Open letter to Air France customer service

Dear Air France customer service,

I am posting this letter to my weblog because the Air France Web site requires me to become a "member of [y]our Flying Blue loyalty program" before I can send Air France an e-mail. After reading this letter, I'm sure you'll agree that 'loyalty' is the last word I would use to characterize my attitude toward Air France.

One reason why your customers see organizations like yours as faceless moguls is having to write to something like "Air France customer service" instead of to an actual person by name. I'd like to think that an actual Air France employee will one day be reading this, and I'll just pretend that your name is Alain. Feel free to replace that name with your own throughout this letter, Alain.

Alain, let me start out by saying that what I am about to say is not directed at you personally. I don't know why you work at Air France customer service; maybe you don't even particularly like your job. I have no idea what you look like --hell, I don't even know if your name is Alain. So please, don't take offense at what follows.

Alain, my girlfriend and I purchased an Air France ticket and used it to fly from Amsterdam to Marrakech via Paris. After a pleasant holiday, we took the return trip, which involved a transfer by shuttle bus in Paris from Orly airport to Charles de Gaulle. Getting from the plane to the bus was bothersome because:

  • Air France was 15 minutes late on our incoming flight;
  • Air France made us check out our luggage ourselves; and
  • Air France makes all of its passengers pay €16 to get on the bus, slowing down boarding considerably (seriously, would it kill Air France to add this amount to the ticket price and let us just get on the bus?).
As it happens, we were lucky to catch a bus within 5 minutes, because Air France only runs these shuttle buses every 30 minutes.

The time between the connecting flights was 2.5 hours, which you must admit, Alain, is not much in 7 PM rush hour traffic on the Périphérique. We sat on the bus, nervously glancing at our watches every five minutes, forced to endure clips about wood flute manufacturing, pet cemeteries and classic 1950s automobiles (accompanied by elevator music) playing on the TV installed in the vehicle. The minutes ticked by as the bus crawled its way through the banlieues, but luckily, it arrived a mere 55 minutes before takeoff: plenty of time to check in.

Or so we thought; upon checking in, we were told we were on a 'waiting list'. Waiting to board the plane, surely. No: waiting to find out whether Air France would let us on the plane. The plane for which we had valid tickets to the sum total of about €1000. The plane for which we were only slightly late checking in, and that only because Air France gave us a very tight connection. The plane for which we could not have checked in at Orly, because we could not risk missing the connecting flight (which, ironically, we missed anyway). The fact that we were transferring passengers seemed to have no effect whatsoever on our ability to get on the plane.

Learning that you are going to miss your flight through no fault of your own, while there is plenty of time to board, and with a ticket fully paid, is distressing to say the least. It would make sense that whoever breaks this unwelcome news first allows the customer plenty of time (after all, you now have loads of it!) to come to terms with the unpleasant arrangement, and then to communicate the following as gently as possible:

  • Air France is very sorry for the inconvenience, and accepts that it and it alone is responsible for it.
  • Air France offers you a hotel adjacent to the airport, including a dinner, breakfast, and a compensation of €250 per person.
  • Air France will make every effort imaginable to assist you with any alternative resolution you may have in mind, such as helping you book a train for this evening, helping you book a ticket with a different airline for this evening, or anything else you may require help with.
  • Air France reminds you for future reference that an Internet check-in within 24 hours before departure would have ensured you a seat.
The Air France representative behind the desk at Charles de Gaulle airport (whom I will refer to as 'Benito' since he was not willing to give us even his first name) communicated none of the above, but tried to jump straight into the hotel room booking. Benito dealt with my understandably infuriated girlfriend by first, not hearing her out; second, refusing to talk to her, turning instead to me while saying that I was "more intelligent" (an assumption on his part that was, in fact, utterly false); and third, disembarking her from the next available flight when she informed him that "you [meaning Air France as personified by Benito, of course] fucked up". It required the intervention of Benito's supervisor, a Monsieur M'hamed Benkaddy, who was polite, friendly and highly deserving of a raise, to reverse the decision to disembark.

My girlfriend, it must be admitted, was wrong: Air France did not fuck up. Fucking up implies that some kind of mistake was made. Air France's decision to overbook the flight and leave several of its paying customers stranded at the airport for a night, forcing them to wake up at 5 AM to catch the first morning flight out, was as calculated as it was callous and greedy. Air France knew that it would probably be fucking several of its customers in the ass when it deliberately overbooked the flight, and it chose not to care. Not only that, when one of the passengers objected to this, it told her -in so many words- to go fuck herself and threatened to take away any compensation.

Alain, my girlfriend and me are a so-called DINKY couple (Double Income, No Kids Yet), the kind of target demographic that most of Air France's marketing execs dream about at night. We fly a lot, and we did not hesitate to pay Air France a thousand Euros to take us to Marrakech and back. Over the coming decades, we probably represent an investment of several tens if not hundreds of thousands of Euros for whichever airline we choose to fly with.

Now hear this, Alain: because of this experience with Air France, and especially thanks to Benito, my girlfriend and me will never, ever again choose Air France as an airline to fly anywhere. All that money will be going to one of your competitors. Please inform your superiors of this fact, and tell them that in the end, it is Air France who is getting fucked in the ass.

Sincerely yours,


Posted by cronopio at 11:32 AM, May 08, 2007