Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jetstar, you should be ashamed of yourself.

It had been a great day Friday. I had spoken at the closing session of the E-Tourism Conference in Wellington; the theme of my presentation was on the importance of communicating to your customer. My experience that evening when attempting to get home via budget airline carrier Jetstar not only defied customer service logic it seemed to challenge the basic fundamentals of human rights.

Disruption of travel is inevitable, aircraft are complicated mechanical things with safety having to take priority, and I get that. As the plane reversed out of the gate, we were confronted with an announcement that there had been a “computer malfunction” that required us to return to the gate.

This was approximately 7:15 in the evening, and to cut a long story short we ended up still standing in the airport at close to midnight attempting to find a solution to accommodation and alternative travel due to our flight being cancelled. The first indication of this cancellation was the sight of our flight crew heading en masse to the exit while we were left standing around in a now empty and closed Wellington terminal. When I asked where they were going one replied “listen for the announcement" without breaking his stride or looking back.

To give Jetstar their due we did eventually get a hotel and a flight out the next evening. What was hard to accept was how this was handled. After standing around for three hours in the hope they could repair the plane we were told that the flight was cancelled. At no point did anyone from Jetstar come and personally address the passengers - all we got was an occasional intercom announcement. We, as passengers, were left to console a girl sobbing her heart out that she was going to miss her connecting flight to Samoa. We foolishly promised her that Jetsar would be sure she was taken care of.

It was about 11pm, while still standing in what seemed to be an endless line of frustrated and tired people, that we saw a real person come along to address us for the first time. He was a representative of the airport apologising for our situation and ensuring we were aware it was Jetstar’s responsibility, not theirs. After numerous complaints about our basic needs he went away and returned with bottled water (at their expense, not Jetstar's as he was quick to point out).

What I can’t understand is why there were not more people to help out. This, so I have since been informed, is a common occurrence with Jetstar. Surely they should have a workable system in place by now? Is being a budget airline also justification for budget resourcing and service?

Why did we have to stand in a line for two hours to get an accommodation chit when someone could have walked the line and done the same thing in 30 minutes? At least visually it would have appeared that they were making an effort? Why did no-one come along and give us reassurance that things would be taken care of? How can any company that deals with people on a daily basis be so blatantly neglectful to the basic needs and comfort of their paying customer?

They left us wondering what was going on while the same crew who had announced on-board at 7pm that they were there to "help" had left to their meals and beds hours earlier.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain, I was informed that people who were booked on the Auckland flight back were simply told the flight was cancelled and to go away with a refund promised.

Now I’ve unloaded can I offer some solutions. Air NZ, so I’m told, on cancellation of a flight will immediately distribute taxi, meal and hotel vouchers before you even get off the plane. This says to the customer “We are looking after you and despite the inconvenience you have options”. If making your valued customers line up for hours and wait to be served by the only two check-in staff available is your thing then communicating to them costs nothing. You could have a team of on-call grumpy old tea ladies that could move up and down the line handing out stale biscuits and cold tea. At the very least customers would have someone to talk to and someone that could tell them that eventually everything will be OK.

It was OK in the end Jetstar, the shuttle driver was very helpful, the hotel staff very understanding – they even held the restaurant open till after midnight so we could eat… but your service sucked! It is embarrassing to think you are allowed to treat humans that way and still call yourself a service provider.

P.S. Jetsar, I did call your helpline to discuss my predicament. I was prompted that you had an unusually large call load and that I could leave my number and my place in the queue would not be lost, you would call me back. I’m still waiting for your call… that was four days ago.