Thursday, June 04, 2009

Useless Airways

Useless Airways: At the moment I am at a Residence Inn near Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix. I am seething. I don't know where to begin. I am about to wig out on US Airways. If you have no interest in a travel rant, skip ahead to the next post.

I used up my US Airways miles on my Moab trip to upgrade to first class -- hugely important to me for long trips. The flight back consisted of an hour or so from Salt Lake City to Phoenix then a long 4-hour haul back to Detroit. Well that didn't happen. In Phoenix, one the flight attendants had a heart flutter or something and couldn't work. So our flight got cancelled.

You read that right. The flight was cancelled because a stewardess got sick. Apparently US Airways had no contingency plan for an employee getting sick. They just cancelled the flight and let the chips fall where they may. I can only assume the executives at US Airways sit around in their offices making armpit sounds and playing with plastic army men, because they sure as hell aren't doing anything remotely related to PLANNING.

So I get to the gate desk for rebooking and a cretinous dolt named Craig rebooks my first class seat to a middle seat in coach for the next morning. He will hear no argument. First Class is booked full, that's the only seat, take it or leave it. Here's a voucher for your hotel. Next! I was given no food voucher, which should be standard operating procedure. No soup for you!

Fine, I know enough not to cause a fuss with a gate agent with an ugly disposition. I figured I'd get checked into my room before the onslaught of angry travelers and get on the phone to US Airways. Once in my room I got on the line to Reservations, but they couldn't help me because they couldn't "un check-in me" from the middle seat I was given. God only knows why. They suggested I talk to the gate agents again in the morning. I asked for a Customer Service number instead. The response: "They don't have a phone number. They have a fax number or an email address." Yes, that's right. US Airways does not have a Customer Service line. And why should they? They can't be expected to take phone calls while they're in the middle of playing Chutes and Ladders, can they?

I composed a stern, yet polite email on their customer service form, checking the box that indicated my flight was leaving in less than 24 hours, hoping against hope that it might actually spur some action rather than just be a further source of sadistic entertainment for them, but no such luck, I got no reply at all. Instead, my only shot was to get to airport early and cross my fingers for something better.


Next morning I arrived at the airport two and a half hours ahead of time to allow for my battle with whoever I could get to talk to me at the ticket counter. After some desperate pleading (I almost resorted to claiming a medical condition) the best I could do was move from a middle seat to an aisle seat towards the back of the plane.

There was actually a time when I would go out of my way to fly US Airways, but that was years ago. There's nothing left of the decency and helpfulness of that airline. The service has been in steady decline and is about to step over the line into outright hostility. Now they nickel-and-dime like everyone else, the planes are worn to pieces, and even the wi-fi in their club comes laden with space hogging Flash ads.

Case in point: on the flight out, the guy in front of me was stopped while boarding the plane and told that his garment bag was too big and needed to be checked. The guy replied that he had just carried it on his previous three legs and this was the same model of plane. Sorry, was the reply, I guess they weren't checking before. The flight was only about half-full. There was plenty of room, but the guy got nowhere with his arguments and they checked his bag. Arbitrary and, frankly, mean-spirited enforcement of "rules" is a clear sign of a service culture with a chip on its shoulder.

If you happen to be one of the tiny minority of people who've never had a flight cancelled on them, you must understand that not only is it annoying, it can be expensive. If you are cancelled because of weather, then you are shelling out for your own hotel room. Fortunately, even US Airways has to cover your room if it's their own damn fault. They should also give out meal vouchers. But if your car is sitting in an airport parking lot, they aren't going to cover that. Missed appointment fees or work days? Sorry sucker.

I hate US Airways for this. I want to shout of their horribleness. I fully intend to keep after them about this, but it doesn't matter. They may provide some recompense, or they may figure I can go directly to hell, but it's not like I can do anything to make them care.


Now back home and settled in after the Memorial Day weekend. I am less flustered, but no less angry. Three days after sending an email with the indication that my flight was leaving in less than 24 hours I received a reply. Apart from the boilerplate apologies and explanations they offered to credit me 12,500 miles for my trouble. In other words, they refunded the miles for the one leg in which I lost my first class seat on. That's it. As to the other costs and inconvenience? Sorry, just suck it up.

As expected they are suggesting I can go directly to hell. I will send them a response declaring that their offer is lame and borderline insulting, but it likely won't get anywhere.


My response indicated that their offer was inadequate and I went further in detailing my issues, also noting that if I had to cancel a flight at the last minute, it's unlikely they would be as forgiving of me as I was expected to be of them. I suggested a domestic round trip voucher or a voucher for a future class upgrade would be more appropriate to cover the annoyance and expense I had to go to.

Their response? Point and laugh. The specific wording was: "After careful evaluation, we were unable to discover any additional concerns causing us to reconsider our original compensation." I could spend about 1000 words deconstructing that sentence (especially "unable to discover") but it all comes down to a big fat middle finger. Hell, they probably reported me to TSA for good measure.

I want to vow never to set foot on one of their lousy flights again, but that's an empty threat. They have their planes and routes and they probably figure that if they offer cheapest and most time-effective way to get to to my destination I'll still make the reservation with them, despite how much I hate them. They're right. Even if I were to fly out of my way or go to extra expense to avoid them, it's not like I would get measurably better service on another domestic airline. It's simply the way the world is and it is not going to change. Like most travelers I have been beaten into submission by this industry. Why waste the very pixels you are reading griping about it?