Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Last night I had to fly from Washington Dulles to Ottawa.  I had booked on a late flight (9:20pm) but got to the airport early enough to try standby on a 4:50pm flight.

Which was canceled.  Air Canada had some computer issues that kept all of their planes on the ground - for hours.  I called United (my ticket of origin) and they said "your flights on are time".  I said what time was it supposed to take off?  They replied - 4:50pm, showing on time.  I asked - what time is it now?  5:53pm, and your flight is showing on time.... Oh - I see your concern now.

Apparently - the computer glitch affected not only the ability to fly but also the ability to provide any sort of information.  The people behind the counter - no idea what was going on (not their fault, just a fact).  The people running the reservation systems - no ideas.  And there were no other flights possible.

And then - it "fixed itself" at 6pm.  We were able to fly - but...

There were two people working the gate and the decision had been made by Air Canada to cancel the 4:50pm, but to fly the 12:05pm flight (there were people there waiting for almost 8 hours by now).  Anyone with a ticket for the 12:05pm flight could board and go - everyone else was supposed to go to the check in counter (on the other side of security) for assistance.  The 9:20 flight - it was in limbo, no information.  One of the people operating the counter was adamant that no one could get on this flight, they had to leave now.

That was what the louder of the two people said - the other person said "pssst - hang back, I'm going to fill this plane, no way it is leaving half empty".  And he started to work.  The plane sat 52 people and had 24 empty seats and there was 22 of us gathered around.  The other person working the gate was really annoyed at this (vocally) but gave up trying to get him to stop after a while.  Every "you cannot do this because..." reason she brought up he countered with "we will solve that by doing this...".  It was great to watch, like a tennis match (and you knew whose side we were all on). 

After collecting the boarding passes - he booked us all on at record speed, got everyone's luggage transferred over (and the luggage actually made it) and filled the plane.

He didn't have to. He just did it.  He did it without complaining, he did it without attitude, he did it to get us on our way as quickly as possible.  I really appreciated that - especially since my original flight did not take off until 10:45pm and didn't arrive until after midnight.

United sends me drink coupons, free red carpet club invites, upgrade certificates and such at the beginning of the year.  Included in that packet is a bunch of "tell us about something" forms where you are supposed to write up the good deed of someone that works for United.  I wondered in the past if I would actually use one. 

I will be using one this weekend, for a gate agent at Washington Dulles.



Blogger Rachel said....

I've met a few people like that gate attendant (the nice one that is). Those are the people who you remember for YEARS, who you tell and re-tell the story about, who you write to management about.

And I do wish that more people wrote about the good stuff that happens, rather than just the bad. I've tried over the years to make it a habit to write a note to management about anyone who's gone above and beyond the call of duty. Doesn't hurt, hopefully goes into that person's permanent record and gets them the bonus or the raise.

And those are the people who ensure I go back to that company over and over again

Wed Sep 06, 07:21:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Francois said....

Hello Tom,

Have you ever calculated what percentage of the week you are not at home ?

Wed Sep 06, 08:13:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Have you ever calculated

No.. It is very variable ;) was only gone 4 days in August...

Wed Sep 06, 08:18:00 AM EDT  

Blogger David Aldridge said....

>> And then - it "fixed itself" at 6pm.

Rebooted the windows server I expect.

Of the two gate agents, the problem solver and the obstructor, you can easily tell who had the more satisfying work day as well.

Wed Sep 06, 08:25:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

United used to have these little "coupons" that you would get and you could actually give them to employees. No need to "remember" their name or go back and write something up -- just "reward" them in place. I liked that idea...

Wed Sep 06, 10:36:00 AM EDT  

Blogger David Aldridge said....

ref. "coupons". The advent of the colour photocopier probably killed that idea off.

Wed Sep 06, 11:31:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Meanwhile, on the other side of the network:

"Media corruption? I'll just copy all these files over and recover"

"But you can't do that, the procedures say not to do anything until the DBA gets here. I don't think you should copy those controlfiles and redo logs..."

"Don't worry, Oracle can automatically recover from anything. Hmmm, why can't I get it to apply logs past the backup time?"

Wed Sep 06, 01:51:00 PM EDT  

Blogger jimk said....

