Stuck In Chicago

Air travel delays aren’t fun, but they certainly are frequent. Not being a stranger to delayed or cancelled flights, I usually don’t think twice about it and wait. Last Wednesday was a bit different, as a routine United Airlines stop in Chicago was anything but normal. From a customer standpoint, how they dealt with it was exemplary.

I arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare airport around 7 a.m. CST. As I left my plane and passed a nearby gate, I overheard an announcement that boarding would be delayed due to a computer problem. 

It didn’t seem like it was my problem, as I had a 90-minute layover until my next flight. That is, until I received a notification that my flight was delayed. Now, I went from a 90-minute layover to a 3-hour layover.

Having been through this before, I looked for a place to set-up shop, get breakfast and get some work done. However, my 90-minute layover, already growing into 3 hours, became 5 hours. I saw in my newsfeed that the computer problem I overheard earlier was much larger than I thought; it was system-wide. No aircraft on the ground were moving, inbound flights that took off before the glitch were coming in, but nothing was departing. No wonder there were so many people sitting on the ground in Chicago. 



People were still calm, a bit agitated, but in air travel things like this happen all the time. Then, I saw the news in one of the terminals where they announced the system-wide computer problems of United, which affected all of United Airlines across the globe. And then the New York Stock Exchange and The Wall Street Journal were hit as well.

Interestingly, the only updates I had experienced were my texts from United. I’m not sure if the computer outage affected the communications of the United App, as I did not receive anything through that means until later.

But what I did receive after the outage and after finally reaching my destination was very nice. First, I had two emails waiting for me, an apology for the outage and an invitation to provide feedback about my recent flight experience. Now, I receive these feedback invitations frequently but not all of the time. Interestingly, I seem to get them after delayed or cancelled flights.

When I opened the United App, there was a notice waiting for me that I had to read before looking at my reservation. United was offering to allow me to extend my trip because of the delay, at no extra cost. A very nice gesture.

I was traveling to present a Customer Data Insights training, and one of the modules was on dealing with negative customer experience. At the root of the customer’s emotions is the need to know that their experience or their frustration is validated. Openly admitting that the customer has a right to feel angry or displeased goes a long way for companies as they deal with problems.

Having an immediate example in hand, I wanted to thank United for their open communication, willingness to receive feedback about a very bad day (one I’m sure they would like to forget). In addition, the invitation to extend a trip without incurring extra costs was a great surprise. 

A lot of people love to complain about air travel. I get that, as it’s not always blue skies and sunshine. However, I also like to give appreciation for dealing with a bad situation when its due. 

United Airlines; thank you for the validation, the communication and the offer to extend my trip because of the delay.

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