When things go right

American_Airlines_logoRegular readers of this blog know that I believe strongly in the power of social media.

Social media has been used to topple governments, connect people globally around a common cause and to highlight awareness of issues that may otherwise go unnoticed.

You can also use the awesome power of social media to put pressure on companies or businesses that fail to deliver on their promises.

But today, I want to highlight a company that responded to the pressure of social media in a productive and meaningful way.

Some of you may recall that I was fairly harsh with American Airlines regarding the treatment I received on a March 21 flight from West Palm Beach to Portland, Maine. You can read all the gory details here: Automatic For The People.

I used Facebook and Twitter to express my dissatisfaction with the airline. I waged a relentless battle while the airline repeatedly asked for my patience. It took nearly two months to get a response.

That said, the response I received was meaningful and sincere. The airline explained why the situation happened, detailed the corrective steps that they were taking and agreed with me that they had short-changed me on my compensation for an over-booked flight. It was a lengthy and detailed response. It showed empathy and reinforced the airline’s commitment to customer service.

Since I was particularly tough on the airline, I thought I should share their response publicly. The text of their e-mail is posted below: (Personal information has been redacted)

***************

May 14, 2015

Dear Mr. Seaver:

I’m sorry you weren’t able to board your scheduled flight to Portland and I understand your frustration. You have every right to expect to be boarded on the flights you have reserved. As you may know, airlines overbook to help plan for customers who are re-booked at the last minute or do not show up for their flights. An empty seat on a flight means a loss of revenue, which in turn means higher ticket prices. I realize this explanation doesn’t change what happened, but I wanted to let you know some of the reasoning behind this process.

At American Airlines we are committed to providing a truly enjoyable travel experience, and a warm, courteous attitude on the part of our employees is the key. That is why your email is so disheartening. We did not afford you with friendly customer service at the gate and the Passenger Assistance Counter, and we apologize. Your comments are important and serve as a significant tool in helping to maintain our standards of excellence. I have shared your feedback with the Philadelphia Station Manager to be addressed directly with the personnel on duty at these positions.

Per our Customer Service Plan and in accordance with the regulations of the US Department of Transportation, when a passenger has been subjected to involuntary denied boarding on a domestic flight, the passenger is entitled to one of the following forms of compensation:

* If the passenger’s arrival at his or her final destination is greater than one hour but less than two hours past their original scheduled arrival, involuntary compensation is 200 percent of the sum of the values of the remaining flight coupons of the ticket to the next stopover, but not to exceed $650.

* If the passenger’s arrival at their final destination is two hours or more past their original scheduled arrival, involuntary compensation is 400 percent of the sum of the values of the remaining flight coupons of the ticket to the next stopover, but not to exceed $1300.

Based on the circumstances surrounding your flight, you should have received a check for $[redacted], and we apologize that the check you were given did not meet this amount. I have issued an additional check for $[redacted], the difference between the correct value and what you received at the airport.

Mr. Seaver, I truly appreciate the time you took to share your experience with us. It is always our pleasure to have an opportunity to serve you and hope you will look to the new American Airlines for your future travel needs.

Sincerely,

[Redacted]

******************

We all screw up sometimes, but it is heartening to know that simply acknowledging your mistakes and taking corrective actions can restore faith and trust in your relationships, whether they are personal or professional.

Kudos to American Airlines for stepping up to do the right thing.

Ship of fools

VGThere’s a right way and a wrong way to handle social media, and in the city of Biddeford, orange can now step aside because Facebook is the new black.

Biddeford’s political machinations have always been colorful and somewhat interesting.

But lately, our city’s colorful political landscape has gone from an interesting mix of pastels to a nightmarish blend of bright acrylics that looks like something from a Van Gogh nightmare.

Just four hours after Mayor Alan Casavant announced on Facebook that he will be seeking a third term, an anonymous Facebook identity popped up and started sending out “friend” requests.

