Alaska Airlines Fails to Live
Up To New Moto, "North of Expected"
By Russell Thomas
September 21, 2009
Before Alaska Airlines rolls out another catchy slogan to adorn
its uniforms and promotional material, they ought to spend some
time talking with their team about how it might actually be implemented.
Yesterday I watched as nearly twenty of their customers were
left in the Ketchikan lobby because, although they had been in
line for more than hour, they checked in too late for the flight.
Although most of my 45 clients and their bags made the 6:15
a.m. ferry, the ferry was too full to allow our last van (carrying
some of the luggage) to board the ferry. When the last van did
arrive the lobby was stilled packed with people and fish that
had arrived on the 6:15 a.m. ferry. The people whose luggage
arrived on the 6:45 a.m. ferry lined up behind the others who
were already patiently waiting in line.
In fairness to Alaska Airlines, TSA's screening process was worse
(and slower) than Alaska Airlines' check-in. Although Alaska
Airlines caused much of the check-in delay itself as each passenger
was charged baggage fees and had to wait while their credit card
was processed, a receipt was printed, and the credit card slip
signed, TSA was painstakingly slow in their processing of the
baggage. This caused a backlog of baggage behind the check-in
counter that made a very slow check-in process even slower.
About twenty minutes before scheduled departure the shift lead
realized they were not going to be able to process all of the
people and baggage in time for an on-time departure. She instructed
the rest of the agents to mark all remaining passengers' bags
as "late check-ins" and to inform them that should
their bags not make the flight, they would be required to clear
back through security, reclaim their luggage, and rebook their
In the meantime I spoke with the lead, insisting the customers
had waited in line for over an hour and Alaska Airlines should
not make them responsible for the delay in checking in passengers
and screening. I was finally put in touch with Ketchikan Station
Manager Rich Gray, who stated emphatically that the airplane
would not wait for passengers or their bags as they had not arrived
at the airport in enough time to check in. When I pressed him
on allowing the passengers to fly without their bags, knowing
that most of them would rather be home and have to go back to
the airport for their bags then spend a day or two waiting for
alternate flights, he refused. His reasons included Alaska Airlines
not wanting to be accept responsibility for bags that didn't
travel with their owners, his feeling that a delay in Ketchikan
would cause other problems and delays in Alaska's system, and
the fact that my clients' bags arrived too late to the airport.
He did not address the fact that he failed to adequately staff
the counter for such a large check-in, that Alaska Airlines'
new policy of charging for baggage requires an extra credit card
or cash transaction for each check-in, or TSA's inability to
screen baggage at the same rate of counter check-ins. Apparently
Alaska Airlines' clients not only get high ticket prices and
fees but also all of the responsibility, even for things that
are completely out of their control.
Eight of my clients (I think about twenty people total) were
denied boarding and forced to reschedule their flights. Most
had to wait another day before being able to find flights that
could accommodate them. The final straw came when one of my
clients was denied boarding because he "couldn't fly without
his luggage". It was after he made his way down to the
counter, rebooked his flight, and went to reclaim his bag that
Alaska Airlines agents realized his bag had been sent on the
flight after all!
I understand that circumstances would often require the plane
to leave on time. The repercussions to other flights and passengers
could be substantially more costly and frustrating than dealing
with 20 angry customers in Ketchikan. It was Alaska Airlines'
refusal to make any accommodation, including allowing the passengers
to travel without their luggage, that disappointed and frustrated
me more than anything. I sent their corporate office a letter.
Half of me expects a courteous response from a company official,
full of references to company policy, government regulation,
and airline industry protocol. The other half of me hopes (naively,
perhaps) that the response will be a genuine one, void of policy
manual verbiage and full of realistic approaches to legitimate
problems -- the kinds of approaches that keep customers happy
and loyal, not only to Alaska Airlines, but to the lodges and
resorts that bring so many people to Ketchikan every summer.
Alaska Airlines built a strong, competitive airline with service
and accommodation that was truly "North of Expected"
long before it was ever their slogan. Hopefully Alaska Airlines'
reflection on the way they treated customers in the past can
mean a bright and prosperous future for their customers for many
years to come.
About: "Life-long Ketchikan
Received September 20, 2009
- Published September 21, 2009
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