2014

United airplaneIn my last post, I left off where Paul and I had just agreed to staying in Houston (with no help from United for the hotel), going to Seattle the next day, and then getting a connecting flight to Vancouver – because we thought we had no options.

As we were standing there discussing the very limited options (it seems all United flights are oversold, so when something like this happens, there aren’t many choices for replacement flights), the flight crew that was taking over for the next flight was off to the side of us. They were right beside the lineup of very frustrated passengers – all of whom had missed their flights.

We could clearly hear their discussions – and their jokes about all the people with missed flights. One of the pilots asked someone in the line what was going on and the person explained we were all pretty much stranded – he laughed and said: “Hey – you’ve just spent time in the sun in San Juan – you can’t complain.” Yes, yes, we can Mr. Pilot and you are not helping the situation.

I like a good joke (in fact, I happen to be quite hilarious), but his comment fell flat with everyone. The flight crew continued to joke and laugh and the pilot kept on making funnies about how we (the people in the lineup) probably wished we had stayed in San Juan. I actually wished I had been smart enough not to book a flight on United. It really felt like the issues that everyone in the lineup was dealing with were being discounted and disrespected.

I watched an elderly couple – I estimated they were in their mid-to-late 80s – who were clearly distraught and confused. They didn’t know what line to stand in or what could be done to get them home. No one, not one United Airlines employee, stepped forward to help them. I had a brief conversation with them and got them into the line – I sure hope they got home okay that night.

On top of the concerns about getting home when you thought you would – it was clear that many of the people in line were worried about the cost of a hotel and food. Some were students, some were seniors, and others were young families with children. I felt badly for them. United clearly stated that they were not going to provide accommodation or meal vouchers because this issue was caused by weather (just for the record, it was caused by the fact that our airplane didn’t have enough fuel to circle for more than a few minutes). We weren’t thrilled about having to spend money on a hotel, but we are fortunate in that we can afford it. For those on a tight budget, this was clearly a challenge.

As the person behind the United desk did what she had to do to get us on the flight she said was our best option the next morning, she made it clear how difficult we were making it. She then said to us: “You need to go to the customer service desk to reroute your bags on your new flights. I am unable to do it.”

We didn’t understand why she couldn’t reroute our bags. The customer service desk and the gate desk access the same computer program and we had our baggage tags, but she made it clear that we had to go to the service desk – so off we went like good little order takers (which I think might be a Canadian thing). At the customer service desk, we stood in line for another hour and a half to get our bags rerouted.

While we were in the line, we heard from others that they had run across the terminal only to arrive to hear that their seats had been given away (even though the flight hadn’t closed its doors yet). Another said that the boarding gate had been changed without it being posted, so while they might have made it, with the gate being changed – they didn’t… and that they were never going to fly United again.

When we got to the front of the line and told the person at the customer service desk that we had been sent there to reroute our bags – she shook her head and said: “Why would they do that?” And I had to wonder if it had been done because I kept questioning what could be done better in finding us a flight. Maybe we were being punished or maybe the woman at the gate had just had enough of me.

Then she said – why aren’t you going to Seattle tonight? We told her that the other United person at the gate said there were no flights available. She shook her head again and said, “It’s boarding now. Let’s get you a little closer to home tonight – and get you on an earlier flight to Vancouver from Seattle tomorrow morning.” I wanted to kiss this person for doing her job. My question is – why didn’t the other person do hers? The woman that we dealt with at the customer service desk was the only person who worked for United that seemed to care.

This angel of mercy sorted us out and got us our boarding passes, explained that our bags would never make that flight – but they would make our morning flight from Seattle to Vancouver – and wished us well. I really wanted to hug her.

We hurried across the terminal and fortunately made it just as the plane was boarding. And then we sat there for an hour because of a mechanical difficulty. This pilot at least turned on the Pay TV for the entire time that we were delayed and then for the flight to Seattle.

The next morning, we went to the Seattle Airport and as we were checking in (we were now on a United partner – Air Canada), I realized that I had a bottle of salsa from the airport in Puerto Rico in my carry-on. This would never get through security. So I asked the person checking us in if I could check my carry-on bag at no cost – since the reason I had this salsa in my carry-on was because: a) United made us miss our flight and b) they didn’t get our checked bags to us for this flight. She said that she could check my carry-on but that there would be a $25 charge. I explained the reason why I had to check my bag again… and she said there was nothing she could do. Because I had bought this salsa specifically for Paul because he loved it, I ponied up and paid the $25. So the salsa’s cost had now gone up to $40. Ridiculous.

