Customer Service

Customer (Self-)Service – No, not JUST me!

In response to my last blog – so at least one person reads them or, perhaps more accurately on at least one occasion at least one person read at least one blog – I received this:

“John, are you sure you don’t set these kind of occasions up??? So many seem to happen to you!!!”

While pondering my reply, I received this – which I share unattributed and unedited:

“Dear friends … while this was the start of an interesting day, it did end successfully but demonstrated an only too regular systems engineering failure.

I had checked in online for this flight home as had many others. Arriving at the airport I tried to use the self-check in system (many terminals and now the preferred option by the airline), it failed. Others had the same experience. I tried other terminals with even more bizarre error messages.

At this point I (and others) sought help from the (one) representative on duty. Confronted with the failure mode of the terminals his only option was to divert us to the old-style check in line. Only two staff were on duty and they had three flights open to check in. The ‘snake’ queue rapidly filled the available space and was clearly going to encroach back into the self-check in area pretty quickly. I calculated that at the current rate of service it would take about 90 minutes minimum for my bags to be checked in, by which time my flight would have closed. I baled from the queue and headed for the ‘closing flights’ desk (one staff member on duty). Their queue was growing rapidly with other passengers with standby tickets who had been sent there in error … carnage.

I managed to get to the front of the queue and explained my experience and (under protest) got my bag tagged and sent airside. Some others had to bale the queue and take both their hold and carry-on bags through security and check them at the gate. During this period no additional check in staff were assigned to the manual check in desks.

I don’t know what happened to the other flights, mine was delayed.

Self-check in is attractive to an airline – it saves on staff costs, but the impact of it failing is high, and any recovery plan is likely to involve additional skilled staff (now in very short supply) who are available on site. Self-check in systems should be developed and tested in line with their mission critical status – as we can see from the error messages in this example they are not.

My bag arrived safely back in Gatwick. Safe travels everyone.”

So, not just me then!