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.