The highlight of this entire journey from San Juan to Vancouver was the quick, efficient and professional approach of the TSA agents in Seattle. They were exceptional in doing their job, not making us feel like cattle, and getting us through security in a timely manner.

The flight from Seattle to Vancouver is pretty quick. When we hit Vancouver, we went to the Air Canada desk to ask about our bags that weren’t on the carousel. The fellow at that desk was incredibly helpful and said to us: “You were right to come to this desk to get some answers as he glanced over at the person at the United desk leaning on his elbows, staring off into space. It took our bags 48 hours to finally be returned to us after we landed in Vancouver.

Between the flight crew not seeming to care that people were worried and upset, the gate staff person who clearly didn’t do her job and who was rude to me, the flight crew laughing about our inconvenience, the $40 salsa, the cost of a hotel and food, our bags being lost for two days (they went to Chicago), and the fact that almost all United Flights are overbooked – which means if you hit a problem with your flight, it’s extremely difficult to find another flight that you can get on – I am done with United.

In my opinion – #UnitedSUCKS.

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#UnitedSUCKSIn my last post, we were just about to board our flight from San Juan to Houston to connect to Vancouver. In writing this installment, I realized it was going to take three blog posts to cover it all. This story of poor service has too many elements and I don’t want to jam them all in and overwhelm you.

As we waited to board the plane, the United representative at the gate announced that the flight was overbooked and they were offering $300 per person for someone to take a later flight. I thought that was interesting because the United flights we took to get to San Juan had been oversold too and they were trying to get people to take an offer and switch to a later flight.

We were happy to get on the plane and be heading home. The disorganized, ineffective manner in which United handled passengers at the San Juan airport had sucked the energy out of most of us. No one was happy and people were frustrated, hungry and they just wanted to get to their seats.

The flight was reasonably uneventful. I worked, read a bit, and kept checking the map on the screen to see how close we were… Then the pilot announced that the Houston Airport had quite a bit of air traffic due to rain and we would be in a holding pattern for 12 minutes. No problem, I thought – we have an hour and a half and our next flight was at a gate that was close to our landing gate.

Then, 15 minutes into our holding pattern, he announced that we needed to continue holding for a few more minutes…

Then, 10 minutes later, the pilot said that we were diverting to a nearby military base. Hmmm. Now I am sure he must have said to refuel, however – almost no one heard that part – everyone in the seats around me started asking questions and worrying – Why was this happening? Is there some kind of security risk? What is going on? Why are we landing there – will they bus us to Houston? Will I miss my connecting flight? It was all quite concerning. Yet no one addressed the clearly worried and upset passengers or clarified anything.

Upon landing, the pilot announced that we would simply refuel as quickly as possible and fly back to Houston. Why did we run out of fuel in a holding pattern for 25 minutes?

The time started to creep closer and closer to our connection flight’s boarding time and we began to worry. I asked a flight attendant, who was passing by my seat, about this and she said: “I don’t know – you will need to speak to someone when we land.” Really? On West Jet and Air Canada flights, when it seems passengers might miss their flights – the flight attendants are on it and even if they don’t have the answer, they communicate on a regular basis so people know they are doing their best. We received no information from the crew – and many of the passengers on this flight were worried about missing their connections, as Houston is a hub for United.

While we were refueling, the pilot announced that he had turned the Pay TV on for the passengers – as a gift from him for all of the delays. And I thought – that is a nice gesture. For the 45 minutes while we were on the ground, we had access to movies and TV shows at no charge. As soon as the plane hit the runway and went back into the sky, the free TV was cut off. Really? We spent another 30 minutes in the air – getting back to Houston International and circling the airport again. I think they could have left the TV on until we landed in Houston. Don’t you?

When we landed, trying to get off the plane was chaos. Unfortunately, some of the passengers either forgot or had no manners and were trying to push their way off the plane so they didn’t miss their flights.

Once off, we stood in a line at the desk at the gate – about an hour – to have the person there tell us she could get one of us out of Houston the next morning at 6 a.m. and one of us could go to San Francisco that evening and go to Vancouver from there late the next day. As United was claiming that we missed our connection due to “weather” and not due to “refueling” and that they were not going to pay for a hotel, we didn’t see the point in getting one room in Houston and one in San Francisco.

I could clearly tell that we were frustrating the woman behind the counter by asking her about better options. She sighed quite a bit and she rolled her eyes twice at my questions. Her voice held no helpful tone – it was sharp with the sound of frustration – directed at us because we had the gall to miss our flight. Let me explain here – we are polite and courteous… even for Canadians. We say please and thank you a lot. We say – would you mind checking to see if this is possible… we keep our voices calm and respectful. We knew she was having a tough day too and did our best to be sympathetic to her situation. However, that didn’t go both ways. There was absolutely no need for us to be treated like were a pain in her butt.

