domingo, 7 de mayo de 2017
ODYSSEY OR VACATION? II
Friday April 28th; a hot afternoon in Miami; MÍA, as we know Wilcox Field (Miami's International Airport), one of the busiest in the country, shows its usual Friday afternoon rush. Terminal D, American Airline chunk of the u shaped structure in its international arrival area; the door opens continuously to let passengers in; occasionally the PA system lets us hear Mayor Carlos Giménes welcome all visitors in a short, insipid message in English; that's OK; most visitors have no idea of what Miami DADE County is nor what the mayor looks like. After standing stoically with the last name of my customers on a sign for over an hour and a half I finally see two long elderly faces approach me and try in their best Itanglish to apologize for their delay; they had had to fill a baggage loss report. Air Berlin had somehow left their two suitcases in Germany's capital. I made it a point to verify they had their report number and all necessary documents before we left the building. We quickly reached the parking lot; of course they could move fast; after all, they had no luggage.
Driving them to the Best Western Atlantic in Miami Beach took me about 17 minutes during which time I went through my entire repertoire of reassuring and soothing words in Italian to counter the barrage of negative facts the poor customers detailed to me: Air Berlin's ground handler in Miami; which means the company that takes care of all services for their passengers and negotiations on a day to day basis with the logistics of servicing an aircraft after a transatlantic flight and ready it up to fly back home punctually had explained to them the following:
"Your suitcases will most likely arrive tomorrow; due to the time of arrival we won't have enough time to clear customs and send them to the Port of Miami before 16:00 hrs ET (deadline to allow any passenger or luggage in) and make sure they get on board; therefore, we will send them to St Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, on an American Airline flight and the AA staff there will hold them until May 2nd. That's the best we can do". So my poor elderly couple was supposed to enjoy their vacation as follows: spend one night in Miami Beach; embark the next day (April 29th at 13:30 ET) on a cruise (Carnival Glory) only with their two back packs; spend their first night aboard the cruise, enjoy the beauty of Carnival's private island in the Bahamas; sail for an entire day on May 1st and wait until May 2nd when, hopefully if nobody made a mistake, someone from the crew would go to St Thomas's airport and fetch their suitcases; FOUR days after they had landed in Miami.
The next day at 13:00 ET sharp I drove by the Best Western Atlantic Miami Beach to take them to the Port of Miami; they told me they had followed my advise and used the Miami Beach Trolley to know a little of the northern part of my beautiful city; they were not happy; something was bothering them; after 38 years you can always tell. Knowing what bothered them I asked them point blank if they had heard from the AB ground handler; and there they went again; they were scared that nobody could help them aboard the ship; they spoke two words of English and their anxiety was evident. Finally they shot the request I knew was brewing inside them since we had first met: could I explain the situation to the Carnival staff so that they could be certain everyone was in the same page?; course I answered. I used all of the 14 minutes needed to get to the Port of Miami reassuring them that while a baggage loss did not happen everyday both the cruise line and the airline were used to handle their situation. We finally got there; and after writing a detailed account in English of the facts and what needed to be done so that they could instruct the concierge on the ship I immediately asked security if I could accompany my elderly clients a few feet further to speak to the cruise staff; they called someone and the minute I saw who was supposed to help I knew it wouldn't happen; this Hispanic lady had TROUBLE written across her face:
"They lost the bags and we have to pick them in St Thomas?; I doubt it; that's unheard of" the customers could not understand English but the dismissiveness and lack of interest shown by this employee was so blatant that they quickly turned their hopeless faces to me and BOTH grabbed my hand like small children. I felt sick; how can you betray your fears, your incompetence and your lack of skills in front of a passenger?.
"May I speak to someone who works for Carnival?" I asked, my fuse running short, "I work for Carnival sir" the lady countered.
