Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bra Makers Take Note

My new bloggy friend San Diego Momma inspires me every Tuesday. 10 minutes. 250 words or fewer. One letter of complaint.

Dear Bra Manufacturers,

Must these contraptions be so f-ing uncomfortable? Seriously, wires that dig into my belly shelf, bands that squash my squishy parts, straps that slip off when the wind blows, and cups that crinkle in the wash do not a decent bra make. And don't get me started on the sizing. I worked at Victoria's Secret one summer after college. I know what shenanigans you people are up to.

A bra's intent is to support and shape breasts. Breasts of all women, regardless of age, size, or state of motherhood. Why is it that the only bras that seem to fit are the cute little microfiber ones made for the AAs out there? I'm a solid B, and nothing fits. Nothing. I've been to the German matriarch of the lingerie department to be professionaly felt up (er, fitted) at Nordstrom. I half expected her to whip me with the seamstress tape hanging around her neck. She steered me to the Wacoal section. You know, the $60 bras. Was that Boob Frau on commission?

I'm just asking for a bra that is actually as comfortable as my microfiber Calvin Klein seamless undies. Must looks, comfort, and functionality be mutually exclusive? Let's consider technology today for a moment. We can collect dirt samples from Mars and help a man give birth to a baby girl.

Why are we so rotten to our breasts? Surely we owe them more than you offer.

Uncomfortably yours,

Momma Dirt & Noise

If you want to read a real letter of complaint I wrote a while ago, take a look here. Warning: it's long.

September 29, 2006

Gerard J. Arpey
American Airlines
333 Amon Carter Boulevard
Fort Worth, TX 76155

Re: Customer Feedback

Dear Mr. Arpey,

Is American Airlines so successful that the company is ready to bid farewell to an entire segment of customers? Does the customer matter at all? If you’re trying to discourage families with children from flying on American Airlines, you’ve accomplished your goal. Just note that you might want to rethink your “Customer Service Plan.”

Customer Service Plan
American Airlines and American Eagle are in business to provide safe, dependable, and friendly air transportation to our customers, along with numerous related services. We are dedicated to making every flight you take with us something special. Your safety, comfort, and convenience are our most important concerns.

I was flying with my two sons, ages 3 and 15 months, from Chicago’s O’Hare to Raleigh/Durham on Tuesday, September 19 at 12:35 PM. Since my husband had to stay on in Chicago for business, we chose a direct flight for the sake of everyone’s sanity and comfort. It was our first time flying as a threesome, though we have traveled across the country extensively as a family. My boys are already seasoned travelers and like many children, they are fascinated with planes and pilots. They were excited, not wary, of the trip. I, on the other hand, was wary. I prayed for timeliness, good behavior, cooperation, and the kindness of strangers.

As an ├╝ber-prepared mom, I packed all the essentials and tricks to keep the boys safe, fed, clean, and occupied. Now imagine this, I am a five foot tall, 100 pound woman carting a lot of gear for the flight – stroller, backpack that was stretched to the max, and a child’s backpack full of toys and books, not to mention two small kids in tow. The boys were both well dressed and well behaved – model citizens to make a mom proud.

We normally fly on Delta, where the service and help have been impeccable. Someone is there to help us get situated, fold the stroller, chat with the kids, and even hold the baby if necessary. Even from my days as a frequent business traveler, Delta was my carrier of choice. Call me spoiled, but I had grown accustomed to such stellar customer care. And yes, I choose my words wisely; I mean care.

My experience on American Airlines was quite the opposite. There was no chitchat with the kids or offers of help. Sure, not everyone likes children, I didn’t either until I had my own, but I expected some grain of care and assistance when a mother is traveling alone with two small boys who are helpless on their own. And keep in mind that my children were cooperative and well behaved.

Here’s how my American Airlines experience played out:

1) I managed to get through security with two children in tow who, like I, had to take off their shoes and be cajoled through the metal detector. As you can imagine, it was chaotic trying to get everyone’s shoes back on, setting up the stroller, repacking the laptop and bag that were opened up for screening, and reloading everything. The security personnel was incredibly patient, helpful, and friendly. They helped me set up the stroller and engaged the boys in laughter while I got things settled. Since security was my first stop on this journey, it was encouraging to get through with so much help. I commend O’Hare’s security team for being both thorough and friendly.

2) When the flight was boarding, my three year old said he had to go to the bathroom. Zone 3 was boarding, but we were in Zone 5. I asked the gate agent if we could board early so I could take my son to the bathroom on board the plane. Her curt answer was “You have 15 minutes before the gate closes.” Not quite understanding her point, I asked again if we could board. Keep in mind, time is of the essence when a recently potty trained three-year-old says he has to pee! The gate agent again, more curtly this time, said, “I told you. You have 15 minutes.” I was dumbfounded! This lady was not going to let me board early with two small children, one of whom had to use the bathroom! Luckily we rushed to the bathroom and made the flight in time. Even strangers were gasping at the gate agent’s reaction.

3) Once on board, I was offered no assistance getting my kids situated and buckled in. Note that the flight was not full, and I was the only one traveling with children. And by the way, I purchased three seats for our family to allow the most comfort for fellow passengers and us. For the wellbeing of my children and all passengers on board, I planned to travel during my baby’s nap time. He was sleeping soundly over my shoulder just before take off. I was holding him securely with both arms wrapped tightly around his back and waist. Note that a rear-facing infant is the safest position for car travel so I figured the same must hold true on a flight.