“Joe Biddeford” says he (she?) wants to keep his/her identity anonymous “to keep trolls from attacking me as opposed to contributing to the important dialogue on local issues.”

Since I routinely blog about Biddeford politics and often play in political circles, I was curious about what this “dialogue” would be. So I sent Joe a friend request. As of this writing, Joe has not accepted my request.  I am heartbroken by this.

Many of my friends have received friend requests from Joe Biddeford, but not me.

Joe Biddeford’s Facebook page is public, and last I checked he had 10 friends. Wow! 10 friends.

But wait, it gets better. Only two people have posted anything on Joe Biddeford’s Facebook timeline. One of them is my friend Fred Staples, a former city councilor who has 407 Facebook friends.

The other person is Paul Pelletier, a familiar enough surname in a community with a Franco heritage.

But get this: Paul Pelletier has zero Facebook friends. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Paul Pelletier seems to be a ghost raised from the dead just a few weeks ago, according to his/her Facebook profile, which is also public. Unlike Joe Biddeford, “Paul” says he/she does not want friends. (All the makings of a sociopath)

In the “About” section of his Facebook page, “Paul” dazzles us with this brilliance: “I don’t wish to share information over Facebook. I use it for informational purposes and to engage in political conversations.”

Someone needs to tell Paul that he should not be on Facebook if he doesn’t want to share information on Facebook.

He says he uses Facebook for “informational purposes.” That’s generally what  all stalkers say.

“Gee, officer, I know I followed her through the mall and into the parking lot, but I was just gathering information about shopping trends.”

I’ve got some news for “Joe Biddeford” and “Paul Pelletier:” There are several places where you can go to engage in social media conversations about Biddeford or its politics.

On Facebook, there is Biddeford Today, a page that features news about the city and profiles of its residents. There is a nostalgia page called You Know You’re From Biddeford If . . . There is a Facebook Page for the for the city’s dog park, and even this blog has its own Facebook page.

Heck, once upon a time there were two other blogs about Biddeford Politics: Game Over: The Premier Blog of Biddeford; and “Biddeford’s Best Blog: B3. Both of those blogs (critical of Mayor  Casavant) went radio silent shortly after Casavant won his last election in 2013.

The point is: there are plenty of places to go on the internet to talk with Biddeford residents.

The power of the internet

Let’s face it, the internet is an extremely powerful tool that enables instant, global communication. And social media has been used to topple governments, win presidential elections and showcase cute kitten videos.

Sometimes, if you use it properly, social media can bring attention to things that might otherwise go ignored. Social media can be used for noble purposes (crowd funding) and for bad purposes (child pornography).

A couple of years ago, I used social media to bring AT&T to its knees after the company failed to address one of my complaints. More recently, I have tried the same tactics with American Airlines, but have yet to accomplish my goals. (I’m not done yet).

If you want to be “social” on the internet, social media outlets are a great place to start. It’s also a great place to stop because an increasing number of people are reporting being addicted to social media.

Sometimes, the best way to be social is to turn off your computer, pick up your phone and call a real friend. Go for a walk, have a cup of coffee. You don’t have to be anonymous or play silly little games.

If you really need to connect, try stepping away from the keyboard and breathe some fresh air.

[Edited: “Joe Biddeford” accepted my friend request. Yippee! Now I can finally take part in the “important dialogue about local issues.”]

Automatic for the people

300808-USAirways-N206UWA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my lousy experience with US Airways. I was involuntarily bumped from a flight, causing a five-hour delay in my travel plans.

Worse than that, however, was the rude, condescending and pitiful customer service I received while trying to arrange for a new flight.

I have been flying for a lot of years, and I never experienced such awful customer service.

So, I decided to contact the airline and file a complaint, using this handy link on their website. That was March 24.

I provided my ticket number, my reservation and details of my flight. I wrote that they had failed to compensate me, per their own policy. I detailed the horrible behavior of their staff and “customer service” personnel working at Philadelphia International.

