Do you complain? SAA let me down

Are you the type that complains about bad service, or do you just swallow it and never say anything?
I am a complainer. I reckon that a company can not improve if they are not made aware when there are problems. That said I am also quick to offer praise and good comments too.

Jeanette shared my story on Google Plus and got some people talking and getting someone to email or contact me, there were lots of tweets and other parents very upset as they could imagine how they would feel if it was their child. An employee that works for SAA, Nausher Rahman saw the tweets and blog post about what happened on his own private twitter stream. (SAA twitter responded 48hours after I first opened dialogue with them, not much point having a company twitter account if you are not going to monitor it and respond quickly) He got my details phoned and got someone from customer service to email me straight away. They were trying to find out exactly who they guy was. I said that it did not matter to me who he was, the failing was not his it was whoever assigned him that job, or let him do that job with no training.
But it goes deeper than than, apparently when I spoke to the Head of Customer service yesterday just to make sure that they were not going to go on a man hunt for the poor guy he said actually the Standard Operating Procedure says that it should always be a woman that accompanies minors, especially little girls and one as young as 7! I of course had not even thought of all the sinitser reasons why it makes sense they have a woman only policy for this.
They are taking this very seriously and looking into why, essentially, a porter was assigned to come and collect my daughter.

Thanks for all the support, I spoke to her and she is fine and they flew to UK last night, she was super excited.**

My little girl who is only 7 flew alone up to Johannesburg yesterday. She is going with my Mom to England today for 3 weeks to see my sister and nephew. There was no other way to get her there other than for her to fly alone. My Mom was not going to be down in Cape Town before the trip, and it was not practical or affordable for me and all 3 kids to fly up just to drop her off.

Rachel was very excited about the holiday but understandably anxious about the flight alone. She has flown quite a lot in her life and so the flying was no problem, it was just the anxiety of being unaccompanied the first time. I explained to her that someone will help her the whole way and that she will never be alone. I said a nice person would fetch her from me and take her to the plane and then on the other side someone would take her to Granny.

Well it did not work out totally as planned. I checked her in and was told to take her to the unaccompanied kids room and she would be fetched from there at 2pm. A guy comes along and says that he is here to fetch her. No explanation to me about the process, no greeting her or finding out her name or engaging her and telling her what was going to happen next. No he just takes the tickets and her bag and starts walking to the security clearance area. I had to quickly grab her and hug her and say and very rushed good bye.

He put her stuff through the scanner, we stood and waved and by this time the tears were streaming down her face. All I wanted to do was run and hurtle myself over the barriers to get to my crying child. I signed ‘I love You’ and she signed back, poor little face scared face looking at me. The guy picked up her bag and started walking, she had to walk over and get her jersey out of the scanner box and run after him. And that was the last I saw her before they disappeared into the bowels of the airport.

Now let me be very clear, the guy was not really rude nor was this his fault. I am not complaining about him as per say. I am complaining about a company SAA South African Airlines that allows someone who has no affinity for children and no natural empathy to do this job. He was more suited to being a porter. My daughter is not unaccompanied baggage! She was a scared vulnerable child and I trusted SAA to look after her when I could not. In my mind, hand picked, very well trained, child friendly staff, need to be responsible for fetching the unaccompanied minors.

I expected someone to greet me and my daughter, to introduce themselves and ask her name. To explain the whole process to me and to her in a way she could understand. Even if they were just taking her through security to the boarding gate – say that. Knowing what is happening next is vital in a process which you are anxious about. As a nurse I know the importance of keeping patients informed and explaining carefully to avoid extra unnecessary anxiety.

SAA failed me and my daughter. I went to complain and was sent all around the airport, dragging 2 tired boys behind me. Finally I found the guy at counter 30 who is involved in customer support for the check in and I explained my dissatisfaction. I said it was not the guys that collected Rachel fault and I did not have his name. I would have given it anyway. I am not blaming him, I don’t think the company trained or picked the right person for the job, he was just collecting a child and taking her to where she whould be as he was told to.

The customer service rep said that he understood my complaint and would pass it along. I asked how I knew anything would be done and he said I had to trust him but he also took my details and said that someone would call me that afternoon – Nothing.

I tweeted the SAA twitter account about it and again – Nothing. What I want, is to know that no other mother and child has to go through this. I understand that Rachel would have cried anyway, but I needed to hand her over, in that sad vulnerable state, to someone with empathy and kindness.

I am not impressed at all.

But I spoke to her when she got to my Mom’s house and all was okay, the air hostess on the plane was nice and so by the time she got to my Mom she was happy and excited again. My poor brave girl. I am going to miss her so much. It is such a big thing to fly by yourself at 7 and then for it not to be a great experience is horrible.

