Paris-Charles de Gaulle departures board
  • It’s Time to Disrupt the Disruption

    We have electric cars that can go hundreds of miles on one charge, privately funded spacecraft that can land on small barges in the ocean, and packages being delivered by drones, yet the travel industry can’t efficiently or intelligently deal with a canceled flight.

    Instead of relaxing on my Air France flight to Paris to meet with a potential financial partner, I am sitting in the Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur waiting for the unorganized, confused staff to explain my options since my flight was canceled and there are supposedly no seats on any flights going to Paris today. Maybe it’s the surge of caffeine from the massimo latte I had at Costa Coffee while waiting to board, but I am feeling even more fired up this morning about a topic I am already very passionate about: improving Customer experience in the travel industry.

    Maybe my expectations for an airline digital experience are too high, (although Air France should be better), but what was looking like a promising day of talks in Paris has now turned into a frustrating travel experience that could have been avoided if I had been provided with a smart, proactive touchpoint from the airline shortly after (before would be better) my flight was canceled. Now, I wait in line with 100+ other frustrated people to find out my fate.

    Email from Air France Canceling My Flight
    Email from Air France Canceling My Flight

    Two minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off I got an email from Air France telling me my flight was canceled. Even though I had the iPhone app installed on my phone and a mobile boarding pass, I got no push notifications from Air France and the IOS app and website did not indicate that my flight was canceled. While standing around waiting for an Air France employee to assist me, I tried using the Air France app to rebook my flight. I quickly learned that not only did the app not support rebooking, it still did not show my flight had been canceled.

    With no assistance available from the digital devices in hand or from the Air France gate staff, I decided to return to the original email to see if I had overlooked some additional information that could be useful. The email content wasn’t helpful, so I looked for links or contact information to attempt to communicate with someone not at the airport. The email, as you can see above, contains two links- one link for contacting Air France and one link for unsubscribing from email communication. I clicked on the contact link which took me to a generic Air France Contact Us page seen below.

    Link from Air France Flight Cancelation Email
    Link from Air France Flight Cancelation Email

    The Contact Us page, contained none of my personal information, did not honor my existing login credentials, and had no record of my flight cancelation. Since I was waiting in line, I tried clicking through “Contact Our Web Support,” which took me to a series of forms, in which I had to click numerous times, scroll through an abundance of drop down menus, and then submit information in 17 different form fields, which I obviously did not do standing in line amongst the chaos of a canceled flight.

    Reluctantly, I decided to call the number listed on the email, which was a French number: +33 (0)892 702 654. As an American living in France most of the time, I have a French mobile provider, which allowed to me call without fear of international data roaming charges. I can imagine that most Americans would have avoided the call option altogether out of fear of not only the roaming charges, but having to attempt to speak with a French Customer service agent. As expected, when Air France answered my call the recorded representative spoke in French. Although I could understand most of it (Yes, I really should learn to speak better French, but that is another story), I decided to see if an English option would be presented. Surprisingly, after I waited for 40 seconds on hold (yes, 40 seconds), a voice in English told me to press 9 if I wanted to speak with someone in English. I pressed 9, then a representative asked me in French, if they could help me (I’m not joking). I asked them if they spoke English and they put me on hold.

    So Tired of Waiting
    Photo Credit: Franck Michel

    After unsuccessfully waiting for Air France staff to help me in the airport, failing to find help through my mobile device (ios app, mobile site, phone, etc), and unsuccessfully tweeting to Air France, I gave up and sat down away from the madness of the crowds dealing with their cancelation. I got on my laptop, went to the Air France website, and was able to rebook my flight after canceling my check in- which is not something an unsavvy traveler would figure out very quickly.

    Did you give up reading this post yet? Do you feel my pain? I’m hoping this ridiculously long saga has reminded you of the many unnecessary times that you and others have experienced something similar. Thank you for bearing with me through this, but we shouldn’t have to travel this way. In fact, most of this situation is avoidable. Even though there is very little to be done about the actual cancelation of the flight, the stressful moments and hassle that come after a travel disruption can be dealt with in a real-time and Customer friendly way.

    How can we live in 2016 and not have a modern, intelligent way to deal with travel disruption? How can an airline as large as Air France not have an IOS app that automatically presents me with other flight options after a cancelation? Why is it not possible to simply chat or message an Air France Customer service representative through their app? Why is an airline still sending dead end emails with no targeted or personalized actions tied to them? Why in 2016 does the burden of an airline canceled flight fall on the Customer? Why is it even necessary to type out this post? My entire morning has not been wasted, or has it?

    Sometimes it takes unnecessary pain and frustration to emerge from a situation with the appropriate resolve to make a difference. Ironically, I was on my way to Paris to meet with a group about funding a project, which I am confident can solve most of the problems that I experienced today. Going through what I have this morning, has reenergized me to the point that I am committed, no matter what it takes, to improving the Customer experience through all phases of travel, including making travel disruptions easier on travelers.

    But, I need YOUR help. I’m looking for frustrated travelers to replace those feelings of helplessness with hope by backing our project. If everyone who has felt the agony of a canceled or disrupted trip would just give $25, we would smash our goal and in turn send a message to the travel industry- We will no longer be treated this way!

    We need more than money though- we need talented product managers, user experience designers, travel savvy developers, and experienced travel agents and consultants to join our team. If you are an angel investor looking to help change the travel industry and make a difference, we need you as well.

    I am committed more than ever to this cause. Please join me and lets disrupt travel disruptions together!

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