US Airways ripped me off, and treated me like garbage. Surely, they would respond.

You  can read all the gory details of my March 21 flight here: Customer Service: Epic Fail.

But six days went by with no response. So I penned a previous blog post and took my frustration to social media. That was March 30.

Posting on Twitter did catch someone’s attention.

Ok, maybe now, I would get some follow through. Not.

More than a week later, on April 8:

US Airways will soon merge with American Airlines, and I would recommend  avoiding both airlines whenever possible because this is how you will be treated if anything goes wrong, from lost baggage to being  bumped from a reserved flight.

It has been almost three weeks without addressing a simple complaint. As the merger between US Airways and American Airlines goes forward, they must acknowledge three issues (at least one is true).

1.) We need to hire more customer relations personnel.

2.) Our system for resolving complaints is dysfunctional; or (more likely).

3.) We don’t care about our customers.

Which of these do you think is true?

Dime Store Mystery

Moments after learning that she had been ousted from the mayor’s seat, Joanne Twomey declared that the citizens of Biddeford “don’t deserve me.”

She was right.

We deserve better.

In my last newspaper column, published in December 2005, I tried to explain what motivated that column for so many years.

“Political bullies are very much like their school-yard counterparts. They’re just not as clever, and they often cloak themselves in robes of self-described nobility and purpose,” I wrote.

Many people have described Maine Governor Paul LePage as a political bully.

Regardless of your feelings about the governor, what happened this week during one of his “town hall” events was an embarrassment to an entire community.

Joanne Twomey (Portland Press Herald photo)

Joanne Twomey (Portland Press Herald photo)

I suppose it would be easy to understand Ms. Twomey’s irrational outburst — which included lobbing a jar of Vaseline at the governor — if this were a one-time event: a tipping point of rage and resentment triggered by emotion.

But that’s not what it was.

Instead it was just one more incident in a long line of emotional outbursts from Ms. Twomey, a woman who  loves creating controversy, grabbing headlines and listening to herself roar with self-righteous indignation.

Twomey has a long history of creating scenes. These outbursts serve no other purpose than to draw attention to Ms. Twomey.

If you listen to her speak, no one cares more than she does for the poor and afflicted, but don’t expect to see her volunteering at a soup kitchen or nursing home. Generally speaking, there are no TV cameras at such places.

Some people have applauded Twomey’s latest tirade. They say the governor got what was coming to him.

But what would they say about her angry outbursts that were directed at other governors, including Democrat John  Baldacci and Independent Angus King?

It’s not about politics; it’s about Joanne Twomey and her rage du jour.

In the early 1990s, Twomey was removed by police from City Hall, following another hissy fit, when once again her rage trumped manners and decorum.

As a state representative, she cried on the House floor when she did not get her way. She is a professional victim and the consummate hypocrite.

And her only real accomplishment is tarnishing the image and reputation of my hometown, which is now undergoing a transformative renaissance.

Since Twomey was ousted from office, the city of Biddeford has closed MERC, a controversial trash incinerator. Since Twomey was ousted from office, the city has attracted millions of dollars in new investment, started a curbside recycling program and has seen dozens of new small businesses open in the downtown area, and worked with the neighboring town of Saco to create the River Walk.

But Twomey’s tirade gets far more media attention. Following Thursday’s incident, social media, radio stations and television crews have repeatedly linked Biddeford to Twomey. “The city twice elected her as mayor,” they say.

They don’t bother to mention that she has lost her last three elections. Finally, the people of Biddeford see through her charade of indignation.

Over the last few years, many of our residents have poured blood, sweat and tears into revitalizing Biddeford.

Twomey’s contribution to that effort? Zip. Zero. Nada.

So once again, my community becomes a laughing-stock, a portrait of dysfunctional government, despite all the progress made over the last few years.

Twomey will tell you that she is principled and fighting the good fight on the side of the angels. But let’s look at her track record.

