Dear O'Hare, Chicago, Airport
I have a grouse. Actually, I have many. I visited you recently and found that communications wise, you are rather badly equipped, and badly planned.
Most international airports now have decent telephone and internet services. You must have too, at some point. There were several public pay phones, which is as it should be. However, all of them belonged to the Pacific Telemanagement Services company. Not one of them worked. I tried at least ten. All of them claimed to allow local and international calls, and specified the number of coins that had to be inserted. I followed instructions. A man's voice kept saying "please check the number you have dialled". I tried every local and international number I had. Same response. Twice, the machines swallowed up my coins.
There was a number mentioned on the pay phone, which you were supposed to call if the machine failed to refund your money. I tried that. It did not work. Not even a tone or an agent at the other end.
Finally, I called Pacific Telemanagement. I stayed on hold until an agent came on the line. I described the problem. After explaining three times, the agent drawled out the information that the service no longer exited.
I said, "Excuse me?"
He said, "Yeah. The phones won't take coins any longer."
I said, "But it just did. Twice!"
Then the agent hung up on me.
Do you understand now, dear airport, why people outsource such business-related calls to India? Our agents don't hang up while talking to clients. Sometimes, even when you repeatedly ask them to.
The second thing is the internet. Having unsuccessfully attempted to call my family, I decided to send an email instead. The entire airport was supposed to be wi-fi, thanks to Boingo Internet services. I could not connect through my laptop, for some reason. There was a number mentioned where you could call them for technical assistance. I could not call them because the phones were not working.
Catch 22, dear airport.
I spotted a pay-for-net-time kiosk then, also operated by Boingo. I slipped a currency note into the machine's flickering red mouth. It readily swallowed. I logged in, clicked on the email option. The website opened up, and then the machine would not connect any further. I waited. Tried again. And again. Time ticked on, the internet didn't deliver.
I looked closely. Found a toll-free number to call. Then discovered that the kiosks were no longer functional. That is, they still took your money, but were no longer engineered to deliver any connectivity services. There was no note, no tape against the mouth of the cash slot. And there was a number you could call to complain. Except they kept you on hold for twelve minutes, all the while thanking you for your patience and determinedly avowing appreciation for the same, assuring you than the next available representative would be with me in a moment.
The moments slipped by, and so did my patience, until there was nothing left but rage and frustration.
Dear airport, this is not about losing five or ten or fifteen dollars. This is not about losing my temper and wanting to shatter the machines (I did not). This is about the concept of 'service'.
A friend has said this repeatedly, and I think I am inclined to agree with him now. "There is no real 'seva' in the US. They don't get it," he said.
Think about the idea of 'service'. A service is something you extend to people, based on the notion that they need it. You try to anticipate their needs, you try to mould your facilities to allow them maximum ease.
You ask questions to guage how customers might feel in a given space. Who needs an internet kiosk? Someone who doesn't have a laptop, or for whatever reason, cannot connect to the wi-fi options available. Who needs a pay phone? Obviously, someone who does not have a functional cell phone. People often need to make important phone calls at airports. And not all travellers have, or want to use, credit cards. The idea is to make things easier for people, all people. Why then, dear airport, do you persist in keeping up with these perverse, client-scorning Pacific Telemanagement and Boingo? If they cannot deliver, get rid of them.
And oh, you don't seem to have plug-points in the waiting areas. None that are visible to the naked eye. Why?