Saturday, February 13, 2010

In Tribute to Clyde Bertrand and Airline Service that Excels


Yesterday, I finally talked to the man who changed my mind about airline service. With all the nickle and diming, security hassles and overall disreguard for customers, airline flights have become something I want to get through as quickly as possible.  Forget smiling attendants and helpful ticket agents, I'm just happy  to make it through security and in a seat.  So when I flew into Fort Lauderdale for my connecting flight to Eleuthera, I was aiming to get  out of there as quickly as possible.  I had no idea that my experience would not be close to quick and that I might not make it out of Florida at all.

You see, I didn't book my ticket. The PR agency that organized my press trip did.  It seems that they only left 20 minutes to connect to my flight. Apparently, that's an illegal procedure because you're required to allow at least an hour.  Especially in Fort Lauderdale. If you've never been to Fort Lauderdale Airport, let me explain. It is an outdoor airport. That means that you get to walk outside to every terminal, under the unrelenting Florida sunshine.  The agent at Continental explained that I had missed my flight an hour ago and I'd have to go back to American Airlines to see if they would issue me another ticket. That required me to go outside and walk about five blocks. Ordinarily, walking is not a problem for me but it's winter in Chicago. I wore three light layers of a shirt, a sweater and a leather jacket, with ankle boots. It was 90 degrees in Florida.  But I walked to American, only to have them send me back to Continental. Needless to say, I was soaked in sweat and weighed down with my suitcase and jacket.

After about an hour of going between the two airlines, a Continental agent pitied me and said she could get me to Governor's Harbour.  How close is that to Eleuthera? She didn't know but at least I'd be closer than Florida. So I ran to the terminal, afraid I'd miss the flight which would leave in 10 minutes.  Dripping wet and exhausted from my marathon terminal running, I made it to the ticket desk.  The agent (Clyde) smiled and assured me that the plane had not left.  I got in line to board the tiny vessel and just as the doors were opened, I heard my name called over the airport intercom.  I turned reluctantly back to find Clyde explaining that the plane was over capacity and since I was the last to grab a ticket, I was the first to be pushed off.  Okay.  I'd catch the next flight. "There are no other flights today, "Clyde informed me.  I felt my eyes tear up. "This isn't your fault, we will put you up in a hotel," Clyde said, trying to comfort me and not realizing that I found no comfort in the prospect of staying at a Fort Lauderdale airport hotel.

I pleaded with him, surely there was some other flight?  "Let me see what I can do."  Said Clyde. I sat down and heard him call a host of people, asking about flight capacity.  At this point, I had been in this airport for eight hours. I had eaten an apple and drank some orange juice. I fely woozy.  I  knew that I could not stand staying in that airport for much longer.  Clyde called me over. He could get me on a flight to Nassau but I would have only 20 minutes to connect to a flight to Eleuthera.  He didn't even have time to print a boarding pass but  Clyde told me,"if you have any problems and I'm sure you won't, you call me." He wrote his name and number down and rushed me onto the flight.

To say that I was overjoyed to be on that plane to Nassau is an understatement. I really doubted that  I would make it to Eleuthera that day but thanks to Clyde, I was on my way.  Getting off the plane and walking toward customs, I suddenly remembered something. Nassau doesn't have a tiny little airport, it's quite big and it might take longer than 20 minutes to traverse customs, security and find my terminal. Before I had time to sink totally into panic, an airport clerk ran up to me and asked, "are you going to Eleuthera?" Now how would he know that? When I told him I was, he revealed that Clyde had sent him to escort me to through the airport.  I couldn't believe it, Clyde had calculated every detail of my airport journey.