1.) The woman who once bemoaned the idea of a casino in Biddeford — testifying before the Biddeford City Council in 2003 by saying  — “In my Christmas village, there is no casino,” suddenly flipped when she got herself into a budget pinch, and she quickly became a cheerleader for a proposed casino. Principled? Really?

2.) The woman who built her political career on the backs of criticizing the owners of the MERC facility was giving them hugs in front of news cameras just two weeks before the 2009 mayoral election.

Just a few weeks later, after winning re-election as mayor, Twomey once again reversed her position. Principled? Really?

3.) During Biddeford’s Democratic caucus in 2012, Twomey said the city needed a “real Democrat” in Augusta, failing to mention that she encouraged Democrat State Rep. Paulette Beaudoin to run for her former legislative seat.

For such a principled person who professes to believe in the people, Twomey does not hesitate to play political hardball, but her victim routine is wearing thin.

Last year, Twomey huffed and puffed before the Biddeford City Council, accusing the city’s police department of discarding perfectly good bicycles that could be given to disadvantaged children.

It was later discovered that those bicycles were deemed beyond repair by the non-profit Community Bicycle Center.

Did Twomey apologize. Nope. Apologizing is not in her DNA.

In summary, Joanne Twomey has become everything she once despised: a petty, vindictive politician who keeps an enemies list.

But she was right about one thing: Biddeford does not deserve her.

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PS: Here’s what syndicated columnist and radio talk show host Howie Carr had to say about Thursday’s incident: (At 12:50, he gives a hat-tip to this blog)

Customer service: epic fail

US AirwaysSure, we’ve all experienced poor customer service. But sometimes, when the service approaches reprehensible, you swear you will never do business with that company again.

You also make it a point to tell your friends, family, co-workers and anyone else who will listen about your lousy experience.

Considering how much money most companies spend on advertising, public relations and brand management, you would think they would go out of their way to avoid angry consumers.

Not U.S. Airways.

Apparently, this commercial airliner is so caught up with its pending merger with American Airlines, it has completely forgotten one of the primary rules of business: customer satisfaction.

It’s not just me complaining. Take a gander at Twitter or Facebook and you easily find all kinds of horror stories about the horrendous customer service that is dished out daily to passengers across the globe by U.S. Airways (@USAirways).

Unfortunately, here in Portland, Maine, we are limited in our choice of airline carriers. From here on out, I will happily drive to Boston or Manchester simply to avoid ever again flying on U.S. Airways.

What happened

A few days ago, I had to fly to West Palm Beach, Florida for a business meeting. It would be a short trip with an early morning return the next day. My reservation was made a week in advance, so I paid dearly for my ticket.

The flight to West Palm was uneventful, including a brief layover for a connecting flight in Charlotte.

It was the return trip home, when my nightmare began to unfold.

When I attempted to get my boarding pass at the kiosk, I got a message to “see an agent.” Despite the crowds, I was able to get the attention of an agent who printed out my boarding pass. Strangely, my connecting flight in Philadelphia showed no seat number.

I asked the gate agent to explain or investigate why my connecting boarding pass had no assigned seat number. His response?

“I’m too busy. You’ll have to check with the folks in Philadelphia.”

I was able to board the first leg of my trip from West Palm to Philadelphia, and upon landing set upon a quest t find a US Airways customer service agent. (I had a two-hour layover, so I figured I had plenty of time to sort this out) I was wrong. Very wrong.

I did find a US Airways “customer service” desk. There was one person in front of me, and I waited 25 minutes to get to the desk.

Her response to my query? “I can’t help you, you need to see the gate agent to get this sorted out.” There’s 30 minutes of my life that I can never get back.

So, I proceed to the gate for my connecting flight. The gate agents were wrapping up their work on another flight, and when I approached the desk, they told me to “have a seat.” They said they would look into my problem once the other flight was finished at the ramp.

I took a seat, watching as the plane was being pushed across the tarmac and observing the two gate agents joking with one another.

