Friday, April 24, 2009

Do the Drama and Impending Heart Attacks EVER End?!!!

So...Ive often wondered about the serious lack of concern for customer service here in Bahrain (is it the same all over the Middle East I wonder?)...Ive often been in business establishments in which the staff are doing absolutely nothing...and yet cant be bothered to stir from their apathy long enough to earn their salary. Walking out, or taking your business elsewhere, seems to bother them not all all...sigh!!

Generally speaking it doesnt bother me too much unless I really need some help and look around to discover every salesperson has quite literally disappeared...grrr!!

Now, complaining about a service that SHOULD be provided as company policy...or because you PAID for that service and therefore should actually get what you pay for is something else all together...if I dont get my customer service taken care of adequately in that regard...then you will see more than a pissed off customer taking her business elsewhere...todays little (big) drama involving my daughter travelling home is case in point. Picture this...

When her ticket was purchased an adult ticket was paid for because as an unaccompanied minor she will need "extra" care and attention. For those that dont attendant will literally take her from one location to another...handing her over to the next person in charge for the next part of her journey until she is delivered personally into the hands of a relative etc. Each person handing her over must sign the document that travels with her indicating she/he is relinquishing responsibility and that the minor is being handed over in good shape and without harm etc...the next handler signs that they have taken over responsibility etc...and it goes from there from the start of journey till ending with relatives joyful to see her....thats the way its SUPPOSED to work.

I called early the next morning to ensure that her status as "unaccompanied minor" was properly indicated so there would be no problems (you have to keep on track of these things just to quiet that little voice in the back of your head that never goes quiet while your child is out of your sight etc)...she was flying Gulf Air, Bahrains national carrier, and the person I spoke with assured me her status was noted...ok...sigh of relief.

Last night when we arrived at the airport I discover in fact that no such notice had been put into affect and she was without an attendant to see her through. Funny enough, even though I was totally pissed off...I wasnt surprised...Ive lived here long enough to know customer service sucks...even with follow up.

With much drama and angry words from my side...much hemming and hawing from the Gulf Air reps about how this "technicality" was eventually rectified by me filling out paperwork at that time (rather than the required 48 hours notice) and an attendant was brought to escort her onto the plane.

I was slightly mollified by the Gulf Airs reps who quickly got around the gaff and made things right...all though I wasnt completely satisfied sending my daughter off with an airline attendant that had been hastily brought and had never actually done that particular job before (hence the need for 48 hours notice etc). It couldnt be that hard to do...could it?

Turns out Gulf Air wasnt telling me a very important fact that I needed to know before relinquishing my daughter into their hands...because she was switching over to American Airlines in Germany...apparently this meant there would be no attendant waiting for her from the American Airline side of the journey...because they have no "unaccompanied minor policy when it comes to handing over from one airline to another" service...or something like that.

So I get a frantic message from my daughter in Germany who is all but abandon in the airport as she is shown (I assume here) the American Airlines reservation desk etc...and then left to on her own to figure out what to do next (there is no handing over policy remember...apparently). I call her and she gives her telephone to the American Airlines reservation employee who informs me that she is basically on her own (he is the one that also informs me there is no hand over policy) and is asking for my permission to board her on the plane anyhow. Well gee...I dont know...why not just let her wander around the airport in Germany for eternity...Im sure the experience will be interesting and something to remember for her. HELL YES put her on the plane...however...slight problem with that too (isnt there always)...of course this means there will be nobody to accompany her through customs and passports and luggage claim etc once she reaches the other side.

Now my daughter is intelligent and quite capable of reading signs and following the crowd and asking for help if she doesnt know where to go or what to my biggest fear wasnt that she wouldnt manage to get through all that on her own...

Has anyone seen the movie Taken? Well a quick run this film there is a ruthless gang of human smugglers that hang out at airports looking for young vulnerable girls (over 17 obviously)...striking up conversations to determine their status (someone waiting to pick them up...where they are staying etc) with the eventual outcome that they are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. Its a very emotional and heartbreaking movie for anyone interested in seeing it.

Anyhow, my biggest fear was that someone similar to one of those human slave traffickers would spot my obviously young daughters status as "completely alone" and waste no time in setting her up for the news.

So I had to agree to let her on the plane of course...the AA rep said "very well and thank your" and hung up....I quickly called my daughter to once again lecture her on not talking to strangers...not giving out personal info...and also to give her details about what exactly to do once she arrived in Dallas and had to go through customs etc....but her phone went dead as soon as she answered....and so I spent the whole night worrying about what would happen to her once she reached Dallas (even on the plane she isnt safe if she tells a fellow passenger she is alone cant trust anyone these days) A mothers imagination when it comes to the potential harm that can come to her child has no limit...believe me.