Finally, she said she could get us on a flight that night to Chicago and another flight the next day to Vancouver that would get us in later in the evening. That wasn’t great either. I asked her if there were any flights to Seattle (you know – that major U.S. city just south of Vancouver) and she looked at me like I had three heads… I admit I am making an assumption here, but I don’t think she actually knew where Vancouver was … She looked up Seattle and said she could get us on a flight there the next morning at 10 a.m. and then from Seattle to Vancouver later that afternoon. We would arrive in Vancouver at 5 p.m. We’d miss a day’s work, have to pay our dog sitter for another day, have to get a hotel room, and pay for all the meals. Thinking that this was our only option, we said yes.

In our next installment, I will tell you about the United pilot who thinks he’s funny, the $40 bottle of salsa and how the TSA provided the best customer service of this whole trip.

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AHA-logoHere at the AHA office, we’re used to working with clients to develop speeches and presentations. Today we’re talking about what Ruth will speak about at TEDx BCIT on January 24, 2015. She received the call yesterday confirming her as a speaker for this engaging, thought-provoking event. We did an AHA Happy Dance in the office after that call.

We’re looking forward to this event and seeing all of the other speakers that day.

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I travel quite a bit for business and pleasure, and I have to say my most recent travel on United Airlines (from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Vancouver) was the worst experience I have ever had on an airline. #UnitedSUCKS (the trending hashtag) should be painted on their airplanes…

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AHA-logoA good relationship between a client and an agency is a two-way street. We have been fortunate at AHA – for the most part, we have had exceptional relationships with our clients. However, that isn’t to say that we haven’t had relationships that just didn’t work – sometimes, it just isn’t a good fit in personality or “chemistry” (that magical ingredient we search for). Other times, the client’s expectations may not have matched with what we knew we could deliver. (I remember one client saying that we needed to get him on the cover of Maclean’s magazine because I had worked there… his story wouldn’t have interested Maclean’s and when I explained this – he just didn’t understand why I couldn’t call up my former colleagues and “get it done.” Needless to say, we had to end our relationship with this client). And, of course, every communications person I know has had a client that is just too “out there” for a productive relationship to exist.

A positive client/agency relationship benefits everyone involved. At AHA, we go the extra mile for our clients, and that’s because of the good relationships we have built together. It’s hard to be motivated to work over a holiday weekend for a client who is unreasonably demanding, has unrealistic expectations, or is just hard to work with; but for the clients you like and respect – you dig in and do what needs to be done.

Below are our five key elements for a positive relationship.

Define goals

When we know what is expected of us, and what our client has committed to deliver, we can focus on strategy, creativity and generating results. We know that every once in a while, a goal post has to move – but that should be the exception, not the rule. Understanding expectations, our roles and our goals makes both the AHA team and our clients happy.

Keep us in the loop and respond to our requests for information

It is crucial that we are kept up-to-date with what’s new and our clients’ marketing initiatives. (That means regular meetings and knowing what is going on at the client office.) When we need information or a response (to a media request for an interview, for example), it is important that we get this as quickly as possible, or at least know the client’s schedule so that we can understand why they aren’t responding.

Communicate regularly

We connect with our clients on a regular basis – a quick coffee, a phone call or an e-mail just to check in – and they do that with us too. At AHA, we send status reports each Monday – so our clients always know what we are working on and where the project budget or monthly retainer stands. If a campaign isn’t going the way we thought it would, we brainstorm internally and reach out to the client to discuss solutions – and they will flag it if they see something that doesn’t look effective as well. If there is an issue, we come together with our clients to discuss it. Regular communication is essential to a good relationship, and it is important that both the agency and client are proactive in this area.

Make us feel like part of the team

Making your agency feel like a seamless part of your team is really important. Department or organizational e-mails, team meetings, including us in company functions… these are all of value. Our clients see AHA as an important part of the team. There is huge benefit to that – we get to know the marketing and communications people (including those managing social media), we understand the internal challenges that you face, and we have an emotional investment in your success. For AHA and our clients, there is no “us” and “them” – it’s all “we” – and our clients will tell you that provides exceptional return-on-investment.

Pay us on time

While this might seem like a no-brainer – not paying your agency on time can create a problem in your relationship. Treat us with respect – and pay us on time. When you don’t pay our invoice on time, trust is lost and that can negatively impact how we work together.

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