There are a lot of unhappy people this week. Many who dreamed of and planned for vacations in Florida and Hawaii found themselves paying for the privilege of sitting in cold and wet climates. Others, thanks to record snowfalls on the east coast, faced cancelled trips and hours in airports or were unable to return home after the holiday weekend.
Our youngest daughter fits the above description. A number of months ago she volunteered to be an advisor for a Jewish youth group in Los Angeles over the last weekend in December. Since she attends a Jewish college in New York, she wasn’t on a school break, but by missing only one class she thought that she could fly to L.A., contribute her time and energy and get back in time for finals. While she is a generous soul, the lure of a weekend of California sunshine in the middle of winter was certainly an added incentive for this project.
Reading about southern California downpours and flooding last week somewhat dampened her excitement at the trip. But the weekend itself, where she shared her enthusiasm about Judaism with a group of teens, made up for the lack of sun. Amidst a flurry of activity she stayed unaware that the east coast was bracing itself for heavy snowfall. Then she received notification that her flight was cancelled. All New York airports were closed and she was one of thousands whose flights needed to be rescheduled.
Now, this type of flight snafu is more of an annually expected event than a shocking occurrence. Since Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Presidents Day weekend all come close to or in the winter months, one would think that there would be a standard operating procedure for when bad weather plus heavy travel coincide. So while she expected a delay and inconvenience, she was not prepared for being ignored and treated as if she had done something wrong.
Finding out that the airline wasn’t answering its phones on Sunday and that the recorded message had a ‘tough luck’ quality to it, did not engender warm, fuzzy feelings in my daughter. When she finally did get through on Monday, she was further dismayed at being told that the soonest the airline could fly her out was Friday. Since that flight would not get her in to NY in time for the Sabbath, she would have to settle for a Saturday night flight. As a final insulting touch she was told that the flight would cost her an additional $100.
After a number of frantic phone calls from our daughter, my husband and I decided to bring her home to Seattle. If she needed to be on the west coast for a week, she could at least be home. Once she got to the airport for that flight, things improved. When she explained her plight, an airline employee found a seat for her, at no extra charge, on a Wednesday Seattle-NY flight, a far more reasonable solution than the original plan. Most importantly, the woman at the desk was empathetic. When she waived the luggage fee she sent a message that the airline saw my daughter as more than a dollar bill equation.
That really was the most important factor. The airline certainly didn’t cause the bad weather and I’m sure that many airline employees had their own holidays disrupted. The bottom line is that whatever the technical difficulties, most people will understand and behave reasonably as long as the airline relates to them as individuals. I usually shudder when the government steps in to ‘protect the consumer.’ That often means higher prices for diminished service. But the flip side of that is that the onus is on businesses to remember that the customer may not always be right or rational, but he or she is always human.
As for my husband and me, we got the blizzard bonus. An unexpected day with our daughter under our roof is always a gift.