Oh Porter. I loved you. Like, a lot. For those of us who travel a fair amount and dislike most airline experiences, you were a breath of fresh air. I talked you up every chance I got. I always chose you over Air Canada if possible, even after AC began flying off the Toronto island airport. But Thursday’s experience — albeit it at Dulles, not your YTZ home — may have cost you a die-hard customer.
I was already booked on PD728 to Toronto at 8:45PM. As luck would have it I was able to end my day early so I thought I’d see if I could catch an earlier flight. My assistant called Porter, who told her it would be much cheaper to switch to PD726 (leaving IAD at 4:20PM) in person at the airport. So, after my presentation I jumped in a cab and arrived at IAD at 3:15. By 3:20 I was in a line of three people waiting to be checked in at the Porter desk. There were two people working the desk, so I figured I was in good shape.
I was wrong.
One of the two employees working the desk was new, and unable to process new check-ins. The other wasn’t at the counter, but rather in the room behind the desk making phone calls on behalf of a customer having Visa problems. Now, I do not begrudge her this; the customer needed help, and she was trying to provide it. But was there no way to have the other employee — who couldn’t process new check-ins — handle the phone call? Was there no way to call for additional staff? Was there no way to prioritize people like myself, and the passenger in front of me, as we rushed to make an earlier flight?
However, like good Canadians, the two of us waited patiently while the newly-returned Porter employee checked in the first passenger in line (and her family) and finished with the customer experiencing Visa problems. This took twenty minutes. TWENTY MINUTES. By the time the customer in front of me, also trying to get on the 4:20PM flight, got to the desk he was told that he was too late, and that the flight was boarding in just ten minutes. I had been standing in line for twenty minutes; the customer in front of me had clearly been waiting longer than that. If the counter had been properly staffed, or had the staff allocated work correctly, or had they prioritized in some way, we both could have made it easily, even at an airport as complicated as Dulles.
What made the experience even more frustrating was what followed: the poor passenger in front of me was told to return at 6:45 — more than three hours later — to check in for the next flight. He, being a nice guy and aware that I was also trying to make the flight, turned and told me the situation — that he’d have to wait three hours in the departures area just to check in to PD728, and then proceed to the gates. I felt sorry for him, but also felt relieved that I already had a seat confirmed on PD728 — Porter had emailed me 24 hours before — and assumed the staff would check me in so I could at least proceed to the terminal A gates, which are infinitely nicer than the departures level at Dulles. However, before I had a chance to do so, the two staff members put out a sign saying the counter was closed and disappeared into the back. I called to them; no answer. I waited a few moments; they did not return. I was incredulous. They didn’t even speak to me; they simply assumed I was in the exact situation as the passenger in front of me (who I didn’t know) and closed up shop.
About an hour later I realized my email from Porter actually contained the boarding pass and barcode I’d need to get through security. Luckily I could now kill three hours in a better part of town than Dulles departures. I should have realized that sooner, but I also shouldn’t have had to figure it out on my own…I should have already been sitting in an airside lounge, having been checked in by an agent.
I realize I was asking a lot to move my flight up, and that extenuating circumstances (a passenger wrestling with visa issues) made it difficult, but never in my experience has a challenging thrown a Porter employee. If Porter had lived up to my expectations of them — well-deserved expectations, I must say — I’d have been on the 4:20PM flight and home in Toronto by 6:00PM, instead of sitting in a Dulles airport bar for three hours.
I’ve been a long and loyal Porter advocate, but on Thursday my faith was shaken. I’m not sure how long it will be before my trust is restored. What I do know is that I will not defend as loudly, nor promote as proudly, the Porter service as I have in the past. And that’s a shame.
Photo by bobolink, user under Creative Commons license