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Where the heck is Durango?

Enough, enough, enough already! Until now I have never dedicated even a sentence to the sham that passes as customer service for all those of us who must routinely fly the decidedly "unfriendly skies"...

Enough, enough, enough already! Until now I have never dedicated even a sentence to the sham that passes as customer service for all those of us who must routinely fly the decidedly “unfriendly skies” as part of our business travel. Like most, I have accommodated myself to the misery. But I will suffer in silence no longer. This time I’m going to share my misery in the hope that it will spark some kind of protest among all the other business travellers who are equally fed up.

My latest misadventure started at 5:30 a. m with a call from a friendly computer voice informing me that my flight to Chicago for that night has been cancelled and alternative arrangements have been made to put me on another flight the following afternoon. If I’m not happy with that arrangement, Silicone Sam tells me, I can call their help desk. Well, I’m not happy with the arrangement as it gets me into Chicago after the event I’m supposed to attend.

So bleary eyed I dial the 1-800 number provided by Silicone Sam and…I get “Maresh” on the line.

“Hello Maresh,” I say, “my flight from Toronto to Chicago has been cancelled and I need to get to Chicago faster than the alternative flight provided. Can you help me?”

“Sure, Mr. Smyrlis, let me check my computer.” He checks his computer and tells me he’s having trouble finding a suitable flight from “Durango” to Chicago. What? Durango? Where the heck is Durango? What’s he talking about?

“No, no,” I say, “I’m leaving from Toronto.”

“Durango?” “No, Toronto, T-O-R-O-N-T-O.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t show a suitable flight from Durango.”

After a few more Durango- Toronto exchanges, I’m fed up enough to ask, where I’m calling.

“India,” Maresh tells me.

“So that’s why you have no idea where Toronto is,” I hotly reply. “I will put you through to our international desk,” he says. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No thanks, you’ve helped me enough. Put me through to your international desk.”He does. After 15- 20 minutes waiting for someone to answer, I give up.

This is not a rant against call centres in India. I’ve dealt with call centres in India before. Usually, the service is good. This is a rant against the thoughtless corner cutting that has become common in business travel and includes poor training of personnel, a situation exacerbated when dealing with people continents away. And this is a rant against the hijacking of customer service by executives of airline companies who have become so overzealous with slicing the fat from their operations they’re now cutting into the bone.

I did some digging. After all this was only the latest in a string of similar incidents recently. It turns out over the past six years, airlines have laid off more than 100,000 workers. And six of the major carriers have shrunk their fleets by 20%. By this summer, nearly a third of all flights arrived late, more flights have been cancelled, far too many planes are overbooked and by June, reports of baggage problems were up 25% from the previous year. A third of all delays are due not to weather or an antiquated air-traffic control system -but simply because the plane was late arriving from a previous flight.

Such aggressive cost cutting has proved beneficial for air carriers – the North American airline industry as a whole cleared more than four billion dollars in 2007. But it has left business travellers stranded and frustrated far too often. It’s time we spoke up. •

-Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at

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