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.)

 

Biddeford Council: Old White Guys

Roger Hurtubise

Roger Hurtubise

Critics of the Republican Party often say the GOP is the party of old, white men: a diminishing demographic  in a nation with increasing diversity.

Although I am hesitant to generalize the Republican Party, I can say with confidence that the Biddeford City Council is more white than the Academy Awards or the snow that is piled six-feet high in my front yard.

Furthermore, the council is completely dominated by testosterone-driven men.

You would be hard-pressed to say that the current council truly represents a city that is one of the most diverse communities in southern Maine.

Clement Fleurent

Clement Fleurent

A couple of weeks ago, City Councilor Brad Cote abruptly resigned from the good ol’ boys club.

Thus, Mayor Alan Casavant (another old, white guy) now has a unique opportunity to help diversify the council. By mid-March, Casavant is expected to nominate a replacement for Cote.

From there, the old, white guys on the city council will vote on whether to approve or reject Casavant’s nomination.

Casavant is limited. He must pick a replacement from Ward 3, one of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods (although it has nothing on Ward One, which includes Biddeford Pool and Fortunes Rocks).

John McCurry

John McCurry

But there are plenty of qualified women residing in Ward Three. Off the top of my head, I think of Bonnie Pothier, a former mayor. That said, Casavant told me Pothier has work commitments that preclude her from serving.

Or how about Carrie Varney Pelletier, an outspoken conservative who does not hesitate to offer her views on social media?

Or maybe Valerie Pelletier, who previously served on the airport commission and like Cote had misgivings about the airport?

The point is that the current council could benefit from a woman’s perspective. Women tend to see challenges from a more global viewpoint versus the linear approach of their male counterparts.

There are many fine women in Biddeford (I know because I’m married to one).

The trick for Casavant is finding one who lives in Ward Three and wouldn’t mind spending a lot of time with a lot of old white men.

Signed me,

Another old white guy.

The “fairness” doctrine

protestLately, it seems, American culture and politics are increasingly focused on fairness and equality. We have attempted during the last decade to create several new individual “rights.” The right to healthcare, the right to faster internet speeds, income equality and a whole bunch of other rights that are intended to level the playing field.

I call these “feel good” rights because too often we ignore the fundamental fact that most of these “feel good rights” require the transfer of goods or services from one party to another, but they do make us feel better: more noble, generous and kind.

By contrast, an actual right, such as the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are universal in nature. They are endowed by our creator (whatever form that takes for you) and they are enforced by law.  Real rights are not created by government, rather merely recognized as an inherent obligation of government.

Life is not fair

In 1978, Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, M.D. published a groundbreaking book that set the bar for so-called self-help books that would follow. The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth became a bestseller published all over the globe.

I found the opening line of that book jarring in its brutal honesty. Peck’s book begins with the statement “Life is difficult.” From there, he goes into great detail talking about the four major disciplines he saw as a path from mental and spiritual illness toward mental and spiritual health.

No matter what we wish, no matter what we desire, we cannot escape the fact that Peck’s assertion is succinctly and brilliantly accurate: Life is difficult. But I would add to that.

Life is not fair.

In fact, life is only fair in fairy tales. But in reality, life is a crap shoot. There are winners and losers. Is it fair that one person is diagnosed with cancer and another is not? Is it fair that one person loses a limb and another does not? Is it fair that one person is born into royalty and another was born into poverty with alcoholic and abusive parents? Of course not.

While we all certainly make our fair share of stupid decisions that carry with them consequences, there are many other things  life throws at us that are not only difficult but patently unfair. These things are most often unavoidable and beyond our control.

It is not the appropriate role of government to make life fair. That is an impossible task that would bankrupt any nation.

But what about equality?

All things being equal

By definition, equality is another fruitless task because true equality is impossible. Unlike the concept of fairness, however, government does have an appropriate role to play in the sphere of equality.

Our Constitution declares that all men (people) are created equal under the law. Think about this for a moment. Our founding fathers knew that life was not fair and that is impossible for all men to be born equally, but under the law, every citizen is the same, regardless of their differences.