Yes, people do remember the good stories. I think it is highly worthwhile to tell the good stories. I have two that I remember.

It was our 25th wedding anniversery and I surprised my wife by inviting friends to a wine tour in limos. The first winery saw how many people were coming and they were already fairly busy so a quick thinking women made a place outside on their deck. She got a server and glasses and gave us our own special area. (It was a nice day out. Feb in Oregon) We had a nice time, they sold some wine and we felt special.

Later that day a winery turned us away (16 people in our party) even though only a few customers were there. We didn't even have a chance to get out of the vehicals. I wrote a complimentry note to the first winery, that women deserved it. I wrote a less complimentry note to the 2nd winery.(haven't been back to the 2nd one since)

A friend of mine entered a jewelry compitition years ago. SHe spent 9 months making this piece for the competition. (in Japan) She used Fedex to ship. She recieved a call from the Competition that the box was empty. She called Fedex. They said they would look into it.

A few hours later she recieved a call from the Fedex representative. The representative was very apologetic and said that they had identified where in the shipment the theft probably occured. She would recieve a check from Fedex early tomorrow for the value of the piece and the next shipment was on Fedex. Also the Fedex representative had called the sponsers of the jewelry competition and they agreed to give her a 30 day extension to make a new piece. That is customer service, and listening to your customer. These type of people should be praised.

Wed Sep 06, 01:56:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Alberto Dell'Era said....

Positive feedback - so much, much more effective than negative one.

I hope that the good clerk will be able to read your note; that will make him happier than any bonus, I'm sure.

Wed Sep 06, 02:30:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Glenm said....

The good attendant will probably be rewarded by being promoted out of customer service. The bad attendant will never get promoted and we wonder why service is not as good as in the past.

Wed Sep 06, 06:50:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Patrick said....

"The good attendant will probably be rewarded by being promoted out of customer service. The bad attendant will never get promoted and we wonder why service is not as good as in the past."

Ouch, I never thought if it that way. But I guess that is the way it goes...

Thu Sep 07, 06:09:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Stephen Booth said....

With any luck the good attendant's promotion will be to the job of writing the training manuals for the other attendants. Although, a pay hike and a letter of congratuations from someone senior in the organisation (with copy put in their file) would probably be ideal. Especially if the bad attendant is then, metaphorically speaking, taken outside and given a good kicking.

Thu Sep 07, 09:37:00 AM EDT  

Blogger David Aldridge said....

>> The good attendant will probably be rewarded by being promoted out of customer service. The bad attendant will never get promoted and we wonder why service is not as good as in the past.

Is it too cynical to suggest the oppostie? That the bad agent will get promoted out of an unsuitable position tand into management, and the good agent will be invaluable and stay where they are? :D

Thu Sep 07, 05:23:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Roderick said....

... or maybe, the bad employee gets promoted for giving bad service to a bunch of customers while the good one switches careers in disgust for not getting rewarded for giving excellent service to a few customers... not that that ever happens in the real world...

Someday, I'll have to sneak behind the counter and see what airline applications looks like. The typing to work accomplished ratio seems extremely low for gate agents. I had a recent experience where one agent was showing another how to navigate around the screens to do a seat assignment change (... hit F1, highlight this option, type code ABQYD, ...). It looked like the new employee was getting it, but halfway through about 100 steps I got dizzy. I think I had an slightly easier time learning The Macarena.

Thu Sep 07, 07:57:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Steve said....

ok doesn't SABRE (the reservation system of choice for the airlines) run on informix? that would explain it ;-)

Fri Sep 08, 12:41:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Roderick said....

Well.. there might be 1 or 2 wafer thin slivers of code between whatever is used to manage the data (IDS?) and the end-user interface. :-)

Interestingly, I think some fairly easy to use travel web sites ultimately access the same databases. So, it's possible the gate agents would have been better off running a browser if they didn't have 70's-era green screen monitors at their desks. But I imagine it would depend on if an internal version of that app has a UI that allows "power user" agents to be more or less efficient than a customer using an external version designed mostly for casual users.

Speaking of which, here's an interesting paper from 1997 titled The Use of Critical Parameters in the Design of Web-based Interactive Systems.

Fri Sep 08, 01:44:00 AM EDT  


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