Yes, you are reading it right – this is (probably) the most comprehensive airline complaint ever made. Why ? Because it shows an accurate picture of what really happened with a dose of constructive criticism.
- from the passengers perspective aka the customer – in terms of ALL losses and how to proceed in certain cases
- from the airline perspective – in terms of quality of services , process , communication and how can they improve
It will actually be useful for us, as passengers, if you (the reader) can prove me wrong with an even better complaint. Twice as better if directed at the same airline. Feel free to do it in the comments.
Note – this is not a ‘mad customer yelling for compensation‘ post. It’s more of a ‘yes, this is how it is, i lost this and this ; I will not even be partially refunded in terms of money, time and energy but this is how the airline could have done better and most important – this is what YOU should do, to avoid the headaches’ . KLM support might be very happy to read this, knowing that I have no expectation of refund but don’t get me wrong. There are things that CLEARLY need reimbursed. And it should be done as fast as possible. I’m just realistic and aware of no legal basis in place to cover for the other things mentioned, besides direct money losses.
- 1 What happened
- 2 What was the loss
- 3 The customer support experience
- 4 What could have been done better on the Airline side
- 4.1 The Initial canceled flight was automatically rebooked by KLM
- 4.2 Airport staff announced passangers of what can be done
- 4.3 Lesson 1 – Supplementing support staff based on risk
- 4.4 Lesson 2 – send an email / SMS to all affected passangers instead of having them waste hours in support
- 4.5 Lesson 3 – pay attention to your support channels OR do NOT send customer satisfaction surveys to people that have not received any answer from your support in almost 1 week
- 4.6 Lesson 3 – be honest
- 5 What could have been done better on the passenger side or Incident response for the customer in case of a canceled flight
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 References
There was not one, but two flights canceled due to bad weather. There were much more than two flights canceled as even the entire airport got close. Those two cancelations are what affected me directly.
Totally understandable – I would rather not fly than risk dying in an airplane.
Airline company – KLM. Airport – Schiphol , Amsterdam.
The problem here is not the weather but the poor operational management from KLM as well as the customer support that makes you feel like nobody.
What was the loss
People tend to calculate their losses in money only, equivalent to their direct expenses, but neglect their time and energy directly and indirectly wasted. My losses for 2 canceled flights are summarized below :
- 2 nights of accomodation
- 2 trips from city centrum to hotel (either walking , or using public transport or taxi)
- 2 trips from hotel to city centrum (either walking , or using public transport or taxi)
- 2 trips from the airport to the city centrum
- 2 trips from city centrum to airport
- 6 meals
- 1 plane ticket for the same destination, but at around double-price than the original one
- This is where people usually stop and we will refer to this as Direct expenses bundle 1 – but the below can mean much more money depending on your job and ‘side-gigs’, if any. Airline companies probably know better that time is money
- 2 hours of waiting in line to contact KLM support in the airport ( only for nothing, as the support desk was closed before i managed to reach it ; + at least 2 more hours of waiting were required based on the queue size and the speed of the support staff )
- 1,5 hours of daily attempts to contact support via phone call , WhatsApp , Facebook Messenger – read further for screenshots and interesting responses
- 16 hours of LOST work – i was supposed to be in office working, instead of waiting in queues and walking through the snow in a foreign city – this translates into a direct financial and time loss as well as an indirect time loss due to my absence in office, which i have to fill in afterwards – let’s say a total of 20 hours of work, direct and indrect
- 3 hours of writing this blogpost and sharing it accordingly on the internet
- And we will refer to this as Indirect expenses bundle 2
Total cost for Direct expenses bundle 1
Average calculation of money lost (not based on my expenses, but based on city averages)
80 euro X 2 (accomodation) + 15 euro X 6 (meals) + 30 euro X 2 (transportation to/from airport , 1st round with taxi) + 10 euro (transportation to/from airport , 2nd round with public transport) + 120 euro (difference between the plane ticket bought after cancelations and the initial plane ticket cost ) = 440 euro
Total cost for Indirect expenses bundle 2 (counting only the hours related to work and not the hours wasted in the meantime)
20 hours of work X 19,34 euro (average salary in Denmark based on this source where the monthly net salary of 3095 euro was divided to 160 hours – NOTE – that’s the average salary) = 386,875 euro
Total cost for Direct expenses bundle 1 and Indirect expenses bundle 2 = 440 euro + 386 euro = 826 euro (on average)
The above is for 1 person. Multiply that with 200-300 of people that lost their flights, just like i did.
