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An Open Letter To Lan Airlines

To Whom It May Concern;

Recently, I've had the "pleasure" of attempting to travel with your airline. Myself and my two travel companions were scheduled to travel on LA531 which was a red-eye flight scheduled to depart on August 20, 2015 at 11:55PM.

As there were some storms headed our way, we got an early start to JFK airport, arrived ahead of schedule, and checked in flawlessly. The entire way to the airport, the flight was on time. At check-in, the flight was on time. In between the time that we made it through security and the time we got to the gate, the flight became delayed for nearly 13 hours.

At first, we simply thought that this was a glitch-a typo if you will. Since our flight was supposed to depart at 11:55PM and the board was reading 12:30PM, we were hoping it was just a case of someone putting in the wrong information-because if it wasn't indeed a mistake, that would mean that we would miss our 9:45AM connection flight from Lima to Cuzco.

We headed directly to the gate, where we were greeted by two airline agents who could not help us. We were told that we needed to wait an hour for a supervisor to arrive at the gate to assist us in making other arrangements. They were even incapable of telling us if there were any additional flights scheduled to depart, or provide us with the airline's flight schedule. I'm not quite sure what exactly their purpose was-because we had no choice but to grab chairs and do all of this ourselves from our cell phones.

It was close to an hour until a supervisor finally arrived at the gate-when we were told that there was no earlier flight that we could take-even with a connection, we wouldn't be arriving into Lima until 7:30PM on Friday. At this point, we are missing the entire first day of our 3 and a half day tour. The next available flight from Lima to Cuzco would not be until 4:25AM Saturday morning. Our train to Machu Picchu departed the station at 7am. By the time we made it to Cuzco, disembarked from the plane, got our bags, found transportation, and got to the station, we simply wouldn't make the train on time. This would mean that we would be missing two days out of a three and a half day tour at this point-as well as the one thing that we were traveling thousands of miles to see.

In this entire mess, we only experienced two positive moments from our dealings with LAN. The first was when one of the ticketing agents went truly above and beyond to try everything she could to get us there on time-at one point, using her personal cell phone to try to get us on a flight.

At this point, a large majority of the people for the flight were already sitting at the gate-and LAN had yet to make any sort of announcement that the flight was delayed nearly 13 hours. After it was clear that the trip was unable to be salvaged, they finally made an announcement and sent everyone upstairs back to the check-in line to get our baggage. They also offered to put people up in a hotel (which was apparently a whole other mess) which was over an hour away from the airport, as well as provide them with food vouchers-when every single restaurant or food source in JFK airport was closed. Perhaps they were expected to eat the vouchers? Still not sure about that one.

We headed upstairs-along with the stampede of other people. They had two ticketing agents to staff the hundreds of people who were now heading upstairs. And nobody seemed to know what was going on. After standing in a line which didn't move for almost an hour, one of us found someone who claimed to be a manager for LAN who was handing out letters for insurance companies. We all grabbed one (at the time, not knowing that it was sufficient), and then attempted to retrieve our baggage. Nobody could tell us where we were supposed to go-one person said stay upstairs, another said downstairs. The same man passing out the letters took our luggage trackers, promised to help, and instead proceeded to do everything except that. He walked around in circles-he paced the terminal-but didn't do anything about our luggage.

Finally, we were able to find another LAN employee who was kind enough to do what he didn't, and got us our bags back. This was the second and last positive interaction that we had with anyone from your airline. At this point, it's 2AM and we're letting ready to head home.

Now, for those unlucky souls who were put up in the hotel for the "night", I heard that that was a terrible experience. One of those people summed it up with their complaint on your Facebook page:

 "Flight 531 to Lima at departing from JFK at 11:55pm was cancelled last night. After giving passengers a $20 food voucher when all restaurants were closing or closed, LAN sent us all the way down to Williamsburg to spend the night. Almost an hour away from JFK. The morning breakfast voucher provided could only be used only at the hotel and it was for $10 (including tax). Who wants breakfast when all we want to do is be at the airport boarding your plane? Also $10 in NYC? Also, no Internet connection in your hotel room was provided, so you had to go down to the main lobby of the hotel to use it. Or use your mobile data, like I am doing right now.
The cherry of the cake happened this morning, when we realized LAN didn't inform airport officials that the flight had been reschedule and that we were arriving. I had to talk to airport officials and explained last night situation, so we can let in and go through security. I should have known already that LAN wasn't going to act properly when no LAN staff could be found at any of the LAN counters. Now, it's 10am, and I'm still at JFK waiting to see any LAN representatives. LAN: You just cost me and my company not only money but reputation since I won't be able to attend the business commitments I had scheduled today. The worst thing is your poorly response to your costumers. I am still waiting to hear back from you LAN after the call I made last night and after filling a formal claim."

