Air Berlin is one of my favourite airlines. But this time they screwed it up, really.
I was travelling with my baby girl from Hamburg to Malaga. My 84 years old father had dropped us off at the terminal and returned home. Unfortunately I forgot one bag in the car: the one which contained my passport, the boarding passes, vital prescription antibiotics and, oh my God!, worst of all, my beloved iPad! (Don’t tell anybody that I was more concerned about the gadget than about my health).
I called his mobile phone, as expected without success. Fortunately, thanks to my dad’s different perception of the time needed at the airport, we had arrived an hour earlier than my standard 30-minutes presentation time. Time enough to get a temporary passport at the airport police station and to check-in at a counter. I told the supervisor about my trouble and she promised to inform me should my father appear with the bag.
Finally we rushed to the boarding gate where we arrived 20 minutes before departure. Passengers with little children could board first and just when moving into the jetway, the gate agent called me back, saying that she had my father on her internal phone.
Wow! I wanted to hug her, but she was occupied assisting other customers. I thought: Yes!, this is the Air Berlin I love.
Big error. When I picked up the phone, I was greeted by a lady at the check-in counter, saying that she had my bag and my dad.
First question: can you send someone through security control with my oh so important bag? Answer: no way (despite being a low-traffic day).
Second attempt: the bag contains vital antibiotics (I did not mention the iPad for tactical reasons) and I am travelling with a toddler, so I can’t move from here. Can you give my low-security risk dad a boarding pass to nowhere to get him behind security control?
Answer: of cause not! How can you…?
Third attempt: Please put me through to my dad. (That request was generously approved). I asked him to go to the security check and I would convince the guys there to put it on the belt.
At this point, the nice lady at the gate who had escaped my hugs only narrowly, stopped attending the remaining 157 passengers in the queue, turned to me with a threatening gesture and imposed Prussian rule and order: “If you leave the gate, I will give your seat to somebody else,” she said, loud and clear.
Wow! A direct threat!
I tried to argue: proximity of the security check, many people still in line waiting to get stuffed into the airplane, etc.
But she put here foot behind me. If I stepped back beyond that line, I would lose my seat! Here territory was clearly marked.
I always hated over-reacting passengers, so I gave up.
“Dad, use DHL”, were my last words before I obediently turned to the queue which had formed in the airbridge.
- Be empathic with your customers’ REAL problems, in this case, the antibiotics. Certain situations deserve personal attention and problem-solving attitudes.
- Make sure that your employees do not overreact to your own motivational metrics, such as attributing delays to the gate agent.
- Get local service leadership in place – otherwise everybody will “work by rule” and let passengers down.