826 euro X 300 affected people = 247800 euro
200-3oo people – random number i just threw out. We have an official number from the local Dutch press , going to the range of thousands. Cannot quite see how many were related to KLM but let’s multiply again
826 euro X 1000 affected people = 826000 euro
But nobody cares about these loses, even though it gets close to a million because it’s on the passenger side. The airlines are still making lots of money, as detailed below and maybe get affected by such incidents, but of course, not as much as the passengers.
The customer support experience
1. Direct talk with customer support in the airport
As mentioned above, 2 hours of waiting line for nothing, as the support desk was closed before i managed to reach it. At least 2 more hours of waiting were required based on the queue size and the speed of the support staff.
2. Phone call
Right after the flight got canceled and during the following days, I repeatedly tried to call KLM. All answers were automated, stating that they are ‘experiencing high volumes of calls during this period‘. The call was ended without any direct human interaction and I was recommended to try the other channels. Fair enough – let’s try the other channels.
3. Instant messanging (x2)
Right after the flight got canceled and during the following days, I repeatedly tried reaching KLM support on WhatsApp and Facebook messenger. No answer.
Apparently, KLM ‘typically replies instantly’ . Not the case. What was even worse, was that when they finally replied (after 1 week), it was with an automated message related to a customer satisfaction survey in Spanish.
No idea why they selected Spanish, but very thoughtfull of them to include the message twice.
But at least KLM is ‘happy to help you’, as they clearly state it on their website.
Same thing with WhatsApp, where the reply came after aproximately 1 week and it looked like an automated one.
‘We are currently experiencing high volumes…‘ – this sounds very familiar as I’ve heard the same thing over the phone.
If you are too busy to answer on phones and on IM, what are you actually doing ? Are all customers receiving this ? Who is getting an answer ? What is the criteria of selection ?
This could have been easily avoided if they had emailed all passangers with canceled flights with this message. Much more easier.
I immediately started filling in the online form for the complaint but as I was feeling a bit lost, due to the lack of human interaction. Reason why I wanted to see if there is a human on the other side.
Apparently, they do not share personal data of their agents. Fair enough, I work with personal data protection so I can totally relate.
4. Social media
This is the main purpose for this article – to have something good to share on social media, that will clearly attract the attention of the support staff.
This is the only option, since I am either ignored on all other channels or the answers I receive are automated and without value. Given the time and quality of the support responses, I honestly do not know if somebody will even read my complaint until 2018.
If any KLM support or management staff reads this and comments, I can gladly send you the reference number. Posts updates will follow with the response time on the complaint. Check out the updates in the Updates on the Most comprehensive complaint ever on the horrible customer support from KLM post.
If that were true, I would have seen a reply to my complaint form, or on any support channel or a comment on the blogpost from @KLM support management or leadership. But i'm guessing, @KLM does not stress responding in cases that aren't too visibile to the public like Twitter ?
— Victor Truica (@VictorTruica) December 23, 2017
What could have been done better on the Airline side
Lets start with what was actually ok.
The Initial canceled flight was automatically rebooked by KLM
The morning following my first canceled flight, I received an email saying that my flight was rebooked. Perfect, until the second flight got canceled as well.
Airport staff announced passangers of what can be done
When the second flight got canceled and the entire airport was shut down, airport staff told everybody the following :
- we should now figure out what to do for the night (book a hotel)
- rest assured, as we will get reimbursed for the night at the hotel (max 120 euro) and transportation to/from airport. KLM support or management staff – if there is a big discrepancy between what the airline staff were saying and your reply in the complaint, it will not look so good for you. Communication and coordination is key.
- book the following flight ourselves as most flights were already booked for the following day
I knew exactly what needed to be done at that point. Thank you airport staff, which I’m not sure if they were KLM staff (no sarcasm).
But now, let’s look at what can be improved.
I get it – multiple flights get canceled. You have hundreds/thousands of people screaming at customer support. It’s normal to get overwhelmed – when you just opened your business and have no idea whats with the airline industry.
But KLM opened ALMOST 100 YEARS AGO. And my canceled flights due to bad weather were not the first maybe 100 such cases they’ve experienced. So why the bad response ?