As I pointed out above, the reality of true equality is a stretch. According to my dictionary, equal (as an adjective) is defined as “being the same in quantity, size, degree, or value.”

If I weigh more than you, we are not equal. If I am taller than you, we are not equal. If you have hair, and I do not, we are not equal. You get the point.

However, when we look at equal as a noun, it is described as follows: “a person or thing considered to be the same as another in status or quality.”

Our system of laws is not perfect. OJ Simpson could still afford a better defense attorney than me. While we are both equal under the law in that we are entitled to a defense, we are certainly not equal.

By the order of natural law, true equality is virtually non-existent.

Remember the words of George Orwell in the book Animal Farm? Some animals are more equal than other animals. I know it may seem unfair, but it is true.

Tom Brady and I are never going to be true “equals.”

If we are going to have a rational discussion about fairness or equality, we must recognize that government simply cannot make something fair or equal.

What we can do, however, is treat each other as equals, despite our inherent inequality.

But no matter how many laws we create; no matter how many taxes we raise, life will always be unfair. And it will always be difficult.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I am a Republican

Republicanlogo_svgFrom time to time, my friends on the other side of the political aisle ask me why I choose to be a registered Republican.

As the 114th Congress begins to ramp up, and because the debate between “true conservatives” and “mainstream moderates’ in the Republican Party once again manifested itself during the selection of House Speaker John Boehner a few days ago, I thought this would be a good time to explain why I am a Republican.

My friends in the Democratic Party do not understand my political preference. Republicans, they say, favor corporate interest over the individual. Republicans, they say, are opposed to marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose.

Because I am a moderate who supports both marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose, some of my friends (on both sides of the political aisle) wonder why I would choose to be a member of the Grand Old Party (GOP).

Before we proceed, please note that this post is entitled: Why I am a Republican, not why you should be a Republican.

It should also be noted that I do not speak for my party, and I acknowledge that my views often cause other Republicans to label me as a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

Maybe it’s because I am stubborn, or maybe it’s because I am a born contrarian, but I really think my allegiance to the Republican Party (although at times embarrassing) has to do with some fundamental core differences between Republicans and Democrats.

I am also emboldened by the statements and core beliefs of President Ronald Reagan that “there is room in our tent for many views.”

Generally speaking, Republicans believe that each person is responsible for his or her own place in society, while Democrats believe it is the responsibility of government to care for all individuals, even if it means giving up some individual rights.

Generally speaking, Democrats favor the centralization of power in Washington, D.C., while Republicans hold dear the 10th Amendment, which calls for limited federal authority and rights not specified in the Constitution be reserved for the states.

On these two core values, I strongly side with the GOP. While I believe some measure of federal regulation, whether it’s the FAA or even meat inspectors at the FDA, is absolutely necessary for the common good, I also believe in the virtue of a limited federal government and the decentralization of power.

In a true Democracy, the majority trumps the minority. In a Constitutional republic, the rights of the individual, even in the minority, cannot be trumped by the majority. In the United States, we adhere a to a delicate balance between these two types of government. (The latter being intended to thwart tyranny, which can include government overreach.)

The case for and against the GOP

Of course, there are times when I find myself at odds with my own party, but after reviewing the 2014 Maine GOP Party platform, it became quickly evident that I more often side with Republicans than Democrats.

For example, one tenet of the Maine GOP platform addresses immigration, saying we “Support the assimilation of legal immigrants into Maine society.”

Another: “The profits of an individual’s efforts and accumulation of private property belong to the individual.”

More:  “Implement a comprehensive energy policy that removes government obstacles and reduces the cost of energy for Maine families and businesses.”

“Welfare is a safety-net for Maine’s most vulnerable”

“Parents – not government – are most capable and responsible to make decisions in the best interest of their minor children, including medical, disciplinary and educational decision.”

There are many others, and you can read the full text here.

Although I agree with the majority of the Maine GOP’s platform, there some key places where we part ways, including language regarding abortion, the definition of marriage and calling for the repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act, among a few others.