I called my older daughter who was picking her up...told her what had happened and told her to call the American Airlines customer service to get their advice. They told her to come to the airport early and they would "help"....hmmm.

When she arrived and went to customer service this is the conversation that ensued.

Daughter: My 15 year old sister is going to be landing soon and she doesnt have anyone to help her find her way through. Can you send someone to bring her to me?

C.S. rep: Its only one long tunnel with stairs etc...with lots of signs...anyone can find their way. Dont worry.

Daughter: But my mom is worried and wants to be sure my sister is safe and gets through ok.

C.S. rep: Even if she (my daughter) was walking on her hands and knees...she would find her way through.


When my daughter called me and told me the rep had actually spewed those horrible words out (with a dismissing tone while she turned and walked away I was told) I nearly went up in smoke. Is that really what Customer Service is like in America now? Oh well...your 15 year old child is alone and potential prey for God knows what...but if she walks on all fours like a dog she will get through it....any idiot problem!!!

I immediately told my daughter to go find that rep and put her on the phone...but she couldnt find her....not to mention that my older daughter is not the sort to confront and demand action and was hesitant to "make a big deal over it"...just wait Daughter until you are a mother...then you will find your voice and understand just how big a deal it is when it comes to your child. For the moment I was stymied how to deal with that.

45 min after the flight had landed my daughter still hadnt come through. Phone calls back and forth, much hand wringing accompanied with heart palpitations, not to mention way to many vivid scenarios of what obviously happened to her being played out in my head, were not helping matters.

Finally a phone call to tell me she had come through with all body parts intact...thank God. Apparently her reason for taking so long was that Gulf Air did not tag her luggage had to be hunted down...nice!

I aged over night people...I felt the ache and pain of every single one of my heartbeats from the time she left my sight until I received that phone call telling me she was safe and sound. I did not sleep...not even a little.

I demand satisfaction from someone. This was a gross display of customer service from my point of view. Children are not something to abandon at airports cause there is "no policy of hand overs" (assuming here)...courtesy and just God damned human empathy and the desire to see no harm come to children would seemingly be enough to "overlook policy" long enough to deliver her into safe hands....especially when nobody had informed ME that such a policy did not exist in the first place when I released her into Gulf Airs hands..does policy (or lack there of) take precedent over the safety of a child?

To make matters worse, her return flight goes through London, anyone that has ever had to navigate Terminal 5 for international flights will understand just how daunting and complicated it can be getting from one connection to another. I cant imagine my daughter being able to find her way through that maze on her own without mishap...Ive done it many times and I still find it confusing and frustrating at times. And because there is no unaccompanied minor status indicated on her ticket from the American Airlines side (it is from Gulf Airs side)...even if Im able to get her ticket indicated as such....Im assuming she will be forced to do it alone as AA will seemingly abandon her in a similar fashion at Heathrow once she has disembarked their airplane and tries to make her way through that maze of confusion that is Heathrow to her Gulf Air connection? (there is no hand over policy remember)

Ive got some serious phone calls to make...and Im pissed.

Gulf Air...your customer service sucks.

American Airlines...while your customer service was slightly better...I cant believe you were not willing to have someone waiting upon her landing and seeing her through...even though there is no official hand over policy (apparently)...its just seems like the right thing for you to have done...especially considering she is a child...and that I was not informed of ahead of time...and therefore an on the spot decision could have been made to cover the ineptitude of airline employees that lead to that trouble in the first place. Im sorely disappointed in you...and will be telling you so as soon as I can get someone on the phone...fricken lines are always busy.

Its going to be a long month until she is back safe with me again.

And if I ever discover who the customer service rep was that referred to my daughter as a out!!


Chiara said...

Not sure what you can do about the appalling customer service but for the return flight could your older daughter get some sort of special permission to accompany the younger one through to the gate, or is that too pre-9/11 an idea? And same on your end, to get a special permission to meet her immediately as she deplanes?

A quick look at Gulf Air and AA unaccompanied minor policies was a revelation: indeed they only get the person to the destination airport and then someone is supposed to pick them up--not alot of thought about international transfer flights.

Also Gulf Air will let children older than four travel solo!!!! and will accompany 2-4 year olds!!!! or ZUT as I like to say!!!!

Do you know someone in London who could do the transfer?

Never let it be said that Canadians can be outdone:
Westjet ignores 5 year old so nice man walks her off the plane to her father; Air Canada lets a 13 year old fend for herself.

janice said...


