Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Somehow, one can imagine how this situation escalated.
A passenger wafted up to the American Airlines Priority counter at Philadelphia airport.
His tickets were booked by a travel agent. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, his travel companion’s name was entirely incorrect on the ticket.
He hadn’t checked?
As JT Genter at the Points Guy reports, the gate agent explained that there would be, but of course, a fee to change the name.
Because, of course, spelling — or, perhaps, copy/paste — takes time. Very precious time.
What does one do when such a fee is levied? Well, in times where human-to-human interaction was valued, you tried to negotiate.
You tried to appeal to the personhood in the customer service agent.
Such times have changed. Here, the passenger claims that the gate agent’s level of understanding didn’t quite leave the level of the cargo hold floor.
Enter a manager, who also insisted a fee would have to be charged.
Then, says the passenger, the original agent wouldn’t help process the fee. So a second agent charged it and checked the passengers’ bags.
Some might be astonished that the second agent didn’t charge an additional $ 200 Second Agent Fee.
The passenger says he remonstrated a touch more about the first agent’s attitude and thought he might snap a memento of that agent’s name tag. The passenger told the Points Guy:
The agent gets irate, lunges across the counter, punches my hand, snatches my phone and throws it into the floor.
And then charges an Invasive Phone Fee, perhaps? Or an Unwanted Selfie Fee?
This sounded like it was lurching from bad to poetic worse.
Genter says he’s seen some video of the incident and his description doesn’t suggest the gate agent should be garlanded with additional paid vacation.
Now for the twist.
The passengers say they got to the gate, only to be told their tickets had been canceled. Apparently by, oh, the original gate agent.
Would there be an Annoying The Original Gate Agent Fee?
They say they were rebooked on a later flight and then say they were asked to sign a piece of paper that was a “waiver/release for the incident in return for a $ 100 airline credit.”
Hmm, so at least the Name Change Fee would have gone down to $ 100, right?
The passengers say they refused. Wisely, it seems.
Lordy, American Airlines doesn’t look entirely blessed here. So I asked the airline for its view. An airline spokesman told me:
We were concerned to hear this report and our Customer Relations team has reached out to the customer for additional details. This customer’s experience on Friday was not up to our standards and we apologize.
Many will be heartened that a gate agent throwing a customer’s phone on the floor is not up to American Airlines’ standards.
But there’s more at the core here, isn’t there?
Some fees are especially maddening, because they seem particularly large for the work involved.
How much effort does it really take to change a name on a ticket? And, while we’re here, how much effort does it take for an airline to change your flight? A few clicks and it’s done.
That’ll be $ 200, please.
Are Name Change Fees a vast profit center?
Sadly, American Airlines rather delights in some of these particularly irritating fees.
A few months ago, the airline’s CEO Doug Parker explained how he thinks change fees are actually a marvelous benefit for customers:
We say ‘ok you don’t want to do what you said you were going to do? Instead we’ll sell you another cheap ticket on Sunday but you’ve got to pay this change fee.’ So that sounds really like that’s a change fee but what really happened is we gave you something better than telling you ‘forget it you bought a non-refundable ticket’.
How thoroughly reasonable. Imaginative, too.
I imagine that, by this same logic, the Philadelphia passenger should have expressed gratitude that he was being charged a mere $ 200 because he had the wrong name on his friend’s ticket.
Some might pause, though, to consider that having the wrong name on this passenger’s ticket wasn’t the airline’s fault. Could he have paid the fee and asked his travel agent to reimburse him?
Then again, so much of customer service — if that concept can still be applied when it comes to airlines — stems from the airline employee’s attitude.
Empathy isn’t always the first instinct these days.
This was highlighted last week in a video showing a white Flight Attendant on a Delta flight showing considerable condescension to a black passenger.
Sometimes, passengers do behave badly. But part of customer service involves knowing how to deal with that. Getting angry rarely helps.
I asked American whether its gate agent would be disciplined in any way. The airline didn’t comment.