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No-frills flights, no customer service: a cautionary travellers' tale.

Byline: Chris Tomlinson

There is no doubt the internet has changed our lives, mostly for the better.

Now that my fellow web developers and I have sorted out a few usability problems we had in web1.0, the modern internet has enhanced every aspect of human experience, well except for one - customer service.

Now I like a bargain as much as the next man.

And I understand the deal is that if I buy from a company online and effectively serve myself, they give me a discounted price. But my recent trip to the Alps for 29p with Rya-nair left me yearning for the good old days when customers were valued and were always right, even when they were wrong.

I would have been prepared to have paid ten times that if Ryanair had just a couple more staff to cosset me and ease the burden of the journey. I use the word "burden" metaphorically as you can only take 15kg of luggage on its flights, that's a pair of ski boots and a T-shirt, if you're not good with metric weights.

While standing in the excess baggage queue, I had reminded myself this was an online "no-frills" airline and everything was going to be extra, and I could expect zero customer service. After paying pounds 14 for my extra 5kgs of luggage, I returned to the check-in desk to queue behind a fat bloke, who was annoyingly at least 5kg heavier than me.

I had to pay cash, as taking credit cards would have smelt of customer service. Next time I'll wear all my holiday clothes on the flight, not to save the pounds 14 but to prevent hauling my bags up and down the airport.

I knew taking my skis would be extra but the website made no mention of it, so I had to do this the old fashioned way and ring up to pay.

At Ryanair they certainly know how to make it as difficult as possible for you to speak to a human being.

This starts with finding a customer service phone number on the website and ends up with a pounds 20 phone bill, incurred listening to every single option on the voice menu system before finding the right one.

For the skis, the flight would cost pounds 22. I inquired what lavish cosseting they were going to get in the hold that I wasn't in the cabin. I asked if they could sit in the seat next to me for 29p, too, and have their own luggage allowance.

He didn't even laugh. Remember, this was an online business, and laughing at customers' jokes would be extra.

I can't complain, partly because there isn't anyone to complain to, but mainly because I know what the online deal is: zero customer service for cheap flights.

Chris is managing director of internet consultancy WebXpress. This and other unedited articles can be found at Email chris@webxpress.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 24, 2006
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