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(Flight attendant makes announcement) We know you had many equally unappealing options for your travel today. We're glad you settled for us.

Flight attendants, cross-check doors and body-check passengers for departure.

Flight attendants, cross-check doors and body-check passengers for departure. published on

The last week or two has brought a flood of news about godawful air passenger experiences — various overbooking fiascos, a United passenger beaten senseless, and whatever the hell this is. It ought to be making the airline industry think hard about customer experience.

I’d love to see an airline make a declaration that they’ll never overbook again, that there’s some minimum level of passenger comfort they won’t try to pare away, and that the days of treating their customers as whiny freight are over. That they’re going to compete on the brand-new terrain of respecting their passengers.

Don’t hold your breath, though. (Not that the recirculated air is that fresh to begin with.) Maybe the last several days are gamechangers for the industry, but I think it’s more likely that airline head offices are planning on riding out the turbulence on their current altitude and heading. After all, a few decades of incremental passenger abuse have made airlines one of the more profitable industries out there — especially in North America.

Then again, maybe it would just take one airline to break from the pack…

Hold message on phone: ...Thank you for continuing to hold. Your call is important to us. Not so important that we’d actually hire enough staff to answer it promptly, but definitely important-ish.

Your call is “important” to us

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Here are a few handy translations for the things companies tell you while you’re on hold with them.

“Owing to a larger-than-normal call volume…”

Oh, my word, there are so many people calling us just before the Christmas shipping deadline! We couldn’t possibly have anticipated this, just as we couldn’t have anticipated it when it happened exactly the same way at exactly the same time for the past seven years.

“For answers to many commonly-asked questions, visit our website at…”

We’d so much rather pay for a few hits on our server than for a human being to talk to you.

“Please listen carefully, as our options have changed.”

Too many people had figured out they could get through to someone by pressing zero.

“Please remain on the line to maintain your priority sequence.”

Some psychology major figured out that “maintain your priority sequence” sounds subjectively faster than “keep your place in line.” (At least, it did five years ago. When you first started holding on this call.)

(music music music)

We hate you and want you to suffer while you wait.

(music music music) “Please continue to hold.”

Not only do we hate you and want you to suffer, we also think you don’t know how “hold” works.

(an audio ad for the company)

We’ve somehow decided that a customer who’s feeling frustrated and resentful after half an hour on hold will be receptive to a sales pitch. Hey, you never know!

“Your call is important to us.”

Just keep telling yourself that.

But every once in a while, there’s also a…

“If you would like to leave a call-back number where we can reach you…”

…which translates to, “We get it. Your time matters to you. So we invested a little capital in a call-back system that will free up a phone line at our end, and stop wasting time on yours.” Hold that company tight and never let them go.

Hold, please

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Okay, maybe it’s just me. But when you have a lot of people corroborating each other’s reports that your product is malfunctioning, and a controversy is brewing over your silence on the issue, maybe this isn’t the best way for your CEO to respond.

Or, to put it another way:

“Dr. Jobs! Dr. Jobs! I broke my leg in three places!”
“Just avoid holding it that way.”

That said, if someone offered to swap my working-perfectly-iPhone with the new iPhone 4, I’d do it in a heartbeat. And Apple’s market cap exceeds mine by, oh, $222 billion or so. So it’s possible that they’re doing something right.