What can a broken toilet teach you about customer service?

Sima/Shutterstock
Sima/Shutterstock

When Tanya Fernandez checked into room 323 at the Microtel Inn & Suites in Colorado Springs, Colo., recently, she was met with an unpleasant but fixable problem: a broken toilet.

Fernandez, a purchasing agent for a flooring company in Sanford, Fla., was in town for the weekend to visit her son, a cadet at the Air Force Academy, and knowing she’d be leaving soon to see him, she decided to give Microtel a chance to repair the bathroom fixture.

It didn’t.

“We came back Friday evening and the toilet was not fixed,” she remembers. “So my young adult children had to come to my room and also use the lobby bathroom.”
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Can this trip be saved? Slipped and fell at a luxury resort — how about a refund?

The Langham Huntington, Pasadena is billed as a five-diamond “iconic landmark hotel” at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. You can’t get a room next weekend for less than $200 a night.

But Joanne Pratt won’t be checking in to the Langham any time soon. During her last visit, she had an accident — I’ll let her explain what happened in a minute — and she wants me to help make things right.
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You call that a perk? The truth about airline buddy passes

As anyone with a pulse knows by now, a passenger flying on a so-called “buddy pass” is suing JetBlue for forcing him to spend most of a flight on the toilet. The JetBlue spin machine is just getting warmed up (I note some pro-blue comments on our sister blog, Tripso that appear to be the work of bluewashers). But there’s a lot more to this story.

My friends over at Jaunted have urged us to take a metaphorical plunger to this piece. So I have.

Buddy passes — those “free” tickets airline employees give to friends and family — are sometimes not worth the paper they’re printed on. It turns out most airlines have significant restrictions on the use of the buddy passes issued to their employees. For example, on American Airlines, it’s often less expensive to buy an advance-purchase ticket than to use a buddy pass, once you factor in all taxes and fees.

One airline this week revised its buddy pass program significantly, turning it from a perk into something closer to the useless goodwill vouchers it doles out to dissatisfied customers. Continental Airlines has upped a “surcharge” on its buddy passes to anywhere from $100 to $400 per ticket, effective May 19, according to an internal airline document I’ve obtained. That’s a whopping 100 percent increase. According to one airline insider:

It’s a big hit for hourly employees. Internal employee stress is increasing. Place a frustrated customer in front of that employee, and you have the recipe for rapidly declining “customer service” just in time for summer travel.

What does Continental have to say about devaluing its buddy passes? Blame oil prices.

Buddy Pass service charges were last increased in November 2002. That increase was also a result of the rising cost of crude oil, which in November 2002 was approximately $26 per barrel.

But wait. It gets better.

As a result of current market conditions, CO is no longer in a position to absorb additional fuel costs for the weight of a Buddy Pass rider’s second checked bag. Like non-elite revenue passengers, Buddy Pass riders will be assessed a $25 service charge for their second checked bag. When applicable, excess, overweight, and oversized baggage charges will still apply.

This is sending a clear message to Continental’s employees: Our elite frequent fliers are more important than your friends and family. What a shame.

So the next time some airline apologist points out that Gokhan Mutlu, the JetBlue toilet passenger, was flying on a buddy pass, it’s worth noting that these passes hardly pass for a perk anymore.