Now, they must be ready to help me, I thought. So I approached the gate agents and they told me to take a seat and wait for the boarding of my flight.

So, I waited at the gate, now pacing and watching the minutes tick away.

Finally, it was time for the boarding of my connecting flight. Again, I approached the gate agents, and again I was told to “take a seat.” and wait.

In the end, there were nine of us who were unable to board that flight to Portland, Maine. Nine of us with reserved tickets who were told the flight was oversold. Nine of us waiting at the gate, watching as our flight was pushed across the ramp.

I approached the gate agents again. I was told a “customer service manager” would be there “shortly.”

Our group started losing its collective patience about 30 minutes later. The gate agents had left. We were left alone to speculate about what our next steps should be.

From bad to worse

I decided to stop waiting for the customer service manager and began trolling the concourse, looking for a US Airways “customer service” center. I found the “customer service” center and recognized one of the “customer service” representatives. He was the same gate agent who kept telling me to take my seat.

There was one passenger in line ahead of me. The other bumped passengers quickly lined up behind me.

Again, there was only one passenger ahead of me and two representatives “working” at the desk.

It took nearly 40 minutes for me to get to the desk.

While I was waiting in line, I watched in disbelief as the two airline representatives squabbled with each other and kept incessantly talking amongst themselves without ever making eye contact with the man standing right in front of them.

Finally, it was my turn. It took 15 minutes for these two “customer service professionals” to get me a boarding pass for a new flight ( in another concourse) and to receive a compensation check. They wrote out a check for $172.74.

While waiting in line, I read the US Airways policy regarding compensation for overbooked flights. My new flight was going to arrive in Portland more than fours after my original flight landed, meaning I should have received 400 percent of my ticket price from Philadelphia to Portland. You can read the policy here.

According to the US Airways web site: If the passenger’s arrival at their final destination is two hours or more past their original scheduled arrival, involuntary compensation is 400 percent of the sum of the values of the remaining flight coupons of the ticket to the next stopover, but not to exceed $1,300.

At this point, I was too fatigued and grumpy to do the calculation in my head. But how on Earth is $172.74 even close to 400 percent of an airline ticket from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine? Do they expect you to belive you can purchase such a ticket for less than $50?

I just want to get on a plane. I’ve had my share of standing in line. I’m not going to bicker. They beat me down and wore me out. I wanted a drink and a sandwich. I had time to kill before my next flight, so I found the nearest airport bar.

But wait, there’s more

By now I have had a beer and a Philly cheese steak sandwich (cost: $25.04). I have found the gate for my new flight. And the gate agent arrives with a grim face. US Airways “downsized” the flight. The gate agent was looking for volunteers who would like a $320 flight voucher and accommodations at the “newly remodeled Clarion Hotel” at the airport.

So, if you voluntarily give up your seat, you get $320 worth of services. If you get involuntarily bumped, you get $172.74.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Luckily, I was able to board the smaller aircraft. But not everyone was so lucky.

I arrived home more than fours late, but the $7 I spent for that gin and tonic in the air was worth every penny. That drink should have been comped. Maybe $7 would be enough for me not to launch a public relations nightmare toward US Airways.

Maybe not.

In closing, I have two words to describe customer service at US Airways: Epic. Fail.

When All Else Fails

530261_3585526400072_1544507556_nWho do you turn to when all else fails? Who has your back? Who’s got your six?

It occurs to me that I have been blogging here for a little more than three years. We have covered a lot of topics, from politics to my ongoing struggles with a mental illness. I have posted humorous things and somber things. I have posted Pro Tips for aspiring candidates and explored my hometown’s recent economic revival. I have written about solid waste and about the effects of herring on lobsters.

That’s a pretty diverse list of subject matter, don’t you think?

But it also occurs to me that there in one subject that is too often left in the shadows.

Sure, I talk about my wife on these pages, but it’s usually as a passing reference point or to highlight her battle against multiple sclerosis as a fundraising tool for the annual MS Walk in York County.