The case for and against Democrats

In fairness, I also reviewed the Maine Democratic Party’s 2014 platform.  2014 MDP Platform

I found myself at odds with a majority of the tenets contained in that platform, including the nice-sounding but ill-advised “livable wage,” and increasing the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage does not, in my opinion, “lift people out of poverty” rather it simply adjusts the height of the floor and removes incentive to advance.

The Maine Democratic Party believes that health care is a “fundamental human right.’ this logic is flawed because a “right” is not something that must be provided by obligation from another person or entity. “Rights” do not come with costs, and someone has to be paid to provide healthcare, whether it’s skilled nursing, facilities or medical equipment. For more of my thoughts on this topic, go here.

Democrats also support the ill-advised concept of so-called “net neutrality,” as if the government needs to be involved in regulating the internet. For more of my thoughts on this topic, go here.

The Maine Democratic Party opposes tort reform, a giant gift to trial lawyers and a sure-fire way to drive up costs in the private sector.

The Democrats also favor increasing the number of terms that a legislator can serve. Frankly, I think eight years is plenty and we don’t need professional politicians in Augusta.

The opposing party also opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, a project I vigorously support. (Pipelines are much safer than trains; and that oil will be shipped one way or another)

The Democrats also believe that a greater portion of tax revenues should come from the income tax, calling sales taxes regressive. I believe the exact opposite.

Democrats believe it is “appropriate to impose higher taxes on sin taxes. I smoke cigarettes and drink beer. Enough said.

Among many other things, Democrats believe that government pensions should be exempt from income taxes. As the spouse of a government worker, I concede that my opposition to this is not self-serving. Then again, I think we should all strive to be a bit less “self-serving.”

Now, I do find myself in agreement with many of the Democrats core principles, but I am also wary of the feel-good language and the dangers of good intentions. Democrats support workplace safety, a strong education system, marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose.

So, in the end there are inherent strengths and weaknesses in each party.

But when I do the math, it turn out that I am a Republican, even if in name only.

 

 

 

 

 

Ginger or Mary Ann?

Gilligan's Island (US TV Series)It’s become an age-old question: Ginger or Mary Ann?

And more often than not, men between the ages of 40 and 60 do not hesitate with their response.

With the passing yesterday of Donna Douglas (Elly Mae Clampett), I once again started thinking about the television shows of my youth. And more than any other popular show of that genre (The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, The Beverly Hillbillies or Room 222), Gilligan’s Island has achieved iconic status in the world of pop culture and recently celebrated its 50th birthday.

Gilligan’s Island ran between 1964 and 1967 on the CBS network.

We all know the plot and the premise of Gilligan’s Island, but let’s save the critiques for later.

Mary Ann (Dawn Wells)

Mary Ann (Dawn Wells)

Of the two single women stranded on the tropical island (Mrs. Howell was taken), if you put farm girl Mary Ann Summers up against Hollywood movie starlet Ginger Grant, Mary Ann almost invariably trumps her much more curvaceous, sexpot co-star, among both men and women.

Why?

I’m not entirely sure, but I have a theory.

It’s because Mary Ann was the essence of innocence. She was nurturing (forever making coconut cream pies for her fellow islanders) She was modest, honest and just a little bit sassy.

On the other hand, Ginger was narcissistic, insecure and rather one-dimensional.

Men, more often than not, choose Mary Ann because of deeper instincts than sexual desire. Would you want Ginger to be the mother of your children? Would Ginger nurture you when you were sick with island fever? Probably not.

Men may choose Ginger for a night, but Mary Ann was a keeper.

Women choose Mary Ann, I think, because she embodies a better reality about women. Women are tired of the images of female body perfection that has been forced on them through media for generations.

But let’s not dance around the also obvious.

Mary Ann was smoking hot in her own right. Her shorts were always short and tight. She may have worn a farm girl’s checkered shirt, but even in the early 1960s, Mary Ann was not afraid to expose her midriff, tying that symbolic shirt of innocence around her waist.

That’s my theory about why Mary Ann trumps Ginger, despite the latter’s overt sex appeal.

In the end, virtue always wins, and Mary Ann managed to stay on the right side of that line for three years, and in our minds for 50 years thereafter.

I close by asking you to take a simple poll: Ginger or Mary Ann?