Sunday, August 12, 2012

Unplugged for Four Days

An I-phone, an I-pad and a laptop computer are woven into my daily routine. I am rarely if ever without one of them in my possession from the time I wake until I call it a day. That changed briefly at the end of July when I left the laptop and I-pad at home and flew to a location in Northern Ontario devoid of cell towers - a place where my I-phone was as useless as a cassette in an I-pod.

I was surprised at how easy it was to drop out of the digital age. I and three fishing partners climbed into a De Havilland "Beaver" float plane and were flown 170 miles north of Nestor Falls, Ontario to Keeper Lake. The "Beaver" had spent most of its useful life flying around Iceland but had somehow made its way back to Canada where it had been built decades earlier. An air speed of around 105 mph and a scruffy bearded bush pilot made it feel like we were chugging along at 3000 feet in an old pickup truck. Clear sunny weather provided a great aerial view of the terrain changing from one with a sparse population to one without roads or any population. As the plane's pontoons softly touched down and slide along the lake's crystal clear water our expectations, fueled by the fly-in service's marketing material, were that we were going to have an unbelievable fishing experience.

Teamwork driven by the desire to fish helped us quickly unload the plane and haul everything up a small hill to our home for the next four days - a solar and propane powered cabin. After unpacking our food and supplies we quickly gathered our fishing gear and headed down to the dock. We set up two boats with fishing equipment and bait and within minutes we were fishing. Being from Illinois, where the anticipation of catching fish always exceeds the actual catching, we were ready for a change.

Over the next four days the promises made in the marketing material became reality as we collectively hauled in hundreds of walleye pike. We were as giddy as teenage boys as we yelled out "fish on" each time we hooked, landed and then released most of the fish we caught. Keeping and filleting just enough each day for our evening meals we feasted on walleye dishes never before cooked and served in northern Ontario - walleye fish tacos with guacamole and mango salsa and Thai green curry walleye with basmati rice and baby bok-choy. From our propane powered oven the perfume of cinnamon rolls, chocolate brownies and an apple gallette drifted across Keeper Lake during our stay. We ate very well indeed.

Following each day of fishing and dining we gathered around a table, lit by lights powered by solar charged batteries, to pair up and play cards. Good natured ribbing fueled by a few beers was routine. One team would eventually win and we would all turn in feeling fortunate to be in this remote location having the time of our lives. As we slipped off to sleep we may have all had different thoughts but I can guarantee you that none of us were thinking about our cell phone or the internet. Our cell phones, which were turned off and stowed in our bags on the day we arrived, had been sound asleep for days.

Dropping out of the digital age was like a trip back in time - a time when people talked to each other and their thumbs were used for more than texting. We had the chance to laugh and joke like young boys enjoying summer days that seemed to last forever. Escaping from emails, Google searches, the latest world news, phone calls and the constant checking of a smart phone was not a hardship but a blessing. I hope each of you plans and enjoys an escape from your digital devices in the near future.

Stay safe.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bait and Switch Ticket Sales

WARNING: This is an emotional blog post about poor customer service.

Recently I attempted to book flights to and from Australia. I will be facilitating three Lean Safety workshop events there in late August and had been given the green light by the organizer to book my flights. As usual I logged onto the American Airlines website to book my flights. After selecting my flights, seats, and making payment with a credit card I hit the “accept and pay” button. An icon churned as if it was processing my booking but instead of my record locator number appearing to confirm my purchase a red dialogue box which was titled "System Error" was displayed. Within the box was a phone number to call which was my next step toward frustration. The American Airlines system's employee said it was probably the browser I was using that was the root cause of the problem. I explained that I had using the same laptop to book flights on the AA website for the last three years and had never experienced a problem. In the end she guided me through the process of using a different browser. After thanking her for her help I went through the flight booking process once again and when I got to the accept and pay screen it once again churned out the same system error message. Not one who gives up easily I thought I would try once more before calling AA again. This time when I went to select my flights the low cost flights I had previously selected no longer appeared as a choice. The prices for the flights that now displayed were about $500 more! I was now emotional. It appeared I was a victim of a digital age version of bait and switch! I called AA to have them book my flights and I asked for the lower prices I had viewed on the screen prior to the system error messages. Of course the representative said she could not give me pricing that did not appear on her screen so I asked to talk with her supervisor. My experience with this customer service manager is a great example of why AA filed for bankruptcy protection. AA doesn't care about their customers. She explained that she had the same experience with the prices increasing when she tried to book a flight on United Airlines a few weeks earlier. Then, when I displayed some emotion and said, "Maybe I should start flying United," she responded with, "good luck with that!" I then said thanks for no help at all and that I would book my flights on line at the higher price without her help and hung up. About an hour later, after my cooling off period, I again logged onto AA and booked my flights at the higher price. Because I didn't trust the process I then logged into my AA account and went to the "view my flights" screen. I wanted to ensure that I did indeed have a flight booked. For once AA exceeded my expectations - I now had three round trip flights to Australia booked! It appeared, that even though I had received the system error messages and was not given the record locator numbers to confirm my flights, my first two transactions had resulted in confirmed flights. When I made my third call to AA the representative noted the system would not allow you to double book tickets on the same flight. To her surprise she discovered the system had allowed me to triple book my flights. She then cancelled two of the flights and left the first which was at the lower rate fare. Computer systems are blamed for many problems and I accept the fact that the root cause of what I experienced was indeed a computer system issue. Yet I do not accept the response of customer service managers who rather than try and solve your problem essentially tell you, if you think we're bad try the competition - they are worse. Poor service is no excuse for even poorer service. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest - I feel better now!

In the next month I will be visiting Indianapolis, Toronto, Melbourne and Sydney. Lean Safety events are also planned or in the works for Shanghai, China, Mason City, Iowa, Calgary, Ontario, Chicago and Donetsk, Ukraine.

Stay safe!