This post continues from one I posted on the Software Education blog describing the impact of a process change on the passengers and staff on Virgin Pacific….Read it here

I didn’t think the travel experience on this trip could get worse, but it did!

We flew back from Sydney to Wellington on Air New Zealand, and the problems happened on the ground this time.

Our bookings had been made separately as Nancy decided to accompany me a week after I made my booking. Because they were made separately I phoned the call centre to get them linked, to request seating on opposite aisles and to confirm the wheelchair request. I was told that we couldn’t have opposite aisle seats, but were pre seated in 6C and 10C.

The flight departure time was 18:45; we arrived at the airport and dropped off the hire car two hours ahead of the departure time. Paid the $4 to use a luggage trolley and got to the checkin counter at 17:00 on the dot. We bypassed the long queue by checking in at the premium counter (I have Gold status on Air NZ). We had 3 bags to check, which is not a problem with Gold status, and the boarding passes were printed. 10C and 4B (which is not an aisle seat) – I asked for this to be changed, and was told it needed the shift supervisor to make the change. This seemed strange, but OK.

I mentioned to said supervisor that we had been pre seated on 6c & 10c which resulted in a sharp “you can request but we don’t have to give it to you” response. The attitude was one of “we’re doing you a favor by even allowing you to fly – don’t push your luck”.

After a 10 minute wait (I timed it) new boarding passes were issued and we were told to “wait over there – a wheelchair has been requested). At 18:00 the announcement was made that the gate is open, at which point I commented to the checkin staff that we had planned to go to the lounge before boarding to be told “you couldn’t do that anyway”.

Further queries (indignant on my behalf) determined that my frequent flyer status was not on the booking – instead the Virgin frequent flyer number had got into the booking. This booking was made on Air New Zealand, using my Air New Zealand frequent flyer details, yet when we boarded the previous week on the Virgin flight it had been changed WITHOUT any consultation or authorization from me.

I showed my gold card and suddenly attitudes changed, one of the counter staff even said “if I’d known that I would have arranged the wheelchair sooner”. However no apology was forthcoming – it’s obviously my own fault that the status wasn’t recorded. Telephone calls were made and at 18:20 the wheelchair eventuated. During the wait a comment was made that the Virgin tieup is causing them problems too.

There wasn’t time to go to the lounge, and the work I had planned to do while there didn’t get done – can I bill Air New Zealand for lost productivity I wonder?

We were wheeled through immigration and security and deposited at the gate for boarding.

On board I was fuming, and spoke to the flight supervisor, a pleasant lady named Anita who listened sympathetically, asked me to write the saga down so she can ensure it is escalated and made sure that we are as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately seating moving around isn’t an option as the flight is full, but at least somebody listened!

Compared to the service fiasco on the Virgin flight, the in the air flight experience on this Air New Zealand flight is fantastic – smooth service, they know who gets what and no stumbling over lists.

So – poor processes compounded by dreadful customer service from the ground staff, slightly mitigated by a sympathetic ear on the plane. Overall Air New Zealand earns a D- from me for this trip. Customer delight it sure isn’t.

I’m flying to Rome next week – I wonder how that trip will go? Watch this space.