 Early the next morning, my traveling companions were informed by our tour company that they were able to reschedule Machu Picchu for Sunday. While we literally would have spent nearly 24 hours in airports or on flights for a one day tour at this point, we still jumped in our cars (without so much as a shower or breakfast) and ran back to JFK airport. Though by some miracle, we managed to make it there about an hour before the flight was scheduled to depart, we were denied boarding, and were not allowed to check any baggage. There were two ticketing agents at their counters-and with no flights for hours, they were doing menial tasks such as bagging luggage tags. You had a big chance to redeem yourselves here-you could have picked up the phone, and made some sort of attempt to get us on the plane after everything that you put us through. But there was no "Is there anything that we can do to help these people?" and no "Can we perhaps get them an escort through security"-we were simply told no and then they returned back to their menial tasks.

Now, prior to heading to the airport, we had called our travel insurance company. They informed us that we needed an incident report from the airline which clearly stated that the reason for the delay was due to MECHANICAL FAILURE. The letter that we were provided did not state that. So we now proceeded to attempt to get this letter since we had now spent the money to get back to the airport. The ticketing agents acted as if WE were bothering THEM. We were told to call customer service, who promised that the requested letter would be emailed within 24 hours. 24 hours which has long since come and gone. I get the impression that they would say anything to get us off of the phone at this point.

Subsequent calls to your customer service have produced no results, and there is no manager available to speak to. In fact, you make us wait a whopping, unheard of THIRTY DAYS for any sort of response to what is now being referred to as our "case".

Since this is the digital age, I decided to take my battle to social media, where I've been both unsuccessful in resolving by issue, but successful in that it's allowed me to bond with other travelers who have experienced your horrific customer service over the past few days as well. Some were from our doomed flight, some were from others. But on both your Facebook page and your Twitter feed, almost every post was a complaint-and some of them make me feel grateful, like this one:

"Feeling very disappointed with this airline.. My niece got to Peru on Saturday but her suitcase is still in Miami 2 days later. We keep getting the run around. In that suitcase there are very important medical supplies for my very sick nephew in Peru who has cancer. Please help us!"

You've also had multiple complaints of missing luggage, stranded senior citizens, and forced people to pay the $25 fee to book tickets over the phone because YOUR system wasn't functioning properly.

"You all have gone from the best airline to the worst customer service airline out there. This is now the second time that you guys have done this to me. I try to purchase a ticket by redeeming my miles on your online system, and when I get to the final step, it says that there is an error and that I need to contact customer service. I call customer service for help, and they say that they have to charge me $25 dollars for helping me over the phone. I refuse to pay the $25 because the only reason I am calling is because your online booking system is malfunctioning. I ask to speak with a manager. You say that there are no managers that work with the customer service agents, and they say they will make a case number so that a specialist will call back. I ask the agent how long until the specialist calls, and he says that I will receive a call within 2 hours. I wait by the phone for 3 hours for the call back and never get a call. The specialist doesn't call until 24 hours later, and I miss the call because I wasn't expecting it. I call back with the case number to get back in touch with the specialist, and the agent informs me that I can't be transferred to a specialist, and that I would have to wait again for the specialist to call me back. Are you serious!?!?! By the time all of this has gone by, the kms for the flight I am trying to take has now increased, and I now have to pay $300 to buy extra miles to make up for the difference. You did this same exact thing to me in January, and now you are doing this to me again! How is it possible that I have to pay to buy extra miles because you guys were too slow to help me resolve the technical issue on your website when I called for help and because you all did not "cumplir con tu palabra" of calling me back in 2 hours?!? I am so sick and tired of this airline not caring in the least about the experience of its customers. There is no possible way that purchasing a flight simply with my kms has to take 3 days to complete and that I should have to pay extra money because your customer service doesn't work!!!"

Her issues don't end there either-you claimed to call her back when you in fact did not, despite her providing you with her contact information multiple times.  And something which has infuriated me further-you promised her a call back ASAP, but when I asked when I could expect my call, I was told 30 days-despite making it abundantly clear that I have a deadline in which to file my insurance claim and attempt to recoup my money. And I have nothing against her-she's joined me in fighting back against your horrific customer service. But why the discrepancies?

Your only response is to copy and paste the same reply over and over again that I will be contacted shortly (AKA 30 days). Your social media reps have copied and pasted that response so many times that they could have easily typed out the three sentence letter that we needed many times over and been done with it.

As I type this, we are now entering day five without a proper response, letter, or reply from any sort of manager. I've traveled the world, and never experienced anything like this. It's not just us-you truly seem to not have a care in the world. I find it very hard to believe that an international carrier like yourselves don't always have a manager on duty, nor have properly trained staff. Your business is largely customer service based-but it seems that nobody's let you in on that secret yet.

I highly encourage you to take this opportiunity and learn from your mistakes. I'd be very interested to know how you plan on improving your quality of service-and what steps you plan to take as a company to ensure that things like this don't happen again?

I'm not completely unsympathetic-I understand that things happen, and believe me when I say that I have zero desire to get onto a broken airplane to fly thousands of miles. But it's in the way that you recover from situations like these that can make or break your current (and future) customers, and judging by your social media comments, you sure lost a lot over the last few days.

I look forward to receiving a response from you within the next several days at the absolute latest.

Larissa Marie Cruz (The Traveling Mortician)
and dozens of additional disgruntled customers

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