Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

KLM, Bureaucracy and Customer Service

It is so easy to complain when you live overseas. We complain about Wasta, we complain about corruption – and all it takes is another trip out of Kuwait to see that it exists everywhere. Bureaucracies exist to encourage arbitrary decisions, bribes, and meanness to the customer.

But every now and then, you find a brave soul who stands up for right, who uses policy like a rapier against the lazy, and I met one of those this morning.

I am connecting in Amsterdam, and I have thousands and thousands of miles I never use. Mostly I have been booking flights on a relatively short term basis, and when your family needs you is not the time to be trying to dicker over free tickets, etc. So as I entered the business lounge, I asked the very nice woman behind the desk if an upgrade was possible for the next leg of the trip.

Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she checked this, she double checked that, and then said “you would have to pay 150 Euros to upgrade + 25,000 miles”. Piece of Cake. For a 10 hour flight? 150 Euros! Here’s my money.

No no, I had to go downstairs and pay. And downstairs, it is six, when ticketing is supposed to open, but they are very very busy ignoring the customers. They have coffee to get, greetings to exchange, water to distribute, computers to boot – no, no, ticketing open at 6:00 does NOT mean they are ready to serve the customer at six, only that they are in the general area at around six.

And they were not happy to have a customer. The counter lady gave me the same information as the lady upstairs – 150 Euros + miles, and then she took my ticket to the ticketing lady behind her, who gave it a glance and said no, it was impossible, my card was KLM and the ticket was on a Northwest flight. I said “You are partners! This card is supposed to work on all the partner airlines” and she said “no, the regulations say that your class of ticket cannot be upgraded on Northwest.”

I don’t usually let things get under my skin, but the sheer blatancy of her desire to get rid of me annoyed me. I said that this was not right, and not fair, and she shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

Smiled! Whew! I could almost feel the fire coming out of my ears and eyes!

Back upstairs in the lounge, I checked in with the same lady who had helped me before and told her what the ticketing bureaucrat had said. I was calm, but also very angry. So was she. “That’s just WRONG” she said, and got on the phone. 45 minutes later, she was still at it. She would verify all her information, call ticketing, and the ticketing lady would still say “No!”

Finally, I signed up for a shower, and washed away all the frustration while the dear lady in the business lounge continued to get people involved. By the time I came back out, fresh and sweet and clean, she gleamed in triumph! “You have your ticket!” she said, her voice triumphant!

So downstairs I headed once more to pay. The ticketing lady was totally snippy to me, taking her time, shaking her head in disgust, until I asked her name and wrote it down. Suddenly, she was all sweetness and light, and like magic, my new improved boarding pass appeared.

Al hamd’allah.

But here is what bugs me. I’ve worked many many jobs that required keeping customers happy. I am really good at it. I take pride in it. In the long run, I believe, good will pays the biggest dividends. And when I can make something good happen for someone, it’s like something good happens for me, too . . .

So what possible reason would people in roles where they interface with the public have for being rude? unhelpful? snippy? to take visible joy in saying no?

I can imagine that being an airline counter service agent at this time of the year, with all the delays and confusions, and abuse they have to take could be dis-spiriting. I can sympathize that they have to deal with people who all want special treatment. I’m just another person asking for an upgrade. But at the same time, doesn’t it make them feel worse to be rude and unhelpful?

Do you deal with the public? Are you ever rude? What pushes your buttons, what can make you rude to a customer? And as a customer, how do you handle a rude employee?

December 27, 2006 - Posted by | Christmas, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Social Issues, Travel


  1. You just got some Dutch Hospitality, nothing odd, you just have to know your way around it, that is all, lucky for you someone wanted to help you.

    Comment by Purgatory72 | December 27, 2006 | Reply

  2. Do you deal with the public in your job, Purg? How do you treat your clients?

    Comment by Intlxpatr | December 27, 2006 | Reply

  3. Luckyu for me am not in customer service, I do not like dealing with public or customers, am more of an internal person.

    Customer service does not exist in Europe, well at least it didn’t exist in the Netherlands when I used to live there, not sure about your experiences in Europe

    Comment by Purgatory72 | December 27, 2006 | Reply

  4. Wow! I hope you ended up flashing your own smile at that woman once she had to give you your ticket! I hate it when someone is rude to me at the airport…I don’t care how many other passengers they deal with, I don’t sympathize at all, get another job you’re supposed to take crap from customers especially when the company you work for makes stupid nonsensical rules!

    Occasionally I have to deal with angry people but usually I just let them vent and I listen supportively because in the end they know it’s not your fault that this is happening and they just need someone to listen to them and recognize that they’re frustrated and offer some help if possible.

    Comment by 1001 Nights | December 27, 2006 | Reply

  5. lol are you sure youve left kuwait? cos it sounds like just another day here 😛

    altho i must say that when i flew KLM recently i had one of the best experiences of my travels.

    customer service certainly doesnt exist here in kuwait, but on the odd occasion that someone does make an effort i’ll always make it a point to email their supervisor and tell them how nice the person was.

    the upside of the email is that next time you might not even have to take a ticket and wait your turn 😛

    Comment by skunky | December 27, 2006 | Reply

  6. dear khalti,

    years ago, when I lived in Fes, I was invited to a dinner party to which two Dutch women had also been invited. By the main course, they were alternately raving and lying back on the floor. the next day, we told the story to another friend, an American minister and theology PhD who had spent years abroad.

    He shook his head sadly and said: “when the Dutch go bad, they are horrid.”

    Perhaps in the Netherlands airlines have the same customer service reputation as the Post Office does here :-).

    Comment by adiamondinsunlight | December 27, 2006 | Reply

  7. All – I’ve been treated both rudely and supurbly in many countries – so I am not sure it’s a national thing. But you are right, Skunk, I am going to write that e-mail to the boss of the woman who knew the policy and kept calling people until the witch at reservations had no choice but to concede.

    And, as a footnote, I feel terriffic today, not jet lagged at all, thanks to getting some sleep en route. al hamdallah!

    Comment by intlxpatr | December 29, 2006 | Reply

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