I can't understand why, like you said, they couldn't just do the right thing and make sure she made it to the next gate?

Even if no policy existed and I was on the phone with you, I would have taken it upon myself to help the girl out and put your mind at ease.

Maybe it's the mother in me.

Susanne said...

That is horrible. :-( Maybe you can complain to AA about their person's lack of customer service. I am sorry about that. :-/

San Antonio Cicily said...

Ok this is totally none of my business but why not keep the 15 year old there with the 21 year old instead of bringing her back and have the 21 year old get a job at McDonalds or anywhere for that matter for a month or so to get the money together for you and your sons to follow her to the states. Also I have no idea why my sister wants me to ask you this but have you contacted the American embassy? (I don't know why she wants me to ask that she's at a hotel right now and we are talking on the phone.)

San Antonio Cicily said...

Oh by the way it wasn't Dr.Phil that helped you out was it. "This is gonna be a turning point in Ur life". Just kidding! That was a joke!

*~Ange~* said...

a lot of people work to get paid and dont care about their jobs. they are just there for the wage. which means shitty service alot of the time

Terri's Space said...

Why are you surprised? You've been living in the ME for how long? I've been actually living in SA a few months and know that NOTHING is guaranteed...they DO NOT understand how to conduct a sevrice minded business...they DO NOT CARE about doing a good job or even doing it correctly...that no one wants to take responsibility when things go wrong and take care of it...dang near nothing is done on the basis of common sense.

I do have experience with this as my now 19 yr old son has traveled unaccompanied (numerous times; at least 40 times) to visit relatives since he was 6, and to visit me 3 times a year when he went to live with his dad at age 10; he even flew back to the US from Sweden unaccompanied...with no problems.

You booked with Gulf Air...and that was probably your biggest mistake; then to switch carriers in which Gulf Air would have no responsibility and could wash their hands once she was off their airline is so typical of the mentality I find down here.

I feel for your frustration...but the stress isn't worth any extra money you may have saved by routing her in this manner.

Even though she is going through Terminal 5 and yes, that terminal is huge and least when you asks someone for help (and there are plenty of BA counters for that) she will actually get it. At least that has been my experience.

Sounds like you're more upset at AA versus Gulf Air...which is where the mistake was made. How could an airline NOT have the child escorted all the way through? It's just stupid and lacking in common sense. IDK, even someone with limited mental capabilities would understand that an unaccompanied minor requires an escort throughout the entire journey. And, then AA is suppose to pick up the ball (when they have a service fee for this extra service) when the ticket wasn't purchased through them.

Well...I'm glad to hear that your daughter arrived safe and sound.

coolred38 said...

Chiara...the London transfer is my big worry for the return trip...but I dont know anybody there that could help her through...I hope I can have her assigned as such from AA's side and they can see her through...then it doesnt matter after that as I know people in the airport here that will bring her through to me.

Janice...I seems like policy can be waived for just a moment when a child is involved.

Susanne...Im working on it.

San can ask dont worry...for various reasons we need to be here for the moment so its better she comes back to me...just for peace of mind for the most part.

Everyone asks about the American Embassy and why they dont "help" for various problems....dont know about A.E. in the rest of the world but the one here has a large sign that clearly indicates what they DONT provide as services for American'd be surprised at some of the things on that list...rather funny actually...and not at the same time.

Nope, wasnt Dr Phil...bu I wouldnt mind a little one on one with himl...he might sort me once and for least he could show me how to "get real" about my life.

Ange...that is absolutely correct. Even the smallest of services has to be taken by force it seems. only reason for "excuse" for booking with Gulf Air (wouldnt be my first choice either) is that I wasnt paying and I was concerned about the costs I chose it as it currently has the cheapest ticket prices. I should have checked and rechecked about the unaccompanied minor service "all the way through" I have learned that you the customer must bring every detail up and not just assume anything...hard lesson to relearn.

Chiara said...

Given the recent fiascos with unaccompanied minors, some airlines have eliminated the service, and the others restrict it--not the last flight in the day, and most recently NO TRANFERS. Each airline takes responsibility for only a NON-STOP flight, which is why you can deplane in a German airport (Frankfurt?--know that one well, spent 9 hrs there reading, then sprinted through it in full Islamic regalia and high heels on the return flight "escaping" from Iran--very nice service though) and then be expected to make your own way to the next non-stop flight where you will be accompanied.

It seems no one thought (or the legal team stopped the thinking) about the fact that this would occur or that they are legally obliged to turn the minor over to a pre-approved person, where ever that person is in the airport. My best guess, aside from law 101, is that they are used to accompanying younger minors, especially on Gulf Air.

