(I should start by saying I had a very nice conversation with a very nice man at Continental Airlines Customer Care center last night. He was courteous, professional and assured me Continental is working to make sure all customers have a positive experience. He outlined procedures they follow for unfortunate situations and thanked me for letting them know about my experience. Please proceed now with the What Happened Was...)
I know the airways are a stressful place these days, and I know flight attendants have been empowered to deal with unruly customers with a firm hand, but I didn't really expect an intense lecture in how beverage service is conducted when I asked if I might have a tasty beverage to wash down my tasty micro-char-grilled cheeseburger on my recent flight. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.
I'd really planned on getting a chunk read on a great new book I found, The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson, but figured I'd really delve into it after lunch. Didn't realize I wouldn't be in the mood after lunch.
So the flight attendant with the burgers passed by, slipped me a burger and a salad and moved on. I waited a while, thinking I might get drink and meal in some proximity. But beverage service takes longer than tossing out tasty micro-char-grilled cheeseburgers, so I decided to go on with the eating.
I know, I know, I'm lucky I was getting a meal at all, but I did pay $50 more for three pounds of extra weight in my luggage, so we were probably square.
So anyway, the beverage cart moves along the aisle and the flight attendant on one end of the cart took the orders for the row across from me and then the cart rolled past and I thought they might be taking orders behind me. So passengers in front of me, passengers to the left of me, passengers possibly behind me all seemed to be getting their tasty beverages.
I looked back to see if they might have overlooked me. I'm quiet and retiring. It happens.
"There's a man looking at your tush," said the flight attendant at the far end of the drink cart.
My boss is the customer service expert, but I perceive that usually in those matters employees are encouraged to say things such as: "There's a passenger looking back like he might want something." But you roll with what you get.
The flight attendant nearest me asked if I needed anything.
"I was just wondering if you had forgotten our row," I said. I was on the aisle. I appointed myself spokesman.
"I was waiting on THAT row," the flight attendant informed me, tersely indicating the row across from me.
I had noticed that fact. They were sipping sodas. It actually played a role in the development of the hypothesis that I might have been forgotten.
"I wasn't trying to be difficult," I said calmly. I think they may be authorized to taser you if you talk back these days.
The flight attendant proceeded to inform me about beverage dispersal procedures. In detail. I didn't really need detail in an emphatic voice.
"If I had been behind you, THAT would have meant I'd forgotten you," she concluded Again with the terse and an implied, "Are you happy now!?"
Please reference the other attendant's comment above. She WAS behind me when I looked back prompting the indelicate remark.
"Now what would you like?"
This moment to be on another airline, I thought, as I very likely will be on my next flight.
I think there was a little more lecture involved because she worked back to the: "Now you've made me forget what you wanted."
The only things I said in the whole exchange was "Did you miss our row?" and "I wasn't trying to be difficult." Oh and: "A Sprite." Didn't know I was practicing the power to cloud anyone's minds with such invocations.
I never raised my voice. I was not unduly demanding. I just asked a question of a representative of the service and hospitality industry on a full but, at least from what I saw, calm flight.
"A Sprite," I repeated. She gave it to me.
I declined all other drink offers for the remainder of the flight, read a little of my book and soothed out to the music of Mediaeval Baebes on my iPod.
Can I Get Some Service Recovery Here?
I kind of waited around for the service recovery. In customer service--per my boss who is Disney Institute trained--that's what you practice when there's been a customer who's been mistreated. Neither the flight attendant who was strident nor the other flight attendant, who should have been close enough to hear the redressing, stopped to say anything like "Sorry, we're having a busy day" or anything like it.
The only other contact came when Christine asked for our arrival gate because we were facing a tight connection. We decided she should ask since I hadn't exactly established a rapport. She was sitting behind me, so they didn't really know we were together.
The flight attendant didn't offer to check. She just said: "The pilot will make that announcement 20 minutes before landing."
He didn't, incidentally. The flight attendant Christine had spoken with didn't follow up.
The flight attendant who had lectured me didn't say good bye when I passed her on the way out.
So it goes. The ground crew in Houston was stellar in helping us get to our tight connection at least, with radios buzzing between shuttle drivers and gate attendants to make sure we weren't left behind. Kudos to them.
As I mentioned in the foreword, the customer service guy I spoke to later on the phone assured me that's not the kind of service Continental wants to provide and that they have procedures.
Work hard, fly right.