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Jack Zaleski, Published December 28 2013

Zaleski: ‘Customer service’ from airline?

My wife and I were among those hundreds of thousands of travelers caught up in last week’s weather-caused air travel snarl. It was stressful and ultimately disappointing. However, it could have been worse but for two competent and patient women who work at the United Airlines counter at Fargo’s Hector International Airport.

Our flight was scheduled to depart Fargo early Sunday (Dec. 22) with a layover in Chicago and then on to Burlington, Vt. We’d planned to spend Christmas with our daughter and her triplet girls. It was not to be.

The call came Saturday night. Our flight from O’Hare to Burlington had been canceled because of an ice/snow storm in the Northeast. The earliest flight available would be Thursday, five days late and well after the Christmas celebration we’d planned with family and friends in Vermont. Even then, lingering bad weather in New England threatened additional delay or cancellation.

Unable to get through on United’s customer help line (“help line”; now that’s funny), I was at Hector early Sunday morning – and every morning through Wednesday – in what turned out to be a failed attempt to get on an earlier flight. Weather and the crush of holiday travel conspired to dash any hope we could fly east in time for Christmas.

If there’s an upside to the story, it’s the extraordinary service I received from Miranda S. and Amy J. (names on their ID badges) at United’s counter. They’d been dealing for days with frustrated, angry and often abusive travelers, whose flights were canceled or delayed. Some people seem to think a ticket agent in Fargo is responsible for an ice storm in the Northeast.

I showed up the same hour for four mornings, and each time either Amanda or Amy searched for available seats, trying all manner of creative itineraries. They went the extra mile when they probably had had it up to their ears with the boorish behavior of some customers.

When no seats could be secured (even out of Fargo, all flights were oversold), I gave it up and rebooked a trip to Vermont in April. Better weather, right?

It is certain not all travelers shared my pleasant encounter with airline personnel. (See Dr. Neville Alberto’s letter to the editor about his family’s experience.) But even as our travel plans collapsed, I was buoyed by the professionalism and courtesy of Miranda and Amy as they did their best in impossible circumstances. They epitomized the definition of “customer service.”

So thanks, Miranda S. and Amy J. See you in April.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.