13 thoughts on “Do you complain? SAA let me down

  1. Corporate faceless customer service at its worst. I didn’t realise how young she was until I got to the end of your article – a very scary thing indeed for one so young. Having just come across this via Google+, then hopefully some public exposure will make them get in touch and offer an explanation and apology – but I won’t hold my breath. Thanks for sharing! – John

  2. oh shame man how stressful and upsetting. I really hope you get feedback from them and I hope they take your complaint and suggestions seriously. It should be common sense service delivery and not a subject a parent should need complain about. Hugs all around. Hope she has a fantastic time.

  3. Oh poor nunu. I am crying for her. What a horrible experience.
    I agree, one would think and expect that SAA would hire and train people with an affinity for that specific job.
    (((hugs))) for both of you

  4. I agree with you. If we don’t complain, companies will not know how to improve their service.
    I am sorry to see that you and your little girl had such a terrible experience regarding this flight thing. I now don’t even want to consider flying my son to his grandparents alone with SAA anymore. This is not the way I want my child to be “handled.”
    You should not give up – you should go on with this thing till you get some sort of response or satisfying answer.
    Good luck.

  5. Under the circumstances, I think you’re being extremely forgiving! I would have Flipped. Out!

    I hear what you’re saying about not blaming the guy who collected Rachel, but I’m inclined to disagree; Who the fuck just grabs the bags and keeps walking away from a clearly upset, crying, vulnerable child? Trained or not trained, that was simply unacceptable.
    But yes, this is definitely something that SAA needs to address – and not simply by coming down on the cold, unfeeling wanker they sent to deal with your child.

    I’m glad the flight attendants made Rachel feel better and that she arrived safely on the other end, but I sincerely hope you’re not going to leave it at that. SAA needs to step up and take responsibility for a sorely lacking customer service experience. At the very least, they owe you and Rachel each an apology.

    • I have had a call from someone who worked at SAA who happened to see the tweets in his personal profile. The SAA Twitter account does not seem to be monitored much. He has passed it on to customer service. I just don’t want one person to be used as a scapegoat and the issue not to be address which is the company not choosing the right person for the job and adequately training them. All staff dealing with kids need training. I blame the company not the individual.

  6. I for one am not going to stop tweeting or making a noise online until you receive a written apology. The very thought of your little girl going through this makes my hair stand on end!

  7. This is super unfortunate and I will be playing the role of devils advocate here, and I completely understand your feelings toward this issue. I’m in no way affiliated to SAA.

    Unfortunately, you gave the completely wrong expectations to you little girl, no airline in the world will help her the whole way and be with her the whole time. Yes, the person could have been friendlier, some people are better than others. You should have understood the process before even considering this option, in their eyes the objective was achieved, your daughter was on the plane on time and she got there safely.

    This an emotional issue, so I realise that I’m opening myself up to some abuse, but you haven’t mentioned how the air stewards looked after, and also 7 years old is a bit young to be traveling.

    • Trev: Thank you for your comment, yes it is a bit young. But she had a fantastic opportunity to go to the UK with her Gran and we spoke about it a lot to decide if it was the right thing to do. She really wanted to go and so was willing to brave the flight. About how I prepared her: I flew unaccompanied as a kid, granted I was with my sister who was a little older than me but I remember being treated like royalty and they take looking after the kids very seriously. They are not left alone.
      If you see the update you will see that when I did speak to the Head of Customer services it is actually a breach of company Standard Operating Policy that a man was allowed to accompany her at all. I agree, he just did his job, he collect her and dropped her where she should be. I don’t blame him.
      But I do feel that a company that offer unaccompanied minor flights should cater for this and no I do not think it is unrealistic to expect well trained child friendly staff. That is what I am paying for and why she could not just go on a budget airline.
      When I spoke to her on the phone she said that the air hostesses were lovely and that a nice lady took her to get her stuff and find my mom, so it seems that the policy was followed the rest of the way and that it did make a difference to her comfort and anxiety levels.

  8. We will probably need to fly our kids down to Cape Town unaccompanied at some stage soon, and I wouldn’t want them to go through this. Fortunately my son’s now a little older than your daughter, but neither of them have been out of our site for any length of time. What really got to me is that there didn’t seem to be much in the way of the ‘porter’ identifying himself or anything. With all the horror stories about abducted children, I would have hoped that at a minimum some identification should be shown to the parent to prove that they are from SAA. Ideally, the check in process should also include telling you what the name of the assistant accompanying your child is.

    Interestingly, I believe SAA is the ONLY airline that allows unaccompanied minors (under 16 years at least), so it’s not even like you get freedom of choice and can hope for better service from another airline (Kulula being our airline of choice generally).

    All in all, glad she made it there safe and sound and hope she has a splendid trip.

    Cheers, Adrian.

    • Adrain: No there really is not much choice but if you check my update I think you will see that this is actually not how it is supposed to happen. I hope by blogging and making people aware, other parents, when faced with this will know that they can demand a woman who is specially trained to do the job as this is the policy. I wish I had known.

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