Should you fly on ANA if you're going to Japan?

If you follow me on Twitter, you are likely already aware that upon our recent return to Japan from a visit to the US, the airline we were flying on, ANA (All Nippon Airways) had lost our bag of taiko bachi (sticks). So far, the response from the airline (ANA) has been less than impressive. Normally, this would not be a surprise, but from a Japanese airline, I actually am surprised that the situation has not been dealt with in a better way. After three weeks, or so, there is still no sign of our bachi bag, and ANA has now begun dragging their feet. (Again, a big surprise coming from a Japanese airline, which are known for their impeccable customer service.) Actually, I feel somewhat fortunate that all we lost were our bachi, after learning that Meantime Taiko recently had a van stolen, which contained their large, Asano made, 3.5 shaku (ca. 105 cm) Okedaiko. (I hope you guys are able to replace it quickly and easily)

But still...

Since many of my readers are friends and family, who are likely to see how this whole situation plays out, and the other readers are probably taiko enthusiasts, who may be traveling to Japan themselves one day and would like to know about the airline choices out there, I am going to post the letter which I will mail to ANA Customer service today. I imagine it will get a response, which I will also post here. Then we can all see whether or not All Nippon Airways will earn a distinction as one of those Japanese airlines respected all around the world, or whether they are going the way of the US airline industry, whose motto seems to be "bend over just a little bit further." On that rather crass note, I give you my letter to ANA Customer Service:
16.September 2008

All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd.
Customer Relations, CS Promotion
3-3-2 Haneda Airport
Ota-ku, Tokyo 144-0041

To Whom It May Concern:

Back in June my wife and I had a decision to make that meant the difference in more than 1000 USD. A good friend was getting married in the US and we had to decide which airline we would use to return to the US from Japan. The choice was between US airlines, such as Northwest and Continental, or Japanese airlines, like ANA or JAL. The US carriers were advertising fares three or four hundred dollars cheaper than ANA and JAL. For a family of four, this adds up to more than a thousand dollars, a very significant amount of money for a family trying to get by with only one working parent.

A person with less experience traveling back and forth to Japan, would likely have chosen the cheaper airline without a second thought. In our case, however, we have been traveling back and forth between the US and Japan at least once a year for the last 10 years. We have traveled on both Japanese and US airlines and have come to be acutely aware of the superiority in the quality, service and overall experience offered by carriers like ANA and JAL. Knowing this we decided to purchase tickets for All Nippon Airways at nearly 2000 USD a piece. In 10 years of travel to Japan and the US, I had never paid so much for tickets, not even during the high travel seasons. For us, buying ANA tickets at this price actually meant spending an extra thousand dollars, which we did not even have at the time of purchase. That is how much we value the superior service we are accustomed to getting on Japanese airlines.

Until this past summer, I had only flown on ANA domestically in Japan. I had always flown internationally on JAL, but was impressed with my domestic experiences on ANA and was looking forward to experiencing that same impressive service on an international flight.

After paying this extremely high airfare of 2000 USD per person (again, more than I have ever paid for an airfare to or from Japan in 10 years), and my based on my past positive experiences with ANA, I was extremely saddened to return to Narita and discover that ANA had lost one of my bags. This was a bag that was small enough to be carry-on luggage. I had actually hoped to keep it with me on the plane, as its contents were important and were needed soon after arrival in Japan. The ANA representative at the check-in counter, however, insisted that I check the baggage. I explained that it was important that it not be lost and that I needed it within a day or two of arrival. She assured me that it would be fine, and put it into a plastic bag, taped with a generous amount of “ANA” tape and made sure that the name tag, as well as the routing tags were clearly visible.

At 2000 USD per person, how is it possible to lose a piece of luggage, let alone a piece of luggage so clearly marked as this one was?! 2000 dollars and ANA cannot even keep track of one little piece of luggage! 2000 dollars that we didn't have! 2000 dollars we had to borrow in order to fly on an airline we thought had a superior service! 2000 dollars is a lot of money to little people like us!

I understand that situations like this are not common. According to statistics, out of all the people that fly, it seems that only 2% ever lose their luggage permanently. Those are pretty good odds, but when you are part of that 2% (as I am now) the odds don't matter. I know that for almost all of your passengers, you are able to safely deliver their luggage to them, but it is when something goes wrong that we can really see what kind of service an airline offers its passengers. What type of service does All Nippon Airways offer?

For me something has gone wrong. My luggage is still missing and is not likely to be found. The representative at the airport was very polite and apologetic as she took my information for filing the missing luggage report. I was surprised, though, that I was not offered any type of “allowance” to ease my inconvenience. A couple days later, when the contents were needed, I asked what I should do because I would need to replace them. I was told to contact my own insurance company. Honestly, I was quite surprised. Was this the impeccable Japanese service that I had heard about and was used to? No, it wasn't. The instructions from the ANA representative: “Replace it yourself and submit a claim to your insurance company,” was very disappointing. At this point, we have submitted a claim form describing the contents and value of the lost luggage to ANA and we are awaiting further instructions. (It has been more than a week, and there has been no further contact, I might add.)

As I mentioned, this was the first time we chose ANA to fly internationally. As far as we can see, our future continues to have annual trips (for all four of us) between the US and Japan. The question for us is will those trips be with ANA or with JAL. How this luggage situation is resolved is what will determine with whom we chose to fly.

I am posting this letter on my blog (http://raiontaiko.blogspot.com) and linking to it from several other websites as well. I will also be updating it with your responses (or lack thereof), and how the situation is resolved (or not). Will ANA’s response give people looking for a plane ticket to Japan re-assurance that ANA will take good care of them if anything goes wrong? Or will it encourage them to fly on a different airline.

In the eyes of the whole world, Japanese companies are admired and respected for their unmatchable service and care for their customers. This situation is a chance for ANA to continue that image and become yet another example of incredible Japanese service for the world to admire. It is also a chance for ANA to tarnish that image and become example of poor customer service to be ashamed of.

The Sole Family

Perhaps an ANA rep will even stop by and leave us a comment on this page, but whether they do or not, I will post their response to this letter, as well as any updates as to how the situation is being resolved (or not).

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