Frontier Airlines, Just About as Bad as United Airlines

Normally I wouldn’t bother to blog about airline customer dis-service stories, they are the new normal, but today offered a full day of material.

It started out when I attempted to web-check in for my flight home from Denver and the web site couldn’t find any flights for me. A quick check revealed that my return flight was actually for Friday Dec. 7 instead of today.

I called Frontier Airlines customer service and explained my dilemma, asking the customer service representative what she could do for me. After a lot of clicking around she said that I would have to pay a change fee of $100 and the fare difference of $230. I informed her that while she was doing that I was online and for $302 I could book a new ticket… and for $320 I could book a round trip ticket with the return date out for the week when my mistaken Dec. 7 reservation was. Customer service wanted to charge me $330 to change a ticket that was selling for $302.

Oh yeah, I also found out how I made a mistake in my original reservation. On Frontier’s website when you search for flights there is a calendar icon you use to select the date. For some inexplicable reason when you click on the calendar icon for the return flight date it jumps one month ahead of the month you selected for the departure flight. I thought about this, when doing sequential calendaring operations it’s pretty natural to not look at the number date but the relative position of the day of the week displayed on the calendar.

I asked to speak with a customer service manager. She put me on hold, 14 minutes later the line dropped… but you wouldn’t know it because there phone system has no feedback (music, promotions, call wait time…). Second time in the system I made it 12 minutes (as the call timer on my phone indicated before hanging up).

Seeing as how I was in Denver I did what I usually do when super pissed off about really bad customer service, I called the corporate office to talk to the CEO. What I wanted to tell Frontier CEO Sean Menke was that 1) his website is less than ideal, 2) I didn’t like his bargain basement customer service phone system, and 3) his customer service agents were trying to charge me more to change a ticket than buy a new one. The only problem is that Sean Menke isn’t in the Frontier Airlines dial-by-name voicemail system… I guess Menke really doesn’t want to deal with the prospect of actually talking to a customer.

A quick jump over to United’s web site revealed that for $271.40 I could get a one-way ticket to SFO around the time I needed to leave. Okay, I could live with that, but when I bought the ticket the confirmation showed I was charged $812 instead of $271. On the phone again.

Upon reaching UAL’s customer service desk in India I was promptly refunded the $812 and at the last minute was told by the agent that he could honor the original $271 I was quoted on the website before bait-and-switched to $812. Generous, huh?

21 minutes later that transaction was completed, with the agent coming on at 8 minutes into the call to tell me it would be just a couple of minutes more. At least they have hold music. I was 15 minutes late for my meeting with 8 other people but at least I had a ticket home.

Fast forward through the day and I get to the airport on time, through security, on the people mover, in the terminal, and up to the gate. The gate agent comes on and says that the plane has a generator that isn’t working and a decision will be made at 5:20, our scheduled departure time.

I later talked to the gate agent and asked her what the hell is going on with United’s "sanford and son" fleet of aircraft, as this was the third mechanical failure I have experienced in three flights. She told me that United’s executives won’t even fly on their own airplanes anymore because they have so alienated the rank-and-file employees with their penny-pinching approach to running the airline.

Inconveniences happen, things break, and travel is a hassle, we generally accept that. What is inexcusable about the state of the U.S. commercial aviation industry is that the CEO’s and their pack of direct reports know how bad it is and rather than fix it they just attempt to hide from their customers, are afraid of facing their employees, and don’t use their own product.

This led me to highlight a couple of things I could wish to inflict on United:

1) United CEO Glenn Tilton has to give up his private jet and fly around the country on scheduled flights in the last row of the airplane, next to the lavatory.

2) United’s top 500 executives will get dispersed around the country to different airports for the week between Christmas and New Year’s to work the baggage handler, mechanic, cleaning crew, customer service, gate agent, and flight attendant jobs. Everyone works a new job each day until they rotate through all of them.

3) United’s top 500 executives have to greet passengers in the terminal at O’Hare, Denver, SFO, and Dulles airports one day a week until their customer service ranking moves from last to the top 3.

4) Lastly, and this one is serious, Tilton and the other execs have to personally call 5 customers a day to apologize for their shitty airline.

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Buzzword Open Up

Adobe opened up their Buzzword online document editor to the public and it’s well worth taking the app for a spin. If I were to use just one word to sum up my thoughts it would be “beautiful”. In terms of user presentation, Adobe again breaks away from the pack and delivers something that is really different and pleasing from a user experience perspective.

First a little background, Adobe acquired this product last month when they acquired Virtual Ubiquity, a company building apps using their developer tools. In that light it is probably unfair of me to criticize Adobe for the limited feature set, however I would have expected that Adobe would flesh out the app a little more with their considerable resources before opening up this app to a public preview release.

I am still a dedicated Word user even though Microsoft hasn’t updated that app in ages and it takes forever to load. Despite that I still open it out of habit and am comfortable with the features. Having said that, I occasionally throw open an online editor to take notes or when I explicitly want to share a document with other people.

In the online document editor space ZohoWriter is still the king with the most comprehensive feature set and very reliable day-to-day use, Google Docs can only be described as adequate, and there are a handful of others that quite frankly I have not been motivated to use.

Buzzword is not without limitations and some of them are annoying. If you try loading Buzzword in Safari v3.0.4 you will get an error message indicating that Safari is only supported in v2.0.4 and v3.0.3… c’mon Adobe, that’s rookie stuff. The image features would not work for me and that’s one of the more differentiating features that I was looking to take advantage of.

Document management through the file manager in the service is rudimentary and I could not open documents from my desktop, so in the absence of reliable document import tools I would be reluctant to commit to this service. Also, Adobe could have scored a major coup by supporting docx file types, something that Mac Word users are increasingly bedeviled by when sharing documents with people using the latest version of Office on Windows.

It’s not like docx is a new format anymore and clearly it will become widely used, therefore it’s about time that companies offering these services and applications consider support for docx to be a requirement. Also, where’s “Save As PDF”, I would have never believed that Adobe would not support PDF in their own service!

As much as I wanted to love Buzzword, I can’t. It is a fantastic peek into Abode’s potential in online application services but the feature set is way too limited and the emphasis on design elegance over function wears thin quickly. Lastly, there is a comprehensive help section but absent of a search tool it really isn’t that useful and I found myself going to help a lot, which probably isn’t a good thing.

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