Lesson 1 – Supplementing support staff based on risk
What is not normal is the fact that they did not properly prepare for it. Given that bad weather conditions where announced – KLM WAS EXPECTING flights to get canceled. Operationally, this should be covered by extra support staff. The amount required would have been calculated based on the risk.
Maybe this was done, maybe not. KLM support or management – please comment because looking at it from the passengers perspective, this was clearly not thought of.
The latest KLM financial report shows an increase in temporary employees from 2016 to 2017, but a decrease in ground staff.
Im not a business man, i’m just a passenger – but when I see an increase in net income of about 62% and passenger losses of almost 250000 euro (in case of 300 affected passengers) i just feel outraged that KLM could not have used at least something out of that 705 million net income to avoid all these complications.
Lesson 2 – send an email / SMS to all affected passangers instead of having them waste hours in support
This would have been a dobule-Win. Both for KLM and for the Passangers. Oh, and it would have been much more cheaper for KLM – because that’s the important part – low costs, high profits.
Lesson 3 – pay attention to your support channels OR do NOT send customer satisfaction surveys to people that have not received any answer from your support in almost 1 week
Enough said in the heading. This might have been possible if the staff was properly supplemented based on lesson 1.
This is something that makes the passanger feel totally ignored. It is also very, very frustrating. KLM support or management staff – I’m curious to see your reaction to receiving a customer satisfaction survey after you are being ignored for around 1 week.
Lesson 3 – be honest
Let’s face it, it’s all about the money and we already know that. This is why people do business – for money and not for customer satisfaction. And it is totally understandable.
I just hate the fact that these businesses still lie about how much they care about their customers, when the only thing on their agenda is how to increase revenue and decrease costs. Customer satisfaction doesn’t quite fit in neither of those, as it increases costs (or does it as it, ironically, increases revenue on the long run).
But sure, you can get a platinum / gold / business / blabla membership and then you can get the attention required. Sure – I need to pay extra to be treated like a human being, thanks!
What could have been done better on the passenger side or Incident response for the customer in case of a canceled flight
I accepted the fact that nobody will ever compensate me for my time and energy spent on an incident like this. The money will probably get reimbursed (most likely not entirely), but nobody will give you your time back. Therefore, it is up to you, as a passenger to prepare for this as best as possible.
Just like in any incident response program, let’s start with preparation
- Check weather forecasts as well as airport annoucements – it helps for a risk evaluation.
- Inform yourself on how to file a claim before buying the plane ticket / heading to the airport and be ready to do it as soon as it is required
- Enroll in the airlines travel programs (preferably for free) – this increases the chance that you will be taken seriously.
- KLM has the flying blue program, which you can enroll for free. I’m part of that, but it didn’t seem to help too much so far. At least the automated response on the phone call identified me as a member, but nothing more.
- Of course, you can buy platinum memberships and other things, but I simply do not have the need for something like that nor do I agree with the fact that I need to pay extra to be treated like a human being.
- Keep a paper trail – more work for you, but it will (/might get) (part of) your money back
- request receipts everywhere you go
It then goes one with the ‘containment‘ phase where you just want to minimize/stop/contain the damage as best as possible and move on with your life.
What people typically do – get confused / wait / shout / get angry
What you should do
- attempt to contact support, but don’t rely on it– maybe you are one of the lucky ones that actually get a response
- book your next flight
- find an accomodation (or stay in the airport, based on your next flight)
- start the complaint process in the fastest way possible – most airlines should offer a web-based form – you should already know about this based on the preparation phase
- Example from KLM below , which is quite funny when looking at their selection.
- Does anybody ever use the ‘Thanks/Compliment’ option ?
- start doing something productive until your next flight
Recovery / follow-up
Follow-up on your complaint until you get an answer. You never know how long it will take.
I’m over 1 week after the incident and I’m still following up.
Oh well, more time wasted to get half the money I lost because other people are getting hundreds of millions annually. Depending on what you work with and what kind of job(s) you have, it might not be worth it to spend the time to get the money back.
I’m just looking forward for the moment when I can fly in private jet to avoid all of this. Until then or until i finish the follow-up stage, I’ll keep updating the post.
We can’t really do too much about this but prepare based on the risk levels. This was a valuable lesson for me in terms of risk management and incident response and will hopefully be for you too.
KLM support or management staff – I’m looking forward to your comments
Check out the updates in the Updates on the Most comprehensive complaint ever on the horrible customer support from KLM post.
All external sources referenced above are listed below. Other relevant references have also been included