Kool Derby

While on business in Baltimore, I rented a car from Avis. I happen to like the Preferred Member benefit at Avis because usually my car is waiting for me when I arrive at the destination.

The Reservation Process

The Avis website is easy to use. After logging in, I enter the pick-up location, select the car, submit the flight information, and confirm the payment process. One key element in the online rental process is providing the airline and flight number. By sharing this information with Avis, they will know if my flight is delayed, and supposedly the reservation will stay active.

The Flight

Flying American Airlines, I began my journey in San Antonio and was scheduled to make the connection at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. On this particular day, the weather changed rapidly for the worse in the Alamo City, and our departure was delayed more than an hour. Sure enough, by the time I arrived at D/FW, my flight to Baltimore was long gone.

The American Airlines agent informed me that I could jump on the 9:15 pm flight, and it would get me into Baltimore at 1 am EST. I wasn’t thrilled because my meeting was scheduled for 8:30 am, but at least I would make it, even if I was a bit tired. Murphy’s Law struck again, and the 9:15 p.m. was delayed until about 10 p.m., which made my arrival to Baltimore closer to 1:40 a.m.

The Rental Car Experience

With my luggage in tow, I found the rental car shuttle, which transported a handful of weary passengers to the rental car center. Because of the preferred status, I proceeded to the display board to search for my name, but the board had only two names: J. Jackson and L. Zimmerman. Since I am neither Jackson nor Zimmerman, I made my way to the Avis counter, which was staffed by one agent.

There were two customers in front of me, but one completed her rental process when I made it to the back of the line. Before the lady in front of me proceeded to the counter, I asked: “Ma’am, do you mind if I ask the agent a quick question?” She obliged, and the conversation went something like this …

Me: “Sir, would you mind telling me where the preferred members can find their cars? My name isn’t on the display board.”

Agent: “Sir, you will have to wait in line until your turn is up. This lady has been waiting to be helped.”

Me: “Sir, I do understand, and she gave me permission to ask you a question.”

Agent: “Sir, you will need to wait your turn. You are not allowed to cut in line.”

The discussion continued for a bit, and I finally decided to keep quiet, knowing this person would only escalate the issue.

The Name Tag Issue

I waited in line for what appeared to be a 20-minute conversation between the agent and the lady customer, mostly related to why she was visiting Baltimore. She disclosed she was there for a wedding, and he peppered her with many follow-up questions about the couple, and the many friends and family who would attend.

When it was finally my turn, I asked the agent for his name because his nametag was not on his wrinkled shirt. After disclosing his name was “John,” he mentioned that my reservation had cancelled because I was more than two hours late. I reminded him that I entered my flight information into the Avis website, and that the delay should have updated in the system to keep my reservation active. It took another 10 minutes to re-create my record, and I was finally on my way to the hotel around 2:15 am.

The Point

When I contacted the Avis manager about the situation, I informed him that John was a stickler for policy. He would not allow me to ask a question unless “it was my turn.” Yet, John didn’t have his badge affixed to his shirt, which is part of the Avis policy. The manager concurred, and was apologetic for the negative experience.

I informed the manager that I was a loyal Avis customer for more than 20 years, and this was the first time I had called about an unpleasant situation. He again apologized, and offered two days free on my rental.

The missing nametag is a symptom of a larger problem. I felt John was unprofessional. He could have handled the situation by saying, “Sir, the preferred desk is closed, and I’m the only agent on duty at this time of night. If you give me one second, I will get you into a car as soon as possible.” This approach is more effective than embarrassing a customer by telling him to get back in line.

On the positive side, I was pleased with the manager and the way he handled the situation. The two free days are less important to me than the professional approach he used when I called the following day. “Mr. Flores, Avis is about providing excellent customer service. When we fall short of your expectations, please let us know so that we can make it right for you.”

This customer-friendly approach will keep me an Avis customer for many years to come.