The flight attendant woke up my child and made me turn him around for take off. Needless to say, he was cranky (who wouldn’t be if you were suddenly jarred from a much need slumber?!) and could not get back to sleep. This left me with a cranky baby on my hands, and the plane got an earful of whimpering for two hours. Of course I want to honor safety first. I take no issue with doing whatever the rules dictate to follow safety guidelines. If indeed facing forward is the safest, I should have been the one to awake my son and try to reposition him. Instead, he was startled awake by a complete stranger in his face.

4) When the flight attendants brought out refreshments, I asked for a small bottle of water for the three of us to share. She gesticulated pointing to the whole plane and rudely said, “I only have a large bottle of water for the whole plane.” Every other flight I have taken provides small individual bottles of water so I didn’t think I was asking for anything special. Then I asked for one small cup with no ice. Then the flight attendant accusingly asked, “So you didn’t bring your own cups?” What ?! I did bring cups of milk for my children but was unable to load up on anything but essentials for this trip. Like I said, I’ve always had small bottles of water on every other flight. So, in the end we got one cup of water with ice.

The cart was gone before I could ask for a cup with no ice as I originally requested. Now imagine balancing this ice and water filled cup with a squirmy baby on my lap. I was trying to give my children a drink without spilling. Most importantly, I was trying to keep my laptop dry, which is the one thing that kept my three-year-old entertained, quiet, and well behaved for the duration of the flight.

5) After we deplaned, I was waiting for our stroller. And by the way, my three-year-old thanked the flight attendants and pilots without being prompted by me – another model citizen moment to make a mom proud. We were still waiting when the last people left the plane. The flight attendant asked me why I was just standing on the jet way so I explained we were waiting for the stroller. She shrugged and did nothing. The guy who brought out the jet way ended up going downstairs to get my stroller. He opened it up for me and apologized profusely.

Not one flight attendant or crew member was helpful from the gate at O’Hare to the jet way at RDU. In fact, I sensed hostility towards us from the beginning. My children were well behaved except for some fussiness from the baby. There were no meltdowns, screaming fits, whining, or uncontrollable crying. There was admittedly non-stop chatter from my three-year-old until we could turn on a DVD, but that is to be understood by anyone who has experienced the curiosity and wonder of a child. Fellow passengers were courteous, understanding, and even helpful. The kindness of strangers was underscored, while the rudeness of paid professionals was disappointing.

Is this the brand experience your big marketing dollars support? Are utterly poor service and rude behavior the hallmarks of American’s brand promise? Do you see no equity in your brand after all these years? Is it really just about dollars and cents; are people (customers!) out of the equation? So much for lifetime customer value (remember, my children are already frequent flyers, and their mom is a marketer).

I won’t choose or recommend American Airlines again, even if that means I forego a cheaper fare. The bulk of customer compromises just aren’t worth it. I’m going to stick with Delta, who never fails to deliver at every customer touch point. And believe me, everyone I know will hear an earful about this travel experience. Hopefully you can make amends to welcome other families traveling. “Something special in the air” takes on a whole new meaning now.

Mother, Seasoned Traveler, Influencer, Marketer

I’ve sent this letter to Delta too so they know they’re doing something right.

Isabella D. Goren
Daniel P. Garton
Ralph L. Richardi

Jerry Grinstein
Lee Mackenczak

The Outcome:
American Airlines sent a form letter (postcard, actually). Several months later I got a $100 voucher with no letter or instructions for use. Turns out I had to redeem the damn certificate at the airport. A customer compromise even when it's an apology (lame as it was)!

Delta's president Fed Exed a handwritten note and two remote control airplanes and T-shirts to Bird and Deal. I love that the shirts were printed in retro airplane graphics instead of Delta branded merchandise. Still have those planes in the toy box. Still love Delta.
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San Diego Momma said...

I'm seriously wearing sports bras all the time now b/c it is impossible to find comfortable bras.

Also, really? American Airlines sucked that much????
Good for you for letting them know.

The Over-Thinker said...

Well-written letter to AA! What a tacky response from them. I've yet to have a good experience flying with American Airlines and it's a bugger b/c my company always seems to book with them. Even after many have complained about the business-class service. Hrmph.

And the bra thing?? Amen, sister. I did an entire post about the elusive good-bra and I'm still hunting...Oooo and can you tell us more about this: "And don't get me started on the sizing. I worked at Victoria's Secret one summer after college. I know what shenanigans you people are up to." Sounds like good information :)

Ilina said...

My summer at Victoria's Secret could be a post all by itself. I haven't shopped there since that job in 1991. Since this blog has such high visibility and ginormo readership, I bet the lawyers will be on my ass for libel pronto.

Kaza said...

Hey there! Just found you via following a twitter exchange (re Dooce's bewildering twitter popularity!) between you and my dear bloggy friend Followthatdog. Love your blog and above all your general attitude! On the bra thing: a-f'ing-men sister! And that letter to AA was BRILLIANT! Consider yourself subscribed on my reader!

Anonymous said...

I finally found (after becoming a breastfeeding mom)a bra that fit right.

and then the girls shrank.

and then the brand I found that fit quit making that style, so I couldn't even try a smaller size.

I probably would have gone postal on the flight attendant, You'd have seen my irate finger flipping AA off in every major newspaper across the country.

Some people have no common sense.

They better watch out. Karma, you know.

tinsenpup said...

I can't believe the lameness of American Airlines' response! These were both great letters.

Adcock Circus said...

I feel your pain in the bra department. I swear men must be designing bras. The best place I have found for bras (and fab undies) that not only fit but are beautiful is Bits of Lace on King Street in Charleston. The lady spent about
2 hours working with me. They have a website too.

Anonymous said...

I agree with pretty much everything yo just said except I try to avoid Delta since they seem to have a penchant for losing luggage.