Thursday, January 21, 2010

United Needs to Enforce Rules on Carry-on Size

I'm beginning to think that the ideas of good customer service and listening to the customer are dead. When we flew on United Airlines last week, we were admonished by the flight attendants several times via loudspeaker to hold onto our coats so that all the carry-on luggage could be put into the overhead bins. As we held our winter coats, we watched passenger after passenger juggling their huge, wheeled carry-ons into the bins -- some forced to put the bags in sideways. We were able to put our carry-ons under the seats in front of us -- the old fashioned way. But we had expected to put winter coats into the bin over us.

As the plane started taxiing, we rang the call button, and a flight attendant hurried to see what was wrong. We handed her our coats. She looked around and finally stuffed them into a spot over a bag in a bin across the aisle and slammed the cover shut.

When we left the plane in NYC, we suggested to the head flight attendant that United enforce its size limits on carry-ons. She said they would like to. We urged her to pass on our comments onto management, and she said that management doesn't listen. She was clearly frustrated.

It used to be that your carry-on had to fit under the seat in front of you. Supposedly, your bag now has to fit in a bin with the wheels or handle pointing out. Why have these requirements disappeared? Why is it less important for people to be able to put coats in the bins than over-sized carry-ons?

Why can't flight attendants or other employees be empowered to pass passenger and consumer comments up to management?

Clearly, the fees for luggage are shaping consumer behavior. But how the airlines are handling the customer response is wrong.

I believe the Democrats lost in Massachusetts because voters are angry that no one is listening to them. Well, consumers are getting angry that businesses are not listening to them, too.

We need to return to a culture of listening. One of my favorite local grocery stores (Stew Leonard's) has a motto -- The customer is always right. We need more companies and politicians and airlines to adopt the same motto, start really listening and start using some common sense.