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise when I tell you that crossing my fingers didn’t help a thing, and the entire 5 day trip (throughout which I was completely dependent on this one airline to reach each of the three locations) was an absolute nightmare. To summarize, the airline lost my luggage the moment it left my side and was entrusted to their system. Upon realizing the problem when my luggage never appeared on the conveyor belt at the first destination, I immediately began the process of trying to work with airline personnel to track it down…. this process painfully endured for the following THREE weeks.

Now, I’m no amateur when it comes to travel, so I always use my carry-on bag to transport the absolute vitals of any trip, but on this exceptionally hectic journey, my checked luggage contained ‘backup’ suits and other items that would have made fulfilling my contract much more comfortable. Not having my checked bag with me at each location was one thing, but the way I was treated by airline personnel while trying to find it was another thing, altogether.

As my trip progressed, each time I would arrive at a new airport I would stop by the customer service desk, inquire about my missing bags and ask for help. Each time I was treated very badly and relentlessly instructed to “just wait it out”. Finally, four days without my checked baggage, I was offered an inconsequential amount of money, and told to “follow up” when I returned home “because the bag will show up…eventually”.  At the end of my 5 day trip, the luggage was still missing, and they still had no idea where it could be.

So, when I returned home, I followed the provided instructions to “follow up”. I wrote a snail mail letter (this was during pre-email days) addressed to the airline, primarily to continue trying to locate my checked bag but also to express complaints about how poorly I had been treated while trying to cooperate and rectify their mistake. In response, I received an automated form letter which said “these things happen” and I “should not let it get me down.” This only fueled my fever, so I wrote two more letters and was again sent form letters in response. Never at any time, even when my bag miraculously appeared on my doorstep 3 weeks later, was I offered an explanation or an apology.

Now frustrated and insulted to my core, I wrote a final letter to the airline “officially” terminating my “relationship” with them and hastily included the closing sentiment that I would fly them again when “monkeys flew out of my bu**”.

It honestly felt good to stamp that letter and drop it in the mail box while triumphantly saying to myself, that’s the end of THEM and THAT! Of course, I realize this action and attitude was not exactly using my Comic Vision™, but I felt genuinely justified after all they’d put me through… however, I had not considered that this “giving back what I got” approach might come back to haunt me down the road.

Another month or so later, I happily contracted with another customer who needed me to speak at five events over just a few days, all of which were in different cities… and guess which airline was once again my only option to accommodate the contract obligations… Oh boy, what do I do NOW?

Luckily for me, it just so happened that the new contract came in while I was in Thailand. This exotic locale provided a super spark of much needed inspiration as I was pondering my pending travel dilemma.

tim-gard-dont-monkey-with-airlinesWhile visiting a local monkey preserve, I snapped this picture and sent it to the airline with yet another letter… my attitude was quite a bit different this time, as the letter read: “Please Disregard Last Letter. See photo… It happened, and I’m coming back!”

I still didn’t get an answer from a ‘real person’, but I learned a valuable lesson from my own actions.

I’ll never know if anyone even read any of my letters, and I’m pretty sure no one got in trouble for letting my bags disappear, nor did my proclamation to withhold my patronage have any impact on what eventually caused that airline to go out of business… so what did I really accomplish by investing all that time and energy to vent my point?

Certainly someone, or several people, dropped the ball regarding my luggage and then continued to drop the ball over the next 3 weeks. It was this person, or persons, who I wanted to receive my letters, but in fact, whoever did receive my letters was not personally responsible for any of my unpleasant experiences. I suddenly realized that I’d accomplished nothing with them except that I’d set myself up to feel as if I was the one that needed to ‘make things right’ in the end. How’s that for irony?

My luggage has been misplaced many times since then, but it doesn’t make me mad anymore. The reality is, if you fly and check your luggage, in all probability you too will be involuntarily separated from your luggage somewhere along the way, so remember, it never helps things to ALSO lose yourself, or your Comic Vision™, to frustration… it may just mean you’ll have to make a trip to Thailand in order to appropriately repent for your hasty acts!

Tim Gard, CSP, CPAE Travel Tips

1. Plan for the worse, expect the best – insulate yourself against travel troubles: I travel wearing the clothing I will need to present in, plus I carry on everything I need to perform and/or I mail items to the event site and verify they have been received prior to leaving for an event. I never take the last flight of the day out and I prepare a list of all the back up options for my outbound flight (as well as my connections) in advance of my journey. When a problem occurs I don’t get mad, instead I get really focused in on how to best solve the problem by identifying and connecting with whoever can best help me solve it. I carry backup power sources for my phone, because I know if I run out of power, I will have lost my greatest travel tool. Every time I run into a situation or a problem, I write down how I solved it and then determine how to insulate myself against it in the future. I learn and I adapt taking nothing for granted. Getting angry, taking things personally and wanting revenge is a waste of time and brain cells.

2. Be proactive and help solve the problem: If your bag is lost, you must decide if you want a solution or if you want to make the problem worse… Vent about your problem curbside if necessary, but do it before you talk to anyone with the airline. Decide what outcome you want, before you talk to anyone. Realistically, when do you need your bag and why? What can you do to help them find your bag and get it to you? All my checked bags are very distinctive, in one way or another. Know the dimensions of your bag and be able to describe it – or do as I do – and carry photos of yourself standing next to your bag so people can get an idea of actual size. Find out when the flights that may have your bag on them will arrive, and always be sure to get a direct phone number to follow up and track your bag when all else fails. Ask about the delivery system in place and get the delivery person’s phone number so you can call them directly, too. Accept your bag may be misplaced and work to solve the problem with the responsible airline. Never get angry with the person helping you in baggage claim. That person isn’t responsible for losing your bag and is actually the ONE person who can help you! Learn their first name and use it liberally, to personalize your problem with them.

3. Finally, do write to the airline if you encounter an unusual situation, like I did. When you do it, be factual and don’t rant. Be accurate about flight numbers, employee names, dates and times. Most importantly, know what you want them to do so as to make up for your inconvenience. Ask for a free ticket, or to add bonus miles to your mileage account, or ask for some money toward a future ticket… be sure to express compensatory expectations, but also be sure you give them some options to satisfy you. You won’t get anything if you don’t ask for something!

Write all the angry letters you want to. Vent. Then delete it and move on. Regardless of what happens, once you write that letter, let it go. Don’t dwell on it… there’s more fun stuff happening tomorrow!

What is the morale of this story? You can write letters to the airlines with ultimatums, ranting and venting all you want… but keep in mind, while you have a legitimate point to make, you may still need them again someday.

Every time I fly I tell myself: “I’m going to have fun when I fly, and no one is going to stop me!”

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