Research Cycle

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Vol 14|No 1|October |2017

The Old Man
and the C

by Jamie McKenzie (about author)

Once upon a time, there was an old man who wished to fly home to the USA from Romania with his two cats.

Even though he booked flights, he was turned away at the airport by The Big C - a huge corporation - an airline so big it could treat a customer badly without hesitation or remorse. It could break its promises, violate its contracts and strand an old man and his cats in a foreign city.

No matter how many people the old man spoke with at The Big C, they all repeated the same line. ďOne animal per person!Ē

This man knew that some airlines would not allow him to fly alone with his two cats. Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot had clear pet policies saying only one animal per person in the cabin.

Because this man had flown with two cats from the USA to Moscow on United airlines and The Big C in 2016, he picked them for his trip home. Neither of these airlines had a pet policy saying only one animal per person in the cabin. They seemed to welcome the extra income from a second seat.

First he booked two seats all the way from Bucharest to Denver with United Airlines and The Big C. Then he called The Big C and he made sure they had room for his two cats on their two flights. The reservation agent confirmed that she could book this travel without any problem, and she sent the old man two emails confirming that there would be a cat at each seat. Click to see the emails in a PDF file. Cat #1 Cat #2

The desk agent at the airport told him that he could not fly with his two cats because The Big C had a policy of "one animal per person."

The old man opened his laptop and politely showed her the pet policy on The Big Cís website which said nothing about one animal per person. She did not care. She held her ground.

Web site link

She kept repeating the policy that did not exist. She did not care that he had made this trip with United Airlines and The Big C in the year 2016. She did not care that he had emails proving the airline had agreed to his trip.

When the old man called customer service, they saw the notes put on the computer by the desk agent and they backed her up, claiming there was a policy of one pet per person.

Even though the old man knew there was no such policy, The Big C staff closed ranks and made no effort to keep its promises and allow him to fly. They kept repeating the non-existent policy over and over like a chant. They also let him know he was listed now as a "no show" even though he had appeared 150 minutes before flight time, adding insult to injury. In this way, he supposed, they could blame him for the incident and keep his money.

After many hours on the phone trying to get relief from The Big C, the old man finally gave up and started researching how to get back to the USA. He called United Airlines and they kindly suggested that he fly home from Munich on a purely United itinerary. They also charged him $ 289.80 because of a fare change.

It would take three days and two train rides to get to Munich with his cats. The first train ride was to Budapest - the 17 hour night train. The next ride was to Munich - a seven hour trip.

He did not know yet that none of the three railroad stations offered luggage carts or porters, so he would have to carry five 50 lb. bags, a guitar and his two cats all by himself.

Four of the old man's heavy bags.

The three days were a severe hardship, as the old man had to move one or two suitcases 150 feet and then return for the rest, step by step. Some were on wheels. Some were not. They all weighed 23 kilograms. The distances were always extreme and in one case he missed his train because he could not get the bags to the train in the brief time they posted the track number.

The two cats were shell-shocked by the ordeal with two long train trips and three hotels in as many days.

During this time, the old man heard nothing more from The Big C, though he had started sending emails to top executives and the customer care folks. No one at The Big C seemed to care that they had caused this problem which cost him four days and $ 1,446.56 as well as pain and suffering.

The old man had filed a formal complaint on the Web site of the The Big C the same day he was blocked from flying. There was no reply or comment until seven days later -- a reply that continued to claim a "one pet per person" policy and seemed to blame the victim, again mentioning he was a no show.

Looking for justice

Back in the USA, the old man found his anger growing as The Big Cís staff and top leaders either repeated the "one pet per person" falsehood or remained silent. There was no true apology, no confession of error, no compensation and no goodwill gesture to make up for four days of suffering.

He remembered that United Airlines had also seemed tone deaf when a passenger was forcibly remvoved from a flight in Chicago. Their initial response had been defensive, non-apologetic and unsympathetic. But then his fellow passengers posted a video that rapidly went viral.

This video quickly forced United's top management to do "an about face" and stop defending truly offensive passenger abuse. In addition, the injured passenger engaged an attorney in pleading his case. United ultimately reached a settlement with the passenger and committed itself to preventing any repetition of such incidents.

"David Dao and United Airlines Reach ĎAmicableí Settlement After Viral Video Incident"

While his own case was much less violent, The Big Cís treatment was harsh, the rationale for blocking him was a falsehood, and the airline's top management had shown a total lack of compassion or understanding of the damage the desk agent and her allies had done by lying about the pet policy.

He came to feel that the airline should do more than compensate him for his expenses and suffering. The Big C must apologize, admit fault and punish the employees who had violated his rights with a series of misstatements and fabrications.

He knew that the airline's credibility was an important aspect of its brand. If potential customers knew his story, he felt many would decide that The Big C could not be trusted. The only way they could prove they were trustworthy was to stop defending the indefensible and take strong action to demonstrate that they cared about customers and would not tolerate abuse of customers by employees.

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