"No; you get a check twice a month from Carnival, I need someone who does work for Carnival; someone with the will and the urge to assist my elderly customers; because they didn't lose their bags as you wrongly put it; some inept prick misplaced their luggage in Berlin; someone that evidently gets a check from Air Berlin but does not work for Air Berlin"!!!. My irritation was so obvious that the security staff quickly intervened and asked for a supervisor.
A young Hispanic lady with a smile in her face approached me and carefully listened to what I had to say; she didn't even blink; it was at that point evident that Volcano Alburquerque was about to erupt. She took a step towards me and looked the passengers in the eye. She spoke to me in English but used her eye contact and her warm demeanor to help me repair the damage her colleague had caused. She wrote a brief note on a piece of paper and ALWAYS looking at my customers she told me what they needed to do the minute they boarded the ship. Fortunately the lava never reached the crater. This sweet young girl had helped me do the trick.
When the clients entered the terminal she held my hand for a second and gave me the friendliest thank you I have ever got. Thank god someone had come to work that morning.
By 14:00 ET I had the names of all involved including the ground handler. Late in the afternoon May 2nd I got a called from an unknown number; reception was poor and all of a sudden I realized it was someone from the cruise; I feared the worst until I heard my customer thanking me and promising he would make sure his tour operator knew how great we were. "Mi hai lasciato un bel ricordo; ti ringraziamo di cuore..." those words meant the world to me.
I would like to share some thoughts regarding this unfortunate incident:
1- For the passengers' convenience, but most of all for security purposes there has to be system that detects how many pieces of luggage are checked in for each flight and match that number with the ones actually inside the luggage container; if that is done (and I'm sure it would take an IT young kid two minutes to desing such software) not only will the airlines give a better service and reduce operational costs but most importantly we will be sure that no luggage goes unaccounted for. After all, if there can be missing luggage there could also be extra luggage containing a bomb couldn't it?
2- The timing was tight, but if instead of letting this couple's baggage follow the normal course the staff in Berlin had marked it so that the handler in MIA could have identified it and swiftly fast tracked it through the customs inspection my elderly customers may have had their suitcases at the original point of departure instead of wearing the same clothes for three days. Let's bear in mind that had this been a three nighter the clients would have had to attend the Captain's dinner with the same smelly attire.
3- I have had the enormous privilege of attending several seminars and courses by Cornell University; supposedly the Mecca of academics regarding the hospitality industry. I have also been privileged to give lectures at the Institute of Tourism in Treviso, Italy. Both as student and as instructor the theme was NEVER use the word no with a customer; use the positive even if your objective is to deny or negate something. The customer can in no instance feel that you are contradicting him/her or doubting his/her word; you are simply broadening the spectrum, adding more variables to the same equation; finding an angle that could make him/her more comfortable. What that lady who gets a check from Carnival twice a month did was a flagrant boycott to customer service; the fact that she did not know the procedure to deal with baggage loss is not only serious but out right unacceptable; what the hell is she doing there?; how can Carnival allow this inept employee take care of its passengers?
The truth is that corporations in America and the rest of the world see human beings as numbers; they can be treated with the same coldness and aloofness that we treat screws and bolts; every minute we spend enlightening a client and providing information is seen as a waste of time and money. A long line of customers checking in is perceived by arrogant corporate America as an assembly line. And why not? Perhaps I'm wrong; perhaps my emotion when I receive a thank you or a warm and grateful handshake is a vestige of my slavery background; maybe I'm an Uncle Tom. Maybe I'm just getting old. Maybe the world will never be a better place; maybe our future as customers is to be treated like trash.
Still, while there's air in my lungs and my heart beats I will do everything in my power to make my customers happy, I will continue to get emotional when they acknowledge my efforts to accommodate them and help them make the best of their stay. It will always be my pride to know that beyond all hurdles my customers are aware that every time they visit my Miami there will be this insignificant individual who will fight the windmills if necessary to make sure they get their money's worth of pleasant time. There will be this person that transcends the usual customer/purveyor dynamics and for the duration of their stay is family. No amount of "modern" savage capitalism will change that.