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Comment & Opinion

Airlines are forgeting what customer service means


I FELL out with flying coming back from France. I misplaced my ticket. That’s what the departure gate girl told me half-an-hour after she tore the bottom off my print-out and gave it back to me. Or did she?

I couldn’t remember and now I was holding up the queue, turning out pockets of coins in two different currencies, mixed together with tablets of extra chewing gum.

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I could feel the queue watching; could hear gasps of frustration growing in gusto. I stepped aside to let the patient and understanding through. Still no ticket stub.

“Stand over there,” came the order. The steward pointed to an area of tiled floor, now elevated to some kind of naughty step. “I’m grand here,” I said indifferently.

She wasn’t buying it. She asked again. I refused again. Still no ticket.

By now holding my ground felt like something more important than getting on the flight. By now, a member of airport security had assumed a close watching brief. He was beside me. Still no ticket stub. Still not moving.

I’d stubbornly decided physical force was the only thing that could remove me from my tile space. Who cared about the flight!

In the end I was held back, last to board the plane. Often, it works out like that anyway.


Slowly we are being trained to forget what being the customer means, even awkward ones like me with the potential to make life difficult, have consumer rights.

But I was treated to a nice reminder when travelling to Ireland with another airline this week where the cost of some very welcome customer service totalled 23 pence.

My decision to fly with this carrier had nothing to do with the battle in France. On this night, they were just cheaper.

We’d passed Bristol and then Wales, bound for Dublin when my thoughts turned to a cup of tea. Something warm and soothing for the descent. I checked my pockets and cobbled together £1.97. I wasn’t breaking a £20 note.

“Do you want to pay in euros or sterling?”

“Em, how much in sterling?”


“Er, em…”

“How much have you got?”

“Eh, £1.97.”

“Go on,” she said, pouring some hot water onto the tea bag and — get this — smiling.

The nicest cup of cut-price tea from a paper cup ever enjoyed.

Karma after France I thought. OK, a different airline, but then the reminders of that fact had been full and constant since the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport.


There was no crush when the call was made to board. No one even rushed. I felt like a rugby winger waiting for a heavy tackle that never came.

And music upon landing, Bach I think.

Then followed a guilty message about the value of my custom to that airline. One step removed from: ‘Please come back?’ ‘You will though, come back like, won’t you…’

If you’ve gotten this far in this column, then you’d think the answer to that plea would be a resounding yes.

But the sad reality is this modern traveller is willing to put up with a lot in the name of just getting there cheaper. Delayed flights, battles with staff, brinksmanship over the weight of hand baggage and a host of other stuff that might add incrementally to the stress of modern air travel.

Yes, passengers like me included. So thank God it’s cheap. You might not put up with it otherwise.


Robert Mulhern

Robert is a freelance news and sports journalist. He is also the author of A Very Different County and creator/producer of Sex, Flights and Videotapes for RTE's Doc on One. Follow him @MulhernRobert on Twitter

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