Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Open Letter to Ben Baldanza

When I recently moved from Salt Lake City, UT to Kennesaw, GA it was followed up by an almost immediate vacation cruise with my fiance through the southeastern Caribbean.  The vacation was beyond wonderful!  In fact, the sole black spot to mar the memory was the flight home.  And it was so awful that I still say the high point of November 12th was visiting with the Custom's agent about the duty tax owed on some jewelry we bought.  Our cruise originated from (and returned to) Fort Lauderdale, FL and we chose to fly Spirit Airlines as our connector there from Atlanta.  The flight to Fort Lauderdale was uneventful and left both Derek and I wondering what all the fuss was about... why was everyone complaining about the service on Spirit?

Sadly, on the trip home we found out.

Following is my letter about the experience to the President, Chief Executive Office and Class II Director, Ben Baldanza.  I found his name and contact information under Investor Relations on the company's website.

Dear Mr. Baldanza:

November 12 was already a day we weren't completely thrilled with knowing that we'd be spending the better part of it waiting in the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood airport for an afternoon flight home to Atlanta because of your company's sparse scheduling on that route.  The only choices we had were appx 9:00 a.m., a time when we would not have completed the deboarding process from our cruise, or 4:08 p.m.  Obviously, the only choice was the later flight even though we would be arriving at the airport around 11:00 a.m.

On arrival at the terminal, we followed the signs directing us to the counter for luggage check only to be reamed by the agent there for not checking in at the kiosk first.  I'd say she had reason to redirect us if there had been any posted directions pointing us that way but there wasn't and I found her attitude and disposition completely disagreeable.  After so very curtly directing us toward the kiosks she told us to come back once we had the boarding passes.  We tried.  But we were physically stopped by another agent roaming the area in front of the roped off lines and pushed to the opposite end of the counter to the "Fast Line" where we stepped up to the back of a full line just as all but one agent left for break.  With just a single person back there checking bags, the line could have been generously renamed the "Slower Than A Snail Crawls Line."

Finally, with bags checked and boarding passes in hand we navigated through the TSA checkpoint and headed for the gate only to learn that the flight had already been delayed two hours.  Initially we were told it was due to weather delays in New York... that our plane was stuck at La Guardia and couldn't leave there on its trip to Florida until the weather cleared.  Later that story changed to there was no plane to take us to Atlanta because of a mechanical problem until another could be scrambled out of the fleet and brought to Fort Lauderdale.  The delay was pushed back to 6:35, then 7:05.

Boarding was begun for the 7:05 time point and when approximately 1/3 of the passengers were onboard, a problem was discovered with that plane and they were asked to get off, walk across the terminal to another gate and get on a different plane where boarding was uninterrupted multiple times to clear the walkway for international flights to deboard.  Our 4:08 p.m. flight eventually pulled away from the gate around 8:00 p.m. with the captain apologizing for the "unacceptable delays."  Yes, those were his actual words.

What troubles me most is not that there were problems with the flight but your employees' response to them.  And that is a terrible thing to say because your people had so many chances to shine, so many opportunities to wow us with great customer service, so many times they could have won our loyalty instead of leaving us angry, alienated and vowing to use another carrier for future flights.  You see, we are pretty laid back and reasonable people.  We fully understand that things happen.  But we do expect to be treated with honesty, kindness and professionalism as the problems are worked out.  Our anger comes from that fact that none of those qualities were evident in our contact with your employees.  We were treated very badly and are very interested to know what, if anything, you are going to do about it.

That's the body of my letter.  Now we wait and see what happens.  I'd like to hope there'll be some response but after experiencing the way Spirit's front line employees treat customers I'm not exactly counting on it since customer service is usually a trickle down trait in corporate culture.

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