I thought I’d take a break from bashing Cathay Pacific’s in-flight services, especially given the recent slew of fantastic in-flight experiences that I have had with the airline (which I’ll certainly write about in detail). However, I did have one truly unacceptable interaction with a ground agent working with Cathay Pacific at New York’s JFK.
A (Blurry) View of Traffic at JFK
I was checking in for my flight to Hong Kong and was greeted by an incredibly friendly agent. Just as my check in was wrapping up, I noticed a small stand-off at the First Class counter next to us, where a passenger who did not understand English was trying to check in with a customer service agent.
As this is Cathay Pacific we’re talking about, I was expecting the agent to calmly get help from her co-workers. After all, this is a major Cathay port. Surely there was going to be some people who would be fluent in Mandarin and henceforth able to help out with communications. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
The agent proceeded to yell at the man in an attempt to get him to weight his baggage, which was overweight. After a short period where the man cluelessly looked at the agent, I was in utter shock and proceeded to help translation and even helped the man place his bags on the scale, which you’d expect the agent to at least try to help out with. At this point, the agent angrily shouts “It’s ridiculous! This man has a Green Card and he can’t speak English!” At this point, my check in was finished and I gave a “what the f*ck did you just say” face to the woman, before walking right out of the check in area.
Throughout the whole process, all I observed was someone in a customer facing role being extraordinarily rude and extremely unprofessional to a man who was clearly having some difficulty with interacting in English. That’s just not what customer service is about, especially at an airline like Cathay Pacific that prides itself on providing warm, friendly hospitality. It was horrible to observe and really disappointed me.
So, what can be done to prevent this from happening again?
1. Providing Language Assistance
For starters, it would be fantastic if Cathay were able to have people fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and other Asian languages on stand-by to help out with any issues that may arise. At the end of the day, Cathay’s main customer base comprises of people based in Asia who may not be fluent in English. As such, adequate translation is really important. I’m confident that this can be done with minimal costs incurred, especially after witnessing a number of gate staff who were fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin, and delivered boarding announcements with little difficulty.
At the end of the day, Cathay does sell Asian hospitality as a sign of quality
While it might be possible to have live translation assistance through Hong Kong where a dedicated team of customer service agents are on hand around the clock to provide translation services for check in staff globally around the clock. However, that might be too expensive and impractical for an airline bleeding money out of a gaping wound that’s definitely not going to close.
2. Training Staff to Handle These Situations
My goodness was the staff member handling the check-in on that day very poorly trained. Although the lady was the only customer service agent being actively rude, I certainly observed some staff members struggling with communication. In that case, it’s important to train staff in being able to work with and serve customers not proficient in English. By using hand gestures and being able to find common ground, I’m confident that solutions will always be achieved. I mean, if British Airways can do it in their training, I’m sure Cathay can do the same.
I don’t see a frowning face anywhere here…
And, specifically regarding the check-in agent on duty on that day, she needs some serious retraining about being hospitable and the Cathay values of Asian hospitality. Under no circumstances should anyone be this rude to someone clearly struggling, much less someone in a customer facing position. It was truly horrifying and extremely disappointing to witness such an interaction, and it really put a damper on my day.
Cathay, as much as I give you crap, I really love you guys. You have a fantastic in-flight hard product (for now, at least) and some of the best people working in the service industry. However, it’s important that the airline steps up to ensure a more consistent customer experience across the board. Once again, even the smallest bit of investment can pay dividends in customer loyalty.