Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Man. from New Hampshire.

Before The Man from Singapore Part 2, let me just use this post to discuss current events relevant to Justice Calling’s primary mission – holding Big Business accountable to the Consumer. 
AccountabilityRecently (video) and WMUR New Hampshire (text) ran a Consumer Power story about Charles Wheelan, a Dartmouth professor of economics and public policy and a columnist for Yahoo Finance whose luggage was lost by United for weeks.
His summary of what happens when the Company fails you as the Consumer is perfect.  Wheelan says, “…you have failed to fulfill what you promised to do for this $25…”
Here’s a graphic I made based on one from (funny perspective - Social Media Venn Diagram) to summarize this too-common situation:
I believe it’s easy for large corporations to feel cushioned in anonymity within the hugeness of their organization. The role your minute voice of discontent plays in the overall churning, lumbering mechanism is meaningless to them in the big scheme of things. Read all about it and what you can do as a Powerful Consumer in Gotcha Capitalism.
So Wheelan decides to hold United accountable and files a small claims suit for the $25 baggage fee and $72 in court costs. A few days later the bag was returned and United’s lawyer called to apologize and arrange to send a check for the $25 and $72 in court fees. This is the kind of power a consumer has.
But he suffered for it. He spent his precious time on the phone with disinterested Customer Service Reps. Since he resorted to filing a lawsuit, he probably didn’t get satisfaction through Customer Service.
Isn’t his time worth more than the perfunctory payment they made?  Did United acknowledge that their customer still ended up with a net loss because his time is worth money?
On the Accountability Meter (which I haven’t officially created yet, and so in the interim is going to be the same as Netflix ratings) I give Wheelan’s Power Consumer activism 4/5 stars “Really Liked It.”
I have to reserve 5 stars “Loved It” for a statement of accountability and reform from the Company in question. I suspect this will be a truly difficult rating to achieve for Big Business.
Don’t Give Them Your MoneyHow can we avoid paying ridiculous baggage fees? Any thoughts?
Here’s all I’ve got so far:
1. USPS ships for free packs of boxes to you, you pack very lightly and pay a flat rate of $14.95 to ship a 12 1/4” x 12 1/4” x 6” box to your destination and avoid paying $25 or whatever the airline decides to charge.
» Pro: You Don’t Give Them Your Money.
» Cons: You only save $10. You have to embrace the art of packing lightly.  You will need to be visiting friends or family, because I don’t know how you feel about your “box luggage” arriving at your hotel.
2. Pack lightly and use only a carry-on bag.
» Pro: You Don’t Give Them Your Money.
» Cons: You don’t get to take as many pairs of shoes as you’d really really really like and kind of need. You are going to add to the bottleneck of getting onto a packed, unventilated airplane and people will probably glare at you.
3. UPS now sells ‘luggage boxes
» Pro: You Don’t Give Them Your Money. (but you give another Large Corporation your money).
» Cons: Doesn’t seem to be very cost-effective unless packing very lightly (see #1 and 2).  Now you are the proud owner of “box luggage” that you feel bad throwing away.  Please contradict if you have found these to save you $$!
4. Use Southwest (2 free bags) or JetBlue (1 free bag) if at all humanly possible. They are so much more human on Southwest, and I haven’t had the pleasure of trying JetBlue but hear they’re very personable as well.
5. Drive.
Again, any other thoughts?

The Man. from Singapore. Part 1.

I will try to keep my posts much shorter than I will in these first few.  
Let me begin by saying that when I was growing up I had a seriously happy relationship with the domestic airline brands. I have traveled at least 4 times per year across the country on domestic flights since I was 6 years old. Flying meant you were going somewhere different! New people, adventure, good food – just so you know, I’ll never claim to be cultured, I grew up across from a corn field, really love a great steak, but somehow airplane food was tops – because I just relished the experience.  Or maybe it was all of those individually wrapped little items…
No one yelled at us back then either. Here’s what happened to The Man from Singapore.
I’m just sitting in my window seat staring vaguely over the aisle amid the chaos of boarding, I hear the crescendoing directive from the bewilderingly angry stewardess speeding toward my row. As she stomps, she’s bellowing “STOP BLOCKING the aisle! You need to MOVE into your seat to allow everyone to be seated. We are NOT LEAVING the gate until everyone is SEATED!” As she gets to my row a man across the aisle pops up from his window seat meekly saying he needs to open the overhead for his laptop (mind you, we’re still boarding the plane here, seat belts have not yet been fastened). She thunders by, definitively slamming his overhead and roars, “You can get it after takeoff!”
Frozen in his unsuspecting stance, halfway standing, facing the aisle, an arm up on the seat back in front of him, slack jawed, The Man is facing me stunned. I, though hardened by previous encounters with or witness to manic/rude/hostile Stewardess or Airline Representative, was also stunned. And I felt really really bad for The Man. English is not his first language and I wondered what must be racing through his mind at that moment - “WTF” must translate to something interesting in all languages.
He is so shocked that nothing changes about his jaw-dropped expression as he slowly moved his neck to watch her stormy path to the back of the plane, then briskly past him again, to the front of the plane to lay some sweetness and light on everyone over the intercom. I make an attempt to get the attention of another, Less Angry Stewardess who ignores me. The Guy Next to Me pipes up in commiseration and pity for the still-stunned Man across the aisle, citing his own past experiences with abusive Flight Crew on United.
Time is now passing in a slow whirl of disbelief and indignant rage.
The Less-Angry Stewardess decides not to ignore me anymore, returns, and asks if I needed something. I say the Man across the aisle just needs his computer. She helps the Man and he looks over at us and halfway smiles. It isn’t until after the flight that I meet the Man from Singapore. He gives me his business card, he is on his way to visit his daughter at MIT, and thanks me for saying something.
I’m still enraged about the whole situation – not just due to current circumstances, but because this has been building in me for several years. How can we continue to give these ill-natured, crooked (a future discussion), disinterested airlines, like United and American, more and more of our money for worse and worse treatment?
I mean, the icing on the cake from this past United flight set (round trip from San Diego to Springfield, IL via Chicago – this is a multiple-post trip, let me tell you) was when I found out they don’t have blankets and pillows anymore. I always try to bring my own but this time left my blanket in my suitcase by accident. The “no blankets” policy must have started a while ago, Less-Angry Stewardess looked surprised that I didn’t know. I should have guessed.

The Consumer

I love to buy things. I embrace all that means “I am a Consumer” and am proud that I’m so impressionable to marketing and advertising. Even if you embrace none of this, you’re still a Consumer. And you deserve respect.
This blog calls out the Injustice doled out by giant corporations (like United), chronicles activities revolving around holding them accountable for their aggressively poor customer service, and philosophizes about ways to avoid giving our hard-earned dollars to companies who do not appreciate the power of the Consumer.