Last Thursday I got back from Australia, flying Air Canada from Sydney to Vancouver and then to Toronto.

And I am SO TIRED. I have major jetlag. I was actually worse yesterday than on the weekend. It’s really hitting me. And I’m not sleeping even though I’m so tired (and taking tons of melatonin).

So I’m seriously not that coherent, and I had an awesome post about menopause I wanted to write for today, but I don’t think I can be coherent enough.

I thought, instead, that I’d just tell you a story about what happened to us on the flight home.

Sydney to Vancouver is a LONG flight–I think about 15 or 16 hours.

We were fed a hot meal shortly after take off, but airplane meals are so small. Like less than the size of a dessert plate. Halfway through the flight we were given chicken caesar wraps. Then, about an hour before we landed in Vancouver, they came around with a hot breakfast–an omelette, a hashbrown, a sausage, and a roll and an apple.

Keith ate the roll and the apple, and he was about to eat the hot meal when an announcement came over the loud speaker.

“If there is anyone on the flight with medical knowledge, can you please assist a passenger and the crew at the back of the plane.”

Without a word, I stood up (I was in the aisle), and my husband got out and went to the back of the plane. A short time later a flight attendant handed me an envelope with a legal document excusing Keith from being sued for anything, and a voucher for 30% off another flight, which was kind.

I didn’t see Keith again until after the paramedics took the man off of the flight when we landed, and he rejoined me. (The man was fine; I won’t go into details, but it wasn’t serious).

However, we figured that one of the reasons the man had issues is that after 14 hours in the air, with little food and not too much water, you’re just hungry and dehydrated. And as we got off the plane in Vancouver, Keith confessed that he was rather hungry, too.

We had to deplane in Vancouver to go through customs, but then we were supposed to get right back on the plane. So we dutifully shuffled through the customs line, filled out our little forms, showed our passports, and then headed back to the gate to start the boarding process again–a gate with no restaurants. And we didn’t have much time to get something to eat, anyway.

Keith stood in line with our baggage, and I decided that I was going to try to do something nice for my husband.

I was going to make sure that as soon as we got on the plane, he’d get some food.

At the gate counter there were four Air Canada agents, I believe, and one woman wearing that yellow jacket that crossing guards wear. They all looked quite busy; there weren’t customers at the counter, and boarding hadn’t started quite yet, but I think they were trying to arrange for seat upgrades, etc. It was a very big plane heading to Toronto, so tons of passengers.

I walked up to the first Air Canada agent, who seemed to have a lull in her activities, and explained that my husband was one of the medical personnel who had assisted on the flight from Sydney, and so he was hungry and he needed a meal on the flight to Toronto.

Oh, that’s no problem. There’s lots of food available on board for purchase!

Ummmmm, no. I told her that he was not going to buy any food, because we had paid for a meal from Sydney, and he had not had a chance to eat it because he was responding to their call for help. So we needed a meal to replace it.

She told  us that was impossible. They couldn’t do that.

So I went to the second Air Canada agent. She was obviously annoyed (she was trying to change people’s seating) and told me that she couldn’t help me.

So I went to the woman who looked like she was in charge, and I started telling our story a little more loudly. The people around me started looking at the Air Canada agents as if they had two heads. Seriously, you can’t give the doctor a free meal after he helped one of your passengers and missed his meal?

Finally she just said, “Okay, fine,” and printed off a voucher for $15. She didn’t say thank you for helping the passenger, though.

Nevertheless, I felt like this was a minor victory and I headed back in line, and within a few minutes we had boarded.

Once the seat belt sign was off, Keith pressed the call button so that we could get some help and ask for the meal. No one came. About half an hour later the flight attendants came by to hand out drinks, and we asked about food, and told them our problem, and they said that the flight attendants would be taking orders soon.

Sure enough, about an hour later the flight attendants did come to take orders. We tried to order, but they said they couldn’t take orders for vouchers. We would have to wait. They could only take orders if you had pre-ordered your meals. So we were out of luck.

By now it’s a good an hour and a half into the flight. I’m getting increasingly perturbed. But then the stewardess comes back and says that it turns out we were on the pre-order list (I guess my assistant Tammy had pre-ordered some meals for us when she booked the flights, but I hadn’t known that) and so therefore she could indeed take our order, rather than making us wait.

So, to be clear, if Tammy had NOT pre-ordered the meals, we would have to wait until AFTER the pre-orders had been served to get a meal. And by now we had made it known to all of the gate agents and two flight attendants why Keith was hungry. 

Now, this is a minor thing. It’s just a meal, and we did eventually get one, and Keith did not die of starvation or anything.

But here’s what bothers me so much about customer service:

Would it have been that difficult for one of the gate agents to pick up a phone and call the flight attendants on the plane, and said, “Hey, there’s a guy in 37B who helped us out on the last flight, and could you guys just get him a meal first thing on the flight?” 

I know it wasn’t a usual problem. It was outside of the realm of the normal. But it wasn’t a difficult request. It wouldn’t have taken long to have helped us. And if the flight crew had honestly been made aware of what was going on, instead of having to deal with us trying to explain hurriedly as they were trying to take those carts up the aisles, I’m sure the flight crew wouldn’t have minded helping us.

It takes so little for someone to say, “Sure, let me just make this my problem.”

Because that’s what customer service really is, isn’t it? It’s someone saying: Let me make this my problem.

And that’s what we’re missing today. You can’t put that in a rule book or a procedure book; there are too many possible contingencies and you could never cover them all

Ummm… we need to a procedure on what to do if a doctor misses a meal right before the flight lands because he’s helping us out, and then he’s in a gate with no restaurant and no chance to eat, and then he’s immediately back on one of our flights….

Yeah, you can’t make a procedure for that. All you can do is hire people who will say, “Sure, let me make that my problem.”

And then empower them to do something about it.

Seriously, Air Canada, he was just hungry. And he just wanted a meal. And it would have taken so little effort to get him one. Thank you for the voucher. We appreciate it. And Keith would have helped the guy even without it.

But let’s all just ask, “in our jobs, am I doing everything only strictly by the book? Or am I owning issues and solving them when I can?” 

Because THAT is what makes an excellent employee.

What do you think? Ever had a GREAT experience with customer service? Or a terrible one? Let me know in the comments!

By the way–best experience with someone “making it my problem” that I’ve ever had was with FedEx shipping. One of my shipments got caught in customs and they hadn’t notified me properly, and it was only one day before my engagement in California. I called FedEx crying–and the woman personally made sure the shipment flew out that night. She was amazing, and really nice. And I sent her a nice package afterwards. I hope she moved up in the company–she showed that you simply had to be human and had to have empathy for people!

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