Thursday, August 4, 2016

Letter to the CEO of Oman Air ... Part 2

Dear Oman Air,

I'm beginning to think I'm being targeted... like this is some mean joke someone is playing on me because I travel so much and because I probably pissed someone off with my last Letter to the CEO of Oman Air. in 2013... ( the one post that earned me 116 comments)

I will send this letter to the complaints section, but I would also like to share it with my readers because I'm a blogger. That's what we do. I'm sorry. 

On July 25th I had to endure one of your worst customer service failures of ALL TIME. I regularly experience customer service failures, but this almost takes the cake. I'm a frequent flyer. I'm a Gold Sindbad member. I'm loyal (have no choice really unless I fly up to Muscat on a magic carpet). My current statistics show that one out of every three flights I have an unpleasant experience. Yes, I maintain an excel sheet. These experiences usually involve one or all of the following:

1) Sindbad Gold/Silver counters in Muscat Airport have no one manning them

2) Online Checkin counter is hogged by one person with a serious problem who just can't sort out their ticket. 

3) Having to constantly remind your customer service people at the checkin counters to put the priority baggage tags on my luggage. 1 out of 2 times they forget unless I remind them. 

4) Arriving at gate only to be informed that "WOOPS we forgot to tell you that we changed planes and now you're in a different seat". Highly annoying when I'm traveling with someone and we wanted to sit together. That's why we checked in online and booked our seats in advance. That's what normal people do. Why can't you just inform us like normal airlines. A simple email. I register my phone number with every ticket I book but I have NEVER received an SMS from you. Ever. 

5) Looking at Boarding pass as I go through security only to discover that the flight has been delayed. Well why didn't you bother telling me at the counter? I could have gone out and had another passion fruit frozen yogurt at Pinkberry instead of sitting in the lounge for hours listening to Omani businessmen trying to sound loud and important on their phones while lining up to schedule foot massages in the quiet zone (while not being quiet). 

6) Arriving at the gate and being told to wait forever. 

7) Not finding a seat at the gate

8) Getting on the bus and waiting a good 10-15 minutes until it moves... with the doors open  (imagine Muscat heat in July... that was not fun)

9) Arriving at the aircraft only to wait some more in the bus (my record is 32 minutes in 2015... standing.... with a crowded bus)

10) Getting on the plane finally only to find someone else sitting in my seat. Usually a woman who doesn't want to sit beside a man, or a man who doesn't sit beside a woman. If I'm in a good mood I smile and ask the cabin crew for assistance, or I'll take the person's boarding pass and try to find their seat to take their place. If I'm in a bad mood I just ask them to get up with my "you don't wanna meet me in a dark alley" expression. The blank cold "I've been in a meeting all day and I'm not afraid to hurt you" expression. Yes, that one. 

11) Being told to move from my seat two or three times (happens regularly with me). They see a friendly-looking Omani girl with no face veil and automatically assume I'm cool sitting next to a man. I am, as long as we take off on time, but I hate being shifted again and again. Get your shit together and enforce rules. Or create a section for women. Stop this chaos. I have NEVER seen this on any other airline before.

12) Taking off finally. The food trolley comes. They throw (literally) a sandwich and apple juice on my tray as if I'm in a prison canteen. Normally I don't ask for anything. I hate eating on short flights. Why don't you ask before you force your cold little sandwich and warm apple juice on me? Why aren't there options. More importantly ... why do you sometimes offer water and sometimes not?

13) Taking off late and NEVER getting an apology for the delay. All the pilot or senior flight supervisor have to do is say "Dear Passengers - we apologize for the delay". Just admit you're late. Everything is better if you just say sorry. The indifferent we don't give a shit about you attitude drives me nuts. 

14) I've been on 45 minute flights across North America where they have an efficient food and beverage service with a choice of snacks and a choice of drinks. Why can't you do that? You have a one hour-twenty minute flight. Sometimes a cup of coffee would be nice. When we ask for one, the standard answer is "I'll see if we have time". If you have time for duty free, why don't you have time for coffee? Just have the bloody thermos on the snack trolley with you and a pile of paper cups. It's not rocket science.

15) Landing finally. Waiting in the baggage area. Everyone starts getting their bags ..... except me. What on earth is the point of Priority Baggage Tags if they're going to arrive at the very end? I just don't get it. If you don't have the ability to ensure an efficient priority baggage service for First/Business Class/Sindbad members, just don't offer the tags in the first place. 

So anyway, back to my experience last week from Muscat to Salalah. Bear with me.

I had spent 42 hours traveling across the world. Five flights. I was tired and jet-lagged and eager to get home. I checked in online that morning to ENSURE my seat was still there (economy aisle seat at the front of the plane... easy and quick to leave when we land). A few days before I tried to use one of my upgrade vouchers to upgrade to business class for this flight, but guess what? I applied through the website a good week before and to date I have not received a response. Great service, thanks.

 I went to the counter to drop off my heavy bags. The employee kindly put on the Priority Baggage tags. All was well. I went to Duty Free to buy something. Went to Costa Coffee for a caffeine fix. All was well. Wasn't in the mood for the lounge. 