But today, for a few different reasons, I want to talk more publicly about the woman who changed my life. The woman who is my best friend and my strongest ally.

IMG_0539When I first met Laura, she was running for a seat on the Old Orchard Beach School Board. I was the editor of the local newspaper, and thus I offered my readers endorsements of candidates. I did not endorse Laura. I mistakenly thought she was running for a seat held by an accomplished incumbent.

Laura sent me an e-mail just a couple of days after my endorsements were published. She pointed out the mistake, which I did not take so well.

For whatever reasons, we continued an e-mail exchange that was almost instantly flirtatious. She did not win her election, and we had our first date a few days later  – – on a cold November afternoon that I will never forget.

I was smitten, but I was also impressed by her strength and courage. She was a single mother, raising two boys without any support from their father. She worked long hours in one of the most stressful jobs you can imagine: a social worker for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in the office of Child and Family Services.

She bought her own modest home about a year before she met me. We dated several weeks before she would let me meet her children.

She is an awesome mother who would take her young boys frog hunting in the spring. She has gone skydiving and has never met a rollercoaster she did not like. Unlike me, she is a risk taker, always ready for the next adventure.

She is spontaneous and her laugh is more like a howl that consumes her entire body. She’s not into nouveaux cuisine or the latest fashion trends. Her favorite band is whatever is playing on the radio at that time.

268334_1896380292475_1330632899_31681248_3529053_n[1]She is mischievous and endearing. She is a voracious reader who loves animals (and owns too many, in my opinion).

She is down-to-earth and wears her heart on her sleeve. There is no pretense with Laura. What you see is what you get.

She is the consummate professional and has a hard time separating her emotions from the strain of her job. She loves the kids she works with almost as much as she loves her own.

She knows a thing or two about friendships. If you become friends with Laura, it is a life-long affair. She and her best friend have known each other since their freshman year in high school.

Laura is generous to a fault. She always wants to help, to give to others, to make others smile and feel loved.

Her chocolate cheesecake is world-famous (or soon will be).

She volunteers in the community and gets involved with causes left and right. She currently serves on the City Council’s Policy Committee and served two terms on the local school board. In her first election, she got more votes than any other candidate on the ballots, including the mayor and at-large city councilors.

Laura snores and will sometimes leave wet towels on the floor; so I suppose she is not perfect.

IMG_0668But here’s what I do know: she is an amazing wife. She is my primary caregiver, a trusted confidant and someone who will fight tooth and nail on my behalf.

I often wondered why she married me. It wasn’t money. I had none. It was not for my good looks. I am bald and overweight.

I suppose it doesn’t matter why she married me. What does matter, however, is that she married me.

So, when all else fails, I have something pretty special in my corner. And for that – – I am eternally grateful.

A short video montage:

Snow Pool

Feb. 28. 2015

Feb. 28. 2015

Tired of winter? Ready for some fun? Want to make some money?

Well, get into the Snow Pool!

Here’s how it works. You put $3 into a community pool. You then send me an e-mail with your guess about when all the snow in this snow bank will be completely gone. We must see dirt and grass with absolutely no snow.

The person (or persons) who come closest to the date will share all the money collected in the pool.

I will post frequent photo updates of the snow bank, but all entries must be received no later than March 15, 2015.

To get into the fun, click here to go to the DONATE page and click on the “Donate” icon. Make your donation of $3, and then send me an e-mail to randyseaver01@gmail.com with your best guess about the date when this snow bank will be gone for good.

I will track the responses and provide regular updates about the pool amount.

Good luck, and let’s have some fun while we wait for winter to finally take a hike. Think Spring!

(Hints: There is a crab-apple tree buried in this snow bank. The snowbank sits on the northeast corner of my yard in Biddeford, Maine)

RULES:

  • All participants must be 18 years-old or older
  • Void where prohibited
  • One guess per entry
  • Snow must be removed by natural causes (temperature, wind, etc.)