Monday, November 5, 2018

California Pacific Airlines: Dead on Arrival

How brutal is this? After more than nine years, California Pacific Airlines "crashes" trying to get off the ground on its first day of operations. (Ok, it didn't really crash, but one of their planes did have an accident, days earlier.)

I thought I would be part of history when I booked my ticket for California Pacific Airlines's first flight, on their first day of operations, last Thursday, at Carlsbad's Palomar Airport. (This airport has a special place in my heart since it's where I learned to fly.) I had to be in San Jose by 2:30 PM, Thursday afternoon, for my speaking engagement. I booked CPA's 7 AM flight, wondering what I'd do with the extra few hours before my talk.

As I bellied up to the counter to check in, before 6 AM on Thursday, I was immediately told by one of the three ticket agents/flight attendants that my flight was cancelled due to a mechanical problem. (I now wonder if it was related to their previous week's plane accident.) Then they told me they'd be happy to book me on the evening flight about 12 hours later. I told them that wouldn't work since I was returning that evening, also with CPA. 

I spoke to the agents both at ticketing and on their reservations phone line, all of whom were very pleasant, but they simply offered a refund. Mechanical problems, like this one, have happened to me, in the past, when United Airlines used to fly out of Carlsbad. When it did happen, United booked all of the passengers on new flights and provided car service to San Diego Airport, downtown. No such luck with CPA. They could have offered this, especially since it was their first day of operations. They also could have offered vouchers, ticket endorsements to fly on another airline, etc.

To put a finer point on the matter, I am writing this, a week after the cancelled flight, with no sign of the refund processing on my credit card (this was supposed to be handled Thursday morning). Perhaps soon? I also sent a direct, yet professional and respectful e-mail to CPA customer service which has gone unacknowledged. 

CPA Leadership MIA

One thing that struck me as odd was how quiet the Carlsbad airport terminal was, when I arrived. (CPA is the only scheduled airline flying out Carlsbad.) I wondered, on the drive to the airport, if CPA would have any banners, balloons, bagels, or coffee to celebrate their first day of operations. Instead, the pleasant CPA line employees were offered as cannon fodder for disgruntled passengers. Where was CPA's senior management or the board of directors to celebrate such a historic day? Where was Paul Hook, Mickey Bowman, Ted Valles, John Barkley, etc? Not a single executive was visible to apologize for failing to get off the ground on their first day. (The Union Tribune also noted the lack of fanfare for their first flight.)

Holding the Bag

So, where did that leave me? It left me with a 1,000 mile round trip drive, through LA rush hour traffic, to get to Silicon Valley. I've driven cross country about half a dozen times --- sometimes alone when I was in the Marines --- but this was the first time I spent 16 hours, driving 1,000 miles in a day. A new record for me.

By the time I returned home, it had been a 22 hour day, for me. This is the lesson I teach to others, about Apple:
Best possible customer experience.
What more can a company do to make the experience better for their customers (especially due to a company's shortcomings)?

If only CPA put as much care into their customers as I did with mine, requiring me to spend an unplanned 16 hours driving so I wouldn't cancel my commitment.

You cannot build a reputation on what you're going to do. Nine years in the making and CPA's customers were left worse off than if they never tried to get off the ground on that first day. At least that's exactly what my experience was and I think we can see the writing on the wall. I fully expect CPA to be tripping over themselves to make things better for their customers.

No comments: