Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Why I Hate US Airways

You know, I used to like flying.

I'm back at S.U. this week after a typically uneventful spring break, but I had a bit of adventure getting here. It's story time...

I was supposed to fly back sunday night on a flight that left at 8:40, and got me here around 10. That was the plan. After my typical last minute rush of packing (made worse by the obsessive need to watch the "Serenity" DVD my dad had purchased before I left) I got to the Pittsburgh airport, made it through security, and sat down at my gate with enough time left to play with the free WiFi.

Close to the time we were supposed to board, there's an announcement saying there's an "overbooking situation" on this flight, and they're looking for 3 or 4 (!) volunteers with flexible travel plans to switch to a later flight. I'd heard this before, and it didn't concern me much since the airline usually finds a few volunteers to keep their compassionless business model running (They'd rather overbook and kick people off a flight than risk having a few empty seats that aren't being paid for).

Unfortunatly, this went differently this time. A little while later, they called four names to come to the counter, and mine was one of them. We were informed that we might get bumped, and that we needed to wait here until everyone else got on the plane. We waited. And waited. While I was talking to another passenger who had been affected (a girl who also went to SU, and had an 8am class the next day), we overheard an interesting discussion. It seemed the plane was supposed to be ready to take off now, but they were waiting on some checked luggage that was late. The supervisor on duty wasn't happy with this, as apparently its against airline policy to delay takeoff for late luggage.

U.S. Airways overbooks its flights, and likes to leave suitcases behind when they don't make it to the plane on time. And they wonder why they're always on the verge of bankruptcy...

Anyway, eventually they mumbled something about being sorry for the inconvenience, and told us we could in fact get on the plane. Awesome! I gathered my things, and headed out to the plane. Since this was a small "Express" flight, standard carry-ons won't fit in the overhead bins. Instead, you put a yellow "Gate-Check" tag on them, and on your way to the plane, hand them to guy who puts them in the back of the plane. At your destination, you pick them up at the gate, rather than at baggage claim. I handed my roller-bag to the guy, and got on the plane with just my backpack containing my laptop and a few other small, expensive things I don't trust out of my sight. I sat down, and breathed a sigh of relief that this trip was finally getting underway.

Then the late luggage showed up.

Apparently, the luggage they had delayed the plane for was quite numerous. In fact, it wouldn't all fit in the back of the plane. The stewardess (attendant? What't the PC term?) started asking people very nicely if they could fit extra bags under the seats and whatnot. She was actually being quite thoughtful, doing everything possible to avoid leaving anything behind.

Then the supervisor showed up. He said that while the plane wasn't overbooked, it was overweight, so the four of us had to get off again. The thoughtful stewardess tried to offer us the choice of having our bags taken off and put on a later flight while staying on ourselves, but the supervisor said she couldn't do that. Dumbfounded, we exited the plane again.

The supervisor merits special mention. Now, most people still seem like people when they are working. Either they are pleasant and trying to help you (like the stewardess), or they hate their job and it shows, or whatever, but you can still tell they are human. Then there are people who come across as company policy books come to life. They aren't compassionate, they don't even offer a sad "I wish I could help" smile to calm you down. No emotion, no empathy. From all appearances, they have no souls.

The supervisor was of the latter type. Think Dick Cheney. Seriously, this guy looked (and sorta sounded) like Dick Cheney. (No joke!) His nametag said "Sean L." because apparently he doesn't have the guts to put his last name behind the work he does.

Once off the plane, I asked whether my gate-checked luggage would be taken off the plane. The supervisor assured me that it would, but that they couldn't just give it to me there on the tarmac (you guessed it: against policy), but that we could get our bags later at baggage claim F. Then one of the workers nearby got the brilliant idea to take our names down so that they could get our bags off the plane. Keep in mind, this only occured to him after the supervisor had assured us that all would be taken care of. Before we could ask any more pesky questions, the supervisor shooed us back into the airport.

At this point, we obviously weren't too happy. I was already planning this blog post. The girl I talked to earlier was nearly in tears after a phone call with her boss in Syracuse who wasn't very understanding that she wouldn't be able to work her 11pm shift that night. A middle-aged woman in our group looked like she wanted to shoot someone. The supervisor gave us a very unconvincing apology for our troubles (again, think Cheney), and then it was time for the paperwork.

If you get bumped from a flight at US Airways, they are "generous" enough to put you on the next flight out, (in this case, at 7:15 the next morning) put you up in a hotel for the night, and give you a $10 meal voucher to use at the airport restaurants. The only real nice thing they give you is a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the continental US, usable anytime within the next year (except for black-out dates like, oh, any significant holiday). Of course, you have to sign this ticket to accept it - right under some rather fine print that promises you won't sue the airline. Mmmm... extortion!

I took the free ticket and meal, but passed on the hotel; This is my hometown, I'll sleep in my own bed tonight, thank you very much! I called my dad, and told him he had to turn around and pick me up again. The supervisor reminded us that our luggage was at baggage claim F. (How could he be so sure? He hadn't checked or anything.) He also gave us the assurance that you cannot get bumped twice, so we were guaranteed our flight in the morning. (Gee, how nice...) Broken and defeated, we all headed to baggage claim F.

I'll bet you can see where this is going. Yup, my gate-checked roller-bag wasn't there. The other passengers' luggage was sitting on the corousel, but mine was MIA. After a fruitless search, I shuffled over to the baggage claim/customer service desk. I explained the situation to the nice guy behind the counter (at least this one seemed human!), and he went into a back room to check. After a phone call, he told me there had been some sort of "miscommunication," and my bag had stayed on the plane and gone to Syracuse without me.

Damn you, Dick Cheney-alike!!

The man told me that my luggage would be locked up in Syracuse overnight, and I could pick it up when I arrived the next day. I walked to the passenger pick-up area, my mind stuck on the image of an equally-pleasant guy in Syracuse telling my my bag had accidently been sent back to Pittsburgh...

On monday I got up much earlier than I generally prefer, brushed my teeth using my finger as a toothbrush (my real toothbrush was in Syracuse...), and went back to the airport.

My own trip would go smothly this time, but I did get one last glimpse of US Airways incompetence. While wating for my flight, the announcement came that this flight was in an "overbooking situation," and they were looking for seven volunteers to give up their seats. Seven! It seems the flight we had been bumped to was overbooked to begin with, and the four of us were making it even worse! So now, the events of the previous night had affected the travel plans of a total of 11 people. Fortunatly, they got the volunteers, so no one had to go through quite what we had, but still.

I count it as a minor miracle that when I arrived in Syracuse my roller-bag was, in fact, waiting for me at the baggage claim desk. I got a cab, rode back to my dorm, thanked God I had no morning classes on mondays, and collapsed in my bed.

So yeah, not liking US Airways too much at the moment. And Sean L, wherever you are.... YOU SUCK!


Will said...

Aw I was thinkin this would be some romantic Hanley + Syracuse girl story. :D

But still that really sucks. That'd be one of those "suck it long-- suck it hard" moments.

Mike said...

Ya know, they make these nice things called buses...

I know free miles and that stuff, but to me it seems like too much of a hassle to go 1 state over...

Drkdstryer said...

Ouch, that's harsh :\

I wouldn't have taken the ticket - damned if I'm gonna let them extort and bribe me. Hell I probably wouldn't have even sued, just give them a figurative middle finger and never fly on US Airways again.

Anonymous said...

I’m so sorry that you had this USA Express mess happen to you in PIT. I work for USA Mainline (big jets) and know we work very hard to keep things like this from happening here. Express is another company with their own rules and guidelines they just use our name. Don’t leave just yet I’m hopeful that things will get much better! Make sure you tell the company www.usairways.com about your experience that’s the only way things get fixed.

Anonymous said...

I hate US AIR. None of the domestic airlines are very accommodating. However, US AIR goes out of its way to make travel miserable. I was coming home from Rome, Italy a few summers ago and a passenger behind me was kicking the back of my seat. I asked the guy with the apron if he could ask the passenger behind me to stop kicking. He told me to ask him myself and walked away.... I will never fly US AIR even if I have to walk, NEVER!!!

melissa said...

why I hate US airlines:
well to begin with, we booked before we knew how much it sucked..and it had available flights, go figure....at christmas, after the "boxing day terrorist", my parents attempted to fly with them out of Toronto and nobody informed them in line that they would be leaving or bringing them forth in line...I flew Air Canada, and when it came crunch time, they brought us forth. Needless to say, they missed their flight (apparently it was practically empty) and had to sleep in the airport in hopes of getting in the security line when it opened to get another flight. Now, I am stuck in Charlotte from Toronto to Ft Myers, because of them. While on the tarmac to leave to Florida, they waited to get de-iced, then to fly out, then the pilot came on and informed us that his allowable hours to fly a plane had expired and we returned to gate at almost 1am, no shuttle to hotels at this time and no prospects to leave for two days....I took a 40 dollar cab ride to a 50 dollar+ hotel to wait and see when I can get out of here ---I would have stayed at airport, but I'm travelling with my dog that I paid $100/way plus $20 suitcase to travel with, missed a day of school......etc etc