United Airlines quietly announced last week that it’s pulling the plug on a customer call center in India that fields passenger complaints (and, uh, compliments). The nation’s no. 3 airline has stopped publishing its customer service number and will disconnect it entirely at the end of April, at which time travelers wishing to express an opinion after a flight will have to send a letter or e-mail.
According to a spokeswoman for the airline, “We did a lot of research, we looked into it, and people who e-mail or write us are more satisfied with our responses.”
While earning unanimous accolades for the decision (except from the soon-to-be former employees at the United call center in India), the first group that publicly expressed enthusiastic support for the move is the U.S. Postal Service.
By calculating the size of the United Airlines fleet, the number of flights per day and then factoring the number of complaints (and, uh, compliments) that are likely registered after each one, post offices nationwide are figuring United passengers could save the rapidly sinking postage industry at the precise moment the phone number is taken out of service.
Not far behind with its backing was the paper and pen industry.
Paperies and ink manufacturers from coast to coast have reportedly been breathing sighs of relief that their all but obsolete professions have a newfound purpose. (The trees, however, are said to be beside themselves and trying to summon the strength and courage to brace for what is expected to be an enormous up tick in deforestation. The announcement of a march on Washington is expected any day.)
But the change is garnering the highest approval ratings among passengers. Frequent fliers averse to human interaction are ecstatic knowing that they will no longer have to attempt to describe their travel experiences over the phone.
Instead, United has granted them the privilege to carefully craft their words and spend 42 cents (which is chump change, of course, compared to the $15 fee for the first piece of checked luggage, $25 for the second, $6 for a SnackBox with a square of Hershey’s dark chocolate and a cheese stick plus an optional $50 for a celebrated 6 inches of additional space — bringing the total amount of leg room to 8 inches — in Economy Plus) to mail in their thoughts, which will no doubt be carefully reviewed and acknowledged in well under two years.
Thousands of travelers are sure to rave in their letters about United’s policy of not allowing pre-boarding for families with small children unless there’s a medical necessity.
After all, an infant needing to get settled into a seat and fed before take off is not the problem of the flight crew or other passengers.
And just a few months after the nation broke the color barrier by electing its first black president, it’s about time the air industry stopped discriminating against people without small children. If childless adults can’t pre-board, why do hungry babies think they’ve earned the courtesy?
Of course some passengers will opt to communicate electronically once the customer service number is disconnected. Some travelers might use flight delays to their advantage, fashioning letters on their BlackBerrys or laptops while being stuck on the tarmac and skillfully ignored by the surly (and, uh, sympathetic) flight attendants after requesting additional information on the take off time.
Those savvy enough to successfully navigate United.com and find the correct e-mail address will undoubtedly reap instant gratification upon receiving an automated response thanking them for their correspondence and explaining that their opinion matters.
The spokeswoman for United said having domestic reservation agents handle written complaints (and, uh, compliments) won’t cost the airline any additional money because it’s preparing to cross-train reservation agents in Chicago and Honolulu to respond to letters from customers. Those employees were rumored to have jumped for joy upon hearing that their job descriptions were being fattened while their paychecks will remain static.
And the airline’s reservation center in Detroit will now be the only one equipped to receive calls from enraged (and, uh, exultant) travelers.
The agents there are said to be tingling with anticipation thinking of the day this spring when they’ll be on the receiving end of phone calls from people who are forced to hold for at least an hour if they want to register verbal feedback.
According to United fan Web sites, bloggers are now eagerly awaiting the airline’s next announcement, thinking it may be the implementation of flights with pay-as-you-go toilets. Fingers (and legs) in all of United’s major hubs are crossed.
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