SLA 2009 was engaging and full of educational and networking opportunities.  I was scheduled to return home on Friday, unfortunately that did not happen.

I did receive the unexpected opportunity for education and networking while standing in various lines for 3 plus hours on Saturday.  My original plans called for a flight home on Friday afternoon.  And the delay of the 1st flight and the cancellation of the Chicago to Louisville connection began my long journey home.

I took that first day’s delay in stride and made the best of my layover in Crystal City.  What did not work for me was the 2nd day.  I did my duty as a traveler and arrived in plenty of time for the security screening and other formalities.  Our flight boarded and all looked well until the mechanical problems were announced.  An hour of sitting on the plane finally ended with a de-boarding  and a need to stand in the first line and the re-ticketing process began.

We were handed a sheet of paper with an 800 number to call to get new reservations.  With 100 plus people standing in line calling the same number the odds of a quickly answered call seemed slim.  Fortunately the call went through and the reservations for another flight were made.  Pretty good…twenty minutes in line.

Then off to the other carrier, to print boarding passes and get gate information.  Quickly navigate through the line to self-check-in kiosk and bam!  The first brick wall…Your record can not be located.

Three hours later I’ve learned that competing airlines can’t talk to one another and if you’ve had trouble in the first self-help line with the same information, stay in the line to talk to the humans.

Problems encountered:

  1. American Airlines can’t talk to others and send a simple E-Ticket to the airline they with which they have made reservations.
  2. Delta Airlines can archive traveler records within hours of creation.
  3. Self-help isn’t the best option when travel arrangements are complex.

Conclusions & Observations:

  1. Airlines should be pro-active, when travelers are delayed serve water or coffee on the plane and in long-lines. (This type of courtesy will keep the frustrations at bay)
  2. The baggage process at Reagan National is bizarre:  one line to get tags and weight, another to drop off – use the curb-side check-in (Thank you Casey for the tip!)
  3. Airlines are not making a profit because they have refused to invest in technology regularly to maximize communications internally and with other airlines when necessary.
  4. Line policing is important to avoid possible crowd eruptions.  Delta did this well, American did not.

The final conclusion is that information flow is critical to satisfied customers.  If the reservation made on the phone twenty minutes into the first line had been accessible via the self-service kiosk at the carrier I would not have been at my wit’s end at the end of the next three hours.

I  hope my fellow-line compatriots are home, at Fort Benning in time to report to duty, and enjoying their Hawaii vacation respectively.

Constance Ard June 24, 2009