Could the London Airport itself--Heathrow that bane of all travellers-- through their customer service, special assistance, or whatever provide the transfer for your daughter? or through the airport chaplain (including Muslim) service? They do have chaplains of a number of faiths, including Muslim, I checked.

With all due respect to my American friends, the illusion that the Embassy can do alot for you is just that, and more prevalent among Americans than other nationalities. If I'm ever in extremis I'll be waving my Italian passport because they will bribe, I mean ransom, I mean negotiate you out, whereas the current Canadian government prefers to let people rot.

Why talk to Dr Phil when San Antonio and I can feed you the lines? :)

coolred38 said... come picturing you "escaping" some place or another is very easy to do...hmmm?

Well...Ive heard stories that the American Embassy will jump to action if your involved in altercations with the nationals...killed some of late...or just make a national nuisance of yourself (very embarrassing) but when it comes to the more personal type problems...they have a hard time even answering the phone...or calling you back despite repeated messages...sigh!

San Antonio Cicily said...

Ok Chiara what is it you don't like about Dr.Phil? I'm just curious!

Yasemin said...

Wow and they wonder why no one wants to fly on their bankrupt airlines these days! This doesn't exactly instill a lot of confidence in American. And they can't even say that this is shady customer sevice agent isn't part of their hub airport, being that Dallas is it. Too bad, she can't get fired! I would love her job-there are a lot of perks to working for the airlnes.

I wish it wasn't too late to avoid going through Heathrow all together, and maybe look at some other options for layovers. Heck, landing in Burkina Faso sounds better at this point. Qantas has great service and has never crashed, maybe that's a good option to let her go through Australia, and put your mind at ease at least a little.

I'm always praying or you sister. I think I may know the nice gentleman who helped you. Mashallah he is wonderful. Love you dear.

Chiara said...

Coolred--Moi? LOL :)
The "escape" involved my looking out the window as my Air Iran flight landed and seeing the great maple leaf on the tail of the Air Canada flight for the same day, whereas I was booked to stay over 24hrs in Frankfurt because of airline rules on time allowable between connecting flights.

In a welling of nationalism and homesickness I rarely feel, I decided to make that flight. So I memorized the seat card showing a map of the airport, prepared all my things, and got off the plane ASAP, then sprinted with everything (hijab, jellabah) flapping (I'm sure you know the feeling), and cursing the high heels (fortunately sturdy and only 2") through the airport, to the shuttle, through the next terminal and up to the Air Canada desk, where they were still boarding.

As I breathlessly explained my situation, and waved my ticket, the steward said, "Just wait until we finish boarding", and the stewardess said "We WILL get you on THIS plane", which is when I realized I looked like an escapee. I WAS boarded, to a First Class seat!!

Sometimes I love Air Canada!

Glad to here the US Embassy is helpful in extremis!

Chiara said...

San Antonio Cicely:
Re: Dr. Phil--aside from his looks (sorry), I think he uses an overly aggressive, confrontational approach, that works well only short term (in all cases, there are studies on this, including on the similarly aggressive method of Habib Davanloo, the late psychiatrist),and, in this situation, only where people are publically shamed into going along with it. He overly dramatizes family confict, and tends to ambush one or more members. His technique of forcing people into sitting face to face, knee to knee, makes for good television and poor therapy (and potential violence to the involved persons, and the therapist). Television therapy in general provides the illusion of quick fixes, and his folksly sayings while entertaining are overly reductionistic. He has been less than ethical (to say the least) in his approaches to Britney Spears, and Nadya Suleman (although ultimately better with her).

To his credit, he provides longer term therapy off camera, and acknowledges it is necessary. He also gives basic sound rundowns of certain problems, and encourages people to think positively about getting psychological help.

Thanks for the American Airlines info: in short optional UMNRs aged 15-17 cannot fly on the last flight of the day, and will not be accompanied through to connecting flights, but will be helped if an AA flight has a major delay. Good to know.

Chiara said...

San Antonio Cicily--I believe I mis-spelled your name previously. My apologies.

coolred38 said...

Lisa...thank you for your kind thoughts. So far Ive not had much luck...may actually have to fly to London to greet her and make it back...did I mention my 11 year old son will be with her thats some added anxiety there.

Chiara...will wait to see it on the big get the full who will be playing your part?

btw on Dr Phils behalf and your list of complaints...I would guess the people who agree to be on his show are well aware of his methods etc...its what he's known I guess they get what they came other words?

Chiara said...

