Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Robot Prevarication

“An agent will be with you shortly …. . … your call will be answered in no more than 75 minutes.”

(United Airlines lost baggage number, automated)

December 26th must be a difficult day for the airlines, but they could at least have the courtesy not to tell the customers whose bags they have lost something that their next sentence will show to be a lie.


Anonymous said...

My family stopped using United after they lost our baggage every single time we flew eight times in a row, probably because we were changing planes at O'Hare. They didn't lose my luggage this month when flying to Japan and back, however. That was a nonstop flight.

Anonymous said...

Is it a lie if it's not known in advance to be untrue? Maybe an error or a failed promise, but "lie" seems over the top.

I am also amazed that luggage gets to its destination at all, given the enormous complexity of connecting flights and of getting bags (which, unlike customers, don't move themselves) to the right places. In fact, given how many thousands of flights criss cross the U.S. daily, I'm amazed that there are so few problems.

(I fly on United quite often and almost never have luggage problems. )

David Friedman said...

In this particular case, the luggage was going directly from Cleveland to O'Hare. It wasn't exactly "lost," so far as I can tell. United switched to a smaller plane and deliberately left some of the luggage behind because of weight limits. They did the same thing going the other way, except that that time it wasn't a smaller plane, just more total weight than the plane was supposed to carry.

Apparently this is now fairly routine--the luggage equivalent of overbooking, except that they don't ask for volunteers or offer to compensate you, although they do deliver the luggage when it finally arrives.

But either their automated system was wrong or their luggage agent was, since the latter told us the bags would be on another flight coming in about 5:45 P.M. and the automated system still reported two of them as missing as of midnight or so.

But they eventually arrived.

David Friedman said...

Tom Palmer asks if it is a lie if it's not known in advance to be untrue. The problem, of course, is that the falsehood is coming from a machine. If we analogize it to a person, it is a lie--the same machine reported, a few seconds later, that the wait could be up to 75 minutes.

Referring it back to real people, the person who programmed the machine knew, or at least should have known, that the wait would sometimes be long enough to make "shortly" false.

Eric Rasmusen said...

I am puzzled by why the airlines so frequently lie. They do it live, and intentionally, as well as by computer message. Most large corporations do not lie. They value their reputations, and defrauding customers is not worth the long-run loss. Airlines seem to be different. I wonder why.

Unknown said...

Perhaps they need more competition?