Greetings from gate C6-A in the Des Moines International Airport. It's 6:13 PM(1) on a Friday night and I'm waiting on a flight delay to get home to Indy.
I've decided that the reaction of gate agents to flight delays is one of the best examples of poor customer service available today(2). For this delay, the American agent not-so-politely informed us that all the delays are caused because their company-wide computer system is down and they have to do things the way they did 15 years ago(3). Apparently it's affecting everything from printing boarding passes to checking passengers into the plane, to blaring the alarm on the gate door to updating the menu board with a revised flight time.
Six weeks or so ago I had a delay on another airline(4) trying to leave Cape Coral, FL and get home to Indianapolis. They told us, and some folks trying to catch a flight to Boston, that our planes had been diverted to Sarasota because they didn't have enough fuel to make the trip. This was amazing to me. How can an airline not know how much fuel to put in a plane to get it from Indianapolis to Cape Coral (a route it runs daily) Would they correct the error for the flight back or would we have to make a fuel stop in Terre Haute?
I realize that these people work hard but I cringe every time I hear them get on the PA. They do realize that what they say is being broadcast to their customers, right? It doesn't make them or their airline look very good and I think that's important when you're getting ready to trust your life to them at 30K feet.
The worst part is its easily correctable. I overheard the flight attendant on the Florida plane explain it well to another passenger once we did finally take off. It wasn't that they didn't have enough fuel, they did for the scheduled route, but due to fog in the area the tower slowed down how many planes could land and they had to circle for so long that they were eventually diverted to fuel up. That I understand (and appreciate).
(1) Central Daylight Time (2) Indiana Wal-Mart employees would be second but they get a break because their habit of ignoring the line of 20 plus people wanting to check out from the one open register while they discuss what they did last night isn't broadcast over a public address system. (3) Presumed to mean before the dawn of the information age, though I know we had an IBM PS/2 at the house earlier than that. (4) Northwest (5)