We are all in the customer service business. Sometimes we don’t correctly identify our “customers,” but we are all in the customer service business nevertheless. In the course of the next three posts, I am going to tell two personal customer service stories, and in the third I’ll reflect on some of the principals that deliver a remarkable experience.
About three weeks ago, I was returning from Tijuana, Mexico where I spent a week with a group of about 10 guys working at an orphanage and in an impoverished area called the Colonia (a village that is literally built on a land fill). On the 6th day of our trip, I became very sick (I don’t want to talk about the pineapple popsicle). I spent two days depleting far more liquids than I could replenish. After a very rough second night, I visited a local doctor in Tijuana (suffice it to say that I’ve been in more sterile Veterinary offices); he gave me about four shots and almost immediately improved my sickness. In addition, he changed my antibiotic to Bactrim.
The next day, we crossed the border and boarded a flight from San Diego to Chicago. That flight was mostly uneventful. About an hour before landing my shoulders became very tight. After we landed, I went to our departing gate and called my wife to describe my symptoms to her. Suddenly, all of my joints began locking up. My vision began to black out, and my heart was racing. I felt like I was going to pass out.
Needless to say, I was very concerned. Should I call 911 and go to a hospital in Chicago? Should I “tough out” the flight to Knoxville? The cooler heads of the group suggested that hypothetically it would be faster to take the 45 minute flight to Knoxville and go to the Emergency Room there than to take a risk on going to a crowded Chicago hospital. I’m not sure whether they proffered this logic to ensure they would sleep in their own bed that night or whether they truly believed it, either way it made sense to me.
By the time that we were supposed to board the American Airlines (American Eagle) plane, the joints in my hands were locking up and extremely painful–I could not even pick up my carry on luggage, and I was panicking. One of my friends on the trip explained my situation to the gate agent and carried my bag onto the plane. After reissuing my ticket to give me a row to myself, I was assisted down the jet way by several friends on the trip. As I recall, it seemed like I was ‘stealing shoes from K-mart’ my stride was no more than 6 inches down the jet way, and when made it to the bottom to board the plane I was even more weak and confused.
As I entered the plane, I could hear an exchange between the flight attendant and my friend who had carried my bag: “I need to know whether there is a security threat or a medical emergency. This PLANE ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE UNTIL I SAY SO. Where is your “FRIEND?”
Tension was thick. The passenger on the 4th row became very alarmed, but the flight attendant told her to be quiet. When he turned to go to the back of the plane, he interrupted a conversation between 2 of the guys that was with our group, and he asked “Excuse me? What did you say?”
“I wasn’t talking to you; I was talking to the gentleman across the aisle from me,” our group member said.
Inflamed the flight attendant shouted, “Have you been drinking? I smell a strong presence of alcohol.”
Another man of our group said, “Sir, we have been working in an orphanage for a week. No one in our group has had any alcohol this week.”
“I need for you to exit the plane sir.” The flight attendant said to him.
Then for the next few minutes, the flight attendant conducted an impromptu interrogation with several of the men in our group. Finally, I was asked to leave the plane and explain to the captain and the flight attendant my situation. The flight attendant was noticeably angry and sweating, and he wanted a full account of my story. After I explained the situation, again, we boarded the plane.
After a few snide remarks from the flight attendant during the flight announcements, we were clear for takeoff, finally. Despite great fear of passing out through the flight, I made it to Knoxville. The flight attendant never changed his abrasive demeanor. After spending that night in the hospital and the next days recovering, I finally discovered that I was having an allergic reaction to the sulfa in the antibiotic. Of the whole experience, first and foremost I will never forget the Mexican bathrooms, but in all seriousness that American Airlines flight attendant will always remind me of the horribly embarrassing experience I had with their airlines.