Coolred--re: the movie--someone too fabulous to be anticipated yet! LOL :)

re: Dr Phil--I'm sure the participants do, and they hopefully are prepared ahead of time. However this is the kind of treatment in public that can have unanticipated impacts on people, most of whom are media naive. That is the reason a newspaper advice columnist has given for keeping all letters and replies confidential even when encouraged to use the names of the people.

I do think Dr. Phil does alot of educating, and as I said, he does provide the ongoing therapy people need. I was asked for my criticisms and so the comment is one-sided. At certain points people may need this kind of "wakeup" therapy, but many viewers seem to confuse it with all therapy.

Apologies to any of the good Dr's fans, if offended.

San Antonio Cicily said...

I think there is some confusion here, I rarely get to see Dr.Phil, I have 3 kids 17, 4 and 10 so I am kept pretty busy. I really haven't seen many of his shows honestly, but the ones I have seen seem to make pretty good sense. He has some good ideas! My retarded sister says that for those of us who can't afford therapy this is a great show, ( I think she's being facetious). I have no idea what the impact of his show has on the people who decide to appear on it. There is a woman where I live that went on it and had a good time. I think I just like his personality myself, being from Texas myself, he is very laid back. I really haven't taken the time to analyze his show or it's impact on people. It's more entertainment for me than anything. People from Texas can be very laid back! Tejano music is good down there too! If you've never been to San Antonio you have to go!!!

coolred38 said...

Ok Dr have been raised up...knocked down..and raised up again...and you didnt even know

Dont worry...we got your back!!!

Chiara said...

I am a definite fan of San Antonio which is on my list of cities to visit.
I don't spend much time (next to none) watching Dr Phil but I have seen enough to make the comments above from a professional viewpoint.
You ladies just have the hots for him, right? LOL

Chiara said...

Any update on your children flying back through London? Will the oldest daughter stay in Texas?

Nzingha said...

Can your daughter cry good? Quite honestly that is what I would do in London. Sit on the plane and cry :) Crying kids move the right people to go out of their way and do the right thing. At the very least she can get security to help her in London.

Or can you meet her in London? Or fly someone she knows to meet her there?

coolred38 said...

I was stationed in San Antonio during my basic training while in the military...all I remember was the heat (lol I thought it was hot...didnt know about Bahrain)...the River Walk...and the small fortune fast foods were charging us fast food starved newbies once we got a chance to escape the

Chiara...emailing back and far doesnt look good. Oldest daughter will be coming for a visit along with her sibs...but she has a return tickect with KLM so wont be with them...unless we cancel and buy another ticket for her...which I cannot usual. argh!!!

Nzingha...NO WAY!!! Lol...I was just asking my daughter the same thing...but really no need to ask...while she doesnt like to cry..she can bring it on with the best of them when properly motivated.

I was also considering meeting her there...I might also add that my young son will be traveling back as well...either with her or with the older sis...depending on price and seat availability. Im thinking it would be better to travel with younger daughter...more sympathy and willingness to help....maybe?

This is sooooo confusing and hectic.

Chiara said...

I agree with getting the London airport itself to do something, preferably arranged ahead eg. their own security system, or the chaplain's office (nice Muslim chaplain, should be happy to do it).

Or she could just walk up to the nearest female uniformed airport representative, or any female representative of any airline, and show her tickets with unaccompanied minor stamped all over them and ask to be helped to the departure area for the next part of the journey (hopefully no long stopover).

I have actually requested this type of help in one of my flying through the airport "escapes" to the connecting flight (Air Canada can't tell time, and doesn't know there is a one hour difference between Morocco and France). People were very helpful!!

coolred38 said...

Chiara...Im a little concerned with all these "escapes" you keep time Im at the embassy Im going to make it a point to check out Americans Most Wanted a little more closely...I hear they offer rewards...hee hee

coolred38 said...

or rather...Americas Most Wanted

Nzingha said...

than bribe her to bring on those tears!! :) Honestly it would help her out. I would think between airline staff, airport staff, and travelling mothers like me, would go out of their way to help your children.

I would say send the younger two together because they may get more sympathy. it is a tough spot to be in.

coolred38 said...

Nzingha...thats probably what I will do.

Chiara said...

Hey, if I can improve your financial situation in anyway...

And stay tuned to America's Most Wanted featuring Tori Stafford, Canadian, missing since walking away from school in the company of the "white parka" woman...

I'm just sayin'... LOL :D

BTW if you are in the mood for (mostly) nasty Arabs kidnapping their children stories read Donya al-Nahi's "Heroine in the Desert" (fast read in the bookstore) or just google her name. She was finally stopped in her re-kidnap escapades by the Al-Habtoor family in Dubai.