I then headed to the gate a good 50 minutes before departure because I'm organized like that. The gate was full. I kid you not. Was this some kind of joke? You booked Gate EIGHT (one of the smallest) for the new Dreamliner aircraft? Some talented logistics people you guys have. For real. 

There were a few people at the gate ahead of me trying to get in. A family it turned out. A wife, children, a husband, and their housemaid. The Oman Air staff would not let the housemaid onto the flight. She had some permit letter from somewhere but it had expired two days before or something like that. The Omani husband was going nuts and arguing with the staff. I decided to be patient and observe the gate to see if I can spot one empty seat for me. My eye caught something... the flight information screen. Flight delayed. 


I waited another twenty minutes hoping the Omani family would stop arguing with the two employees at the desk and quietly observing the monitor to see if the flight would be delayed any further. Finally, I asked Mr. I Don't Care Oman Air Staff  if I could just get into the gate to sit down. He looked at me then he said "There's a line behind you". I looked behind me... lo and behold, at least thirty people standing in line. INSANE. But that's what you happen when you try to stuff an elephant into a telephone booth. Bad planning, my friends. Bad planning. 

We waited for an hour. I kid you not. In line. Standing. No apologies, nothing. By the time 40 minutes had gone by, I was leaning against the counter for support. I had a heavy laptop and bag. The Omani family were still arguing about their housemaid. A more senior Customer Service person was brought over to convince the family. The "Senior" customer service person completely ignored the 40+ line of people who had been standing for ages because your gate was too small to handle all the passengers. I wasn't willing to yell 'screw it' and go back to Costa because I had no idea when the flight was taking off, and I didn't want to lose my place in line leaning against the counter. 

The indifferent J.A and M. B. staff at the counter completely ignored me for an hour even though I stared them dead in the eyes waiting for one of them to give me an apologetic smile and say "Madam, we're sorry for the delay and sorry you have to line up like this and sorry there's no room for any of you to sit". But no, they completely ignored us. 

A man from the back of the line came up to argue that his wife was pregnant and needed to sit. They asked to see the wife then declared her unfit for travel. The man went berserk. "What do you mean?!! We're checked in! We're going home!". J & M said "Nope, she's eight months pregnant'. Husband says "No she's not. I said SIX months". They argued and argued and argued. The family with the housemaid and the family with the pregnant wife took up a good twenty more minutes with the customer service people while we continued to stand in line staring at them.

Some people already seated at the gate asked to be released in order to go to the bathroom (five feet away from the counter). The staff at the counter CLEARLY discriminated. Omanis allowed to go easily. Hand in your boarding card and go to the bathroom. Poor Pakistani laborers were not given the same treatment and in fact were treated like they were asking for a HUGE impossible favor. For real, Oman Air? Why the discrimination. Mother Nature does not discriminate.  We all need to pee. I'm sorry but it's a reality especially if you've been stranded at a gate with no information on your flight. Stop treating us like we're part of Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment

By the time an hour had passed, your staff didn't even update the information screen for new departure information. I had no idea when we were taking off. We were still at the gate ten minutes after the screen said we would take off. So professional. I had no idea when to confirm my arrival time to the person picking me up in the Salalah. Unfair to them too. 

When we finally boarded, I was ready to murder. Fortunately, I'm not the type of customer who makes a loud scene at the gate. I prefer to bottle up my anger and release it through this blog. 

The flight took off without ONE apology or even MENTION of the delay from either your pilot, first officer, or senior flight supervisor. Why couldn't your staff just acknowledge that everyone had been treated like crap and you're sorry for it? When I landed in Salalah, I had to wait 25 minutes to get my bags. People with no priority tags received their bags before me. What is wrong with the baggage system?

Your letter above confirms that you are committed to going the extra mile for your valued customers. To be honest, sir, I'm not feeling it. I have flown KLM, Swiss, Gulf Air, Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, Czech Airlines, Jet, Air Canada, Delta, United, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Emirates, and Porter. Sir, I know airlines. I know customer service. Oman Air is in the KG-1 class when it comes to customer service half the time. 

I have flown Oman Air internationally to London, Paris, and Delhi. The treatment was 'slightly' better to London and Paris, but not much. Delhi was another story altogether.  

The domestic flights are a nightmare. 50% of my flights between Salalah and Muscat are unpleasant. I'm not even a difficult person. I just want to get to where I'm going with minimum hassle. That's what I'm paying you for. I want to be able to leave at a decent time, be informed of any delays via email or sms, receive my bags as planned, and not be shifted from my seat. It's not too much to ask for is it? If it is, please let me know. 

I know everyone complains about Oman Air, but I wonder how many people actually take the time to write you long letters with feedback. Something has to change. You are our national carrier. What happens if competition is introduced domestically? You'll lose half your passengers! Just because you currently have a monopoly over the Omani market doesn't mean you have the right to treat people like this. 

Find a way to improve. Please. I'm tired.  

Dhofari Gucci.

PS ( On a positive note, I'd like to mention how professional and efficient your Sindbad email team are. Whenever I email directly, they respond efficiently and handle queries quickly. Thank you Manal & team)