My biggest airline customer service agent pet peeve

This evening I brought my brother to the airport here in TPA for his flight back home, after he spent a few days with us for Thanksgiving. He happens to be flying tomorrow morning on United as well (the joys of poorly planned travel) out of New York, so we wanted to go ahead and get him checked in for those flights. While the check-in kiosk gladly printed out the boarding passes for his flights tonight, they wouldn’t print out his boarding passes for tomorrow’s flight.

So we asked one of the customer service agents for help. Now, I know the United customer service agents in TPA that work the morning shift really, really well (since I fly out of TPA about twice a week in the morning), though I hardly know the employees that work in the evenings, though I’ve never had a good experience with them.

The customer service agent said she wasn’t allowed to help us and that we needed to use the check-in kiosk. I explained that my brother had a flight tomorrow morning and wanted to check-in, and should be able to, since the flight is within 24 hours. Again, she said she couldn’t help up. I asked why, and she said it was because the kiosk needed to be used.

Just to entertain her, I used the kiosk, and it said to see a customer service representative, so I again explained that to her, to which she responded with “oh, well he’ll need to check in tomorrow morning then.” I’ve gotta be honest, I do have an ulterior motive when I want an agent’s help… I want them to stay employed! Whether or not they want to realize it, the kiosks are replacing them, and will continue to do so as long as they are unhelpful and mutter nothing but “use the kiosk.”

After arguing for a few minutes they did print out the boarding passes, though it took a fight.

Why, oh why, do agents refuse to help customers? And before anyone says it’s United policy, it’s not. I recently followed up with a (relatively) senior management contact on the subject, and he specifically stated that agents were supposed to assist customers on demand, even if the kiosk would have worked. In other words, using a kiosk is a choice, not a requirement to fly.

On the plus side, my brother mentioned that TPA now has a priority security line, which is great news!

Comments

  1. I, too, find it frustrating it can take several attempts, or having to ask several agents, to do something we all know can be done easily. I’ve learned it is sometimes better to smile, and move on to the next agent to see if they’re more willing. You probably didn’t have a choice of agents to ask, by the sound of it. Glad you stuck to your guns and got all your brother’s BPs issued.

  2. I was at TPA this morning for an early flight, 6am, traveling with my family we were on different locatthis i walked up to the podium, the agent pointed me to the kiosk, but once I informed her that we are not on the same record, she cheerfully helped. As I approached security, the lady yelled out “first class” I showed her my boarding pass and we were through in less than 5 minutes. Not sure if this line is for both elites and first class pax, probably is. The regular line loops around and few times, we could potentially cutting close to boarding had we gone through the regular line.

  3. I was at TPA this morning for an early flight, 6am, traveling with my family we were on different records, I walked up to the podium, the agent pointed me to the kiosk, but once I informed her that we are not on the same record, she cheerfully helped. As I approached security, the lady yelled out “first class” I showed her my boarding pass and we were through in less than 5 minutes. Not sure if this line is for both elites and first class pax, probably is. The regular line loops around and few times, we could potentially cutting close to boarding had we gone through the regular line.

  4. It is also funny how dealing with an agent is more of a pain than the machine, at both airports and banks. Want a boarding pass or to pull out $300? No problem. Talk to a person and they want to see an ID and do a bunch of typing!

  5. I really hate TPA…..but only because of its functional layout. At Orlando, one can clear security and have access to all the gates. Since United doesn’t have a RCC at Tampa, I was expecting to use USAirways for a few hours and then board for my United flight. Not a good idea unless you want to go through security numerous times!

  6. I’m thinking (praying?) all the Star Alliance partners will be run out of the same terminal in TPA once the UA/CO merger gets worked out. Then everyone can easily share the US Club. I’m sure gate swapping is on the white board of things being worked out by the merger teams.

  7. I think sometimes the redirection to a kiosk comes because the agents don’t realize what a kiosk can or can’t do. A few months ago I checked in online to a United international flight, and got a check-in card saying “Please present this card to a United customer service representative along with your travel documents.” The very helpful agent at the Premier line at LAX directed me to a kiosk, and only processed me after the kiosk printed the same message. (The agent also failed to check my documents properly, but that’s a different matter.)

  8. I also run in to this at SFO every time i’m at the CO counter. They force you to use the kiosk. Every other CO station I’ve been to cheerfully offers assistance without mentioning the kiosk. At ORD and MSY I even had them offer to help as i was about to begin using the kiosk.

    The UA kiosk tends to mess up all but your first BP if you use it to change your FF#. i often have to explain this when they try to pawn me off on the kiosk while I’m waiting in the 1K line at SFO.

    At IAd both 1K line agents tried to tell me the system doesn’t allow them to put you on the VDB list until the gate. After some arguing they changed their story to “we don’t know how” so I still had to do it at the gate. “don’t know how?” REALLY??? for both 1K agents at a major UA hub??? I think it was more “don’t feel like it”

  9. It would be interesting to have the airlines weigh in on this topic. They claim to be customer-focused (some do anyway). Yet draconian cost-cutting measures you describe are diametrically opposed to good service.

    Airlines appear to be in such a commoditized market that they can’t see how customer service can deliver them from underwhelming earnings reports.

    Here’s another way airlines are missing the point! http://bit.ly/bgroKh

  10. @HunterSFO – Unfortunately you get all sorts of lazy agents. Doing the same recently at IAD got a “We’re not soliciting volunteers at this time’ (despite flight being oversold, and later getting a bump). And this is also after the line-organizing lady (the one that directs people to kiosks after they apparently fail to see them) tried to redirect me to a special services line (~20mins). I find being persistent, but polite, works best – e.g. “Could you add me anyways in case they do need someone please?”

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