Cauly, my escort, guided me through customs and security in minutes. When we got to the ticket desk,  the agent asked for my boarding pass. Before I could explain, Cauly offered  "Clyde sent her." That was all that I needed and I was ushered through.  Cauly walked me to the gate, which was boarding in two minutes. I would never had made it without him and certainly not without Clyde.  When I finally arrived on Eleuthera, Silvana from the Bahamas Tourism Ministry was waiting. She had been waiting for me all day. So I thought she was delirious when she told me that my luggage had not made the trip with me.  It seemed that it was still tagged for Governor's Harbour from my aborted first attempt to get to Eleuthera and that's where they sent it. I figured I was doomed to spend my trip without my clothes so I immediately went to the airport souvenir shop to buy some.  The next morning, Silvana delivered my suitcase to me.  The clerk at the Eleuthera Airport personally retrieved my suitcase, took it home and put it on the first morning ferry so that I could have it by 9AM.

That's the kind of unbelievable service that you rarely experience these days and I will never forget it. I didn't have Clyde's full name but I was determined that he be recognized for his excellence. I called the number he gave me for two months. He was out sick for most of December and January and I worried that such a wonderful person would suffer from an illness for so long.  Yesterday, I finally talked to him. Such is his inclination to help customers that he didn't even remember doing everything he did but I refreshed his memory. I will be sending a letter to his boss next week to commend him. I'll never think about another flight the same negative way again. Clyde has prove that not all airlines have forgotten about their customers. It's convinced me that there are instances of great service out there, we just have to be open to them.


13 comments:

A Cuban In London said...

Well, looking at it on the positive side, as you did, your situation helped you keep in shape (winterwear in the Florida sunshine, are you trying to tell us something? Is there a new line of sports clothing hitting our shops soon courtesy of Fly Girl?) and highlight the good there is in the travel industry. You're right, not every one is like Clyde. But not everyone is like you either. You have just written a marvellous post acknowledging Clyde's efforts. As someone who worked in the travel industry for many years, I see you as an exception to the rule.

Many thanks for such a wonderful post. And Happy Valentine's to you and your husband!

Greetings from London.

Lola said...

Man! I was exhausted myself just reading this post. What a crazy travel day. We definitely need more Clydes. I've had it with the attitude of customer service in this country.

Fly Girl said...

Cubano, thanks so much and happy valentine's day to you and your wife too!

Lola,the attitudes are awful, which is why I had to highlight service that was wonderful. I hope Clyde's attitude spreads.

Tiffany said...

Happy Valentines Day.

My sister has been a flight attendant for 10 years now she currently works with Untied Arab Emirates. And all though they get to see the world for free, it can become a very tiring job and having to deal with thousands of travelers a week. But I agree we do need more Clydes.

I've had pretty good service anytime that i've travelled but like you I still just want to get through security and be seated on the plane because it is hectic.

The only bad experience I had was when I was coming back from Paris in Oct 09 and the air canada flight attendants in France decided to go on strike and I had to stand for about 2 hours before I even reached the booth just for them to put my bags on the belt, since we all had to tagged them ourselves . It was so unorganized and I found that the airport in France was so small compared to Pearson Intl in Toronto.

Fly Girl said...

Tiffany, Happy Valentines Day to you too! I know that any kind of service job is tiring, which is why CLyde deserves so much credit. That Paris fiasco sounds terrible and it's an indication of poorly organized airlines, which I believe is the real issue behind bad service.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Well done to Clyde. It's good to hear some positive news about the flight industry.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Fly Girl said...

Jean-Luc, Happy Valentines Day! I hope the positive news expands.

Nosa said...

Wow I really enjoyed your blog on Clyde. A true knight and shinning armour in a dark and gloomy world. I am not being pessimistic about life but with all the mutallab's and recession blabs Clyde becomes a glimmer of hope in our scope

Fly Girl said...

Nosa, I'm so glad you stopped by and that you enjoyed Clyde's story. We do need more shining moments. Thanks for the rhymes.

Wendy said...

So refreshing to hear of this kind of service for a change. The next time I have airline issues I'll tell the person at the counter that Clyde sent me :^)

Fly Girl said...

Wendy, Ha! I hope it works!

Mary and Sean said...

It's great to hear a positive story like this since so many of our experiences with flying are awful lately. Actually, your story really inspires me to try to have a personal touch in every encounter I have these days.

Fly Girl said...

Mary, that's a really good point. It's a helpful thing to remember.