Saturday, August 11, 2012

United Airlines - good people; bad management

It took me a week to recover my baggage from United Airlines.  The process provided ample opportunity for anthropological field research into one of the least appealing assignments among the many customer-service jobs that must filled to keep a modern airline functioning.
From the time I filled out my first lost baggage form to the time, seven days later, when, after having made an extra round-trip to Dulles airport, I managed to recover my baggage, the process was time consuming, ill managed and frustrating.  United’s computerized tracking system rarely provided accurate information.  Its voice activated IT system did its best to ensure that only the most aggressive and it-savvy lost-baggage passengers were able to reach human customer service agents, who, with additional research were sometimes able to provide information that was accurate.. 
Yet the result of the week-long process, comprising nearly 10 hours of interactions and several more of distracting concern, led me to grudging respect for the United Airlines employees who were among the principal victims of a dysfunctional system in which routinely lost baggage was just one of many dysfunctions.  Most of them were doing their best to maintain their good humor and respond to passenger   concerns.  When, after computer research followed by a physical search of more than 45 minutes, an agent managed to locate my bags and present them to me, her expression of delight was genuine.  We joked together about the consequences of not having what was packed for a week after a long trip (for example underwear) before I took my leave and she returned to her desk to face the next passenger.
As I said in an earlier posting, United Airlines staff members, especially baggage service agents deserve our respect, consideration and, like all human beings, our altruistic compassion.  They are doing their best in a dysfunctional management environment that is neither efficient, empowering, nor humane.

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