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All to legacy airlines in the US and everywhere else (JAL, European national carriers, etc) have been through bankruptcy. This is an incredibly difficult business where it's possible to lose 10's of millions of dollars a day if you are big like UA. Wages have been gutted and all the human resource has been cut to the bone. I don't fly often any more, but I now see single gate agents where there used to be 2. Not to excuse the general customer service failure, but the fact is that the gate agents now are probably getting close to minimum wage and their tasks have probably been cut to measure - the company knows exactly how many people it needs as absolute minimum at the airport to get the tickets sold and get the planes loaded. As a result, the gate agents do not have time (nor probably motivation, but these are separate tho related issues) to straighten out failure of other parts of the service system, like failure of a kiddy service vendor to show up. There is obviously nobody available at the supervisor level to help these people, nobody they can call and hand this problem off to. The work environment does not give people ANY spare time to do anything but their assigned task. Hence in the breach, only some kind employee who will take his/her own time to actually walk across the airport can fill in the void where there is absolutely no slack in bare bones work coverage. People get up in arms about this 'I will never fly united again', 'they will eventually go out of business with this kind of service'. I would point out that they did go out of business already and they are struggling just to survive and not lose money every day so worrying about gradual loss of customer loyalty is the least of their problems. This is not good, but I think this kind of distopian world is where we are headed. With so many out of work labor is getting cheaper. Any public labor force with union protection, with actually livable pension benefits, is being systematically bashed and torn down. Organizational cultures like United have been destroyed as all the workers are now pushed to the limit and had their wages crushed. Seriously, how can expect customer service cultures to survive 'cutting costs down to the bone'? This seems to be a fundamental business and economic problem which can only get worse, especially as labor is so weak and getting weaker. Any employees who ever had 'the right' customer service ethic cost too much and got forced out and replaced by the current lot of harried and harassed (by management) low wage lot who are not paid enough nor trained to put customer care at high priority - it's not in their performance plan and they do not have even a tiny bit of extra time to spare as far as I can tell. I would love to hear this a gate agents take on this story! From the PR response from UA on facebook, it's clear they cannot even afford professional PR folks. It seems obvious that good customer service is an inevitable casualty of 'race to the bottom' corporate competition based on cost cutting.
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Aug 19, 2012