Frequent Penalty Program

AirlinerIt seems as though I am having difficulty with every airline website. They have such a complicated business and are under such enormous financial pressures that it is hard to be too critical. They
are actually making great progress — albeit a long way to go to become on demand e-businesses. What is an on-demand e-business? Very simple. A business that allows you to engage with them whenever you want from wherever you are with whatever kind of communications link you have and to do what you need to do with simplicity and productivity. Another way to say it is that an on demand e-business simplifies your life and saves you time. Easy to say. Hard to do. I continue to say that we are just five percent of the way there. After my latest experience with United Airlines, I wonder if that is an overstatement.

The united.com website says, “Save time and avoid check-in lines with EasyCheck-in Online. Check in and print your boarding pass from home or the office, then proceed directly to security at the airport.” Ha. The site was difficult to use, better than average, but not great. When I pulled up my itinerary, my flight was there but my wife’s was not. I called the 800# on the site and got the Mileage Plus department. The person there said that it wasn’t his area and that I would have to call United Airlines. I asked if he was a United employee and he got very rude and said Mileage Plus was a subsidiary of United and made it clear that my problem was not his problem. I called the 800# he gave me and that person said they didn’t really know how I could check my wife in. The person said, “I don’t have access to that system. I do have printouts of the web page but if I want to try it I can only do that from home. We don’t have Internet access”. The person then suggested that I just enter my wife’s name on the web page. I knew that wouldn’t work. I was then told to call the website technical support. The person at this third 800# was quick to tell me that you can’t check in a “third party”. (I don’t think my wife of 36 years would consider herself a “third party”.)

I asked the person if what I was trying to do was unusual — don’t a lot of frequent fliers get a ticket for a traveling companion? Yes, he said, “but you can’t check them in on the website”. I asked him if that seemed like a shortcoming and he said that he “could not agree or disagree” with that. He was obviously trained to never agree with a customer that there were any shortcomings on their website. Frequent flier programs used to be described as “loyalty programs”. I continue to be convinced that they are more like “frequent penalty” programs. How many times have you called to make a frequent flier reservation and told “we have seats available, but not for frequent fliers”. It is such an insult. They have seats available but not for their best customers. Sometimes they refer to frequent flier tickets as “non-revenue” tickets — completely discounting the large amounts of money that you or your company have spent with them in the past. This is why I call their programs “frequent penalty” programs. In a way it is like the grocery store. The best customers — those who are buying to carts full of products — have to get in the long line. The occasional or even random visitor — who buys only a couple of items — can get in the fast lane.