Sunday, September 1, 2013

Why I'll Never Fly airberlin Again: Getting Customer Experience Right and Getting It Oh So Wrong

My husband, son and I recently took a vacation to Berlin and Prague and on the trip my husband and I both had problems with our luggage.  How each respective airline chose to deal with our missing luggage speaks volumes about how an airline can get customer service right and how it can get it very wrong.  We're dealing with 2 airlines here: Delta, a large, seasoned international airline, and airberlin, a relatively new airline trying to expand into the US market.

A little background: I travel a lot compared to most people.  I am on a plane about once a month for business and often traveling great distances.  I also like to travel with my family every year to some place special outside of the US.  So, I would call myself a pretty seasoned traveler.  I have memberships in the two big frequent flyer programs: SkyTeam (via my Delta travel rewards membership) and oneworld (via my American Airlines rewards membership).  When I book flights, I always look for airlines that are members of one of these two alliances.  This was true of our trip to Berlin this summer.  We booked a Delta flight from JKF to Frankfurt (SkyTeam alliance) and then a connecting flight from Frankfurt via airberlin to Berlin (oneworld alliance).

On our trip from New York to Berlin, my bags did not arrive at the Berlin airport.  I first tried to enlist the help of the airberlin staff at their desk in the arrivals area.  I was told they couldn't help me and I had to go wait in line at the Lost Baggage desk.  No attempt was made to even pretend to try to help me. There were 3 airberlin employess a the airberlin desk with no line and seemingly just chatting.   There was 1 employee and a long and slow moving line at the Lost Baggage desk.  Customer experience problem number one.

I waited over a half hour in line, filled out the paper work and tried to not let this spoil our first day of vacation.  I was told that my bag never left JFK, but that Delta was planning to send it on the next series of flights and that someone from the Lost Baggage desk would call me at 11 am to schedule delivery of my bag.   Please note that the Lost Baggage desk is not associated with any airline.  It seems to be the catch all desk for lost luggage from any airline.  I spent that first day in the same clothes I had been wearing for over 24 hours, used my husband's toothbrush, borrowed a t-shirt from him to sleep in and called it a day.

The next morning I waited for the call.  It didn't come. I checked the Fly Delta mobile app I have and could see that my bag had left JFK, had arrived in Amsterdam, and had been place on a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Berlin, but couldn't tell if it had gotten to Berlin yet. I tried calling the contact number the lost luggage desk provided me with and got a voice German.  So, what did I do?  I took to Twitter and found the @DeltaAssist account.  Here's our conversation:

A few things to note: look at the time stamps on the conversation.  Delta got back to me right minutes.  There was no shunting me off to someone else, telling me to call an 800 number, or sending me to their web site.  Courteous replies, apologies, a sense of urgency about something that was troubling a customer.  Customer success moment.  I was really impressed with their speedy response and professionalism.

Switch now to my husband's incident with airberlin.  His bag doesn't make it from Berlin to Frankfurt and this is true of about 20 other passengers on our flight.  We have the same long line, filling out forms, and no one seems to be able to answer any questions about where or when the bags may arrive.  We have a 5 hour layover until our flight to from Fraport to JFK and try to get some answers about his bag while we wait. The Delta agents try checking for us even though the bag was lost on another airline.  They try calling airberlin and cannot get anyone to give them any information.  We give up, get on the plane, and ever hopeful, we wait again for his bag at JFK and, as expected, it doesn't arrive.

We get home, tired, and kind of bummed 'cause Jim had bought some nice things in Berlin, go to sleep and try again the next morning.  No word from the lost baggage folks, so we try calling the number provided.  We get a recording telling us to check with the airline.  So, again, I take to Twitter.  Here is our conversation:

You can see how I a person could get really frustrated here.  airberlin keeps shunting us off to the Fraport lost and found with no offer of help. And check out the time stamps on the replies from airberlin versus what I got from Delta. I get it that airberlin outsources baggage handling to a 3rd party service provider and many airlines do so.  But, from a customer perspective, I paid airberlin for my ticket.  I checked my bags at an airberlin check in desk.  I tried to get help from a Twitter id owned by airberlin.  In short, there is no way any successful airline can say "Hey, not my problem" when it comes to lost baggage, delays, or cancelled flights.  Any airline, like airberlin, can expect not to succeed with this kind of attitude.  They've got links to all their social media accounts from their website, but use social media more for a cool affect than for actually serving their customers.

In frustration, I searched Google only to find a large variety of blogs, Facebook pages, Facebook posts, and tweets complaining about airberlin, their customer service, and what seems to me like a lot of complaints about lost bags.  

I tried sending an message to the oneworld alliance via Twitter.  I'll let you know if I hear anything.

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