July 29, 2007

USeless Airways

I don't normally blog on Sundays, but since I'm stuck in Philadelphia Airport and US Airways is clearly uninterested in hearing about it, I may as well share it here.

I booked a flight out of Ithaca Airport back in June, buying my ticket directly from US Airways. It was a bit trickier than usual, with stops in San Francisco and Portland, OR. The flights to San Francisco all went smoothly, and the first leg of the flight to Portland was delayed - but I made it because my next flight was using the same aircraft I'd just flown in on.

I flew out of Portland last night on a very slightly late flight. The flight coming in was late, and they turned it around faster than I've ever seen. It wasn't the cleanest plane to get into for a long flight - candy wrappers were sticking out of the seat in front of me - but we got out of there in pretty good time, I thought. I didn't expect the flight to arrive late, certainly.

I woke up to hear the message that connecting passengers should get off the plane and make their transfers as quickly as possible, so I scrambled, as far as you really can scramble. I charged through the airport, caught a remarkably timely shuttle to the F terminal, and arrived just in time to find the plane sitting there, not yet having started its engines. The door, however, was closed and I was already rebooked on a flight six hours later. There were three of us from the Portland flight, and another passenger arrived about five minutes later, but the message was simple: there's nothing anyone can do or should do.

I asked to talk to a manager about why they'd closed the flight when it was clear connecting passengers had arrived and was rewarded with a man who seemed to consider it his primary task to say he was listening - without doing anything. I asked for the next place to contact, and was eventually rewarded with four pages of mostly repetitive phone numbers and addresses, none of which work on Sunday anyway. There's no one else to talk to - and the manager's main job in this situation seemed to be getting people to go away, perhaps after making them feel bad for being angry.

The flight delay is annoying, though maybe my expectations have been raised by airlines (I think including US Airways) that actually did manage to hold flights for a few minutes when there were rushed connections. It doesn't help that US Airways itself sold me a ticket with a 45-minute connection - apparently they thought the odds were good enough to sell it.

The worst part, though, is the utter uselessness of the company. There's one layer of people beyond the folks at the counter to complain to, and their main job seems to be explaining how there's absolutely nothing they can do except listen. Now that's customer service! In light of that, the notes in the printout they gave me aren't particularly promising either:




And of course, the complaints phone number is closed on the weekend. They really want to listen, though! There isn't even a complaint form you can fill out at the airport, and it's really strange to me that they don't have something nicer like a card to tell people where to file their complaints. Printing these directions out isn't exactly impressive. Apparently I'm not the only one who's unimpressed.

My expectations for airlines are pretty low, but every now and then they still disappoint those expectations. I know other people have stories that are a lot worse, but this strikes me as awful mostly because it demonstrates how little US Airways cares. I guess I'll be glad that Northwest provides another option out of Ithaca, though I doubt their customer service is that much better. The only sane option seems to be to find creative ways to fly less generally.

As a side note, the contrast between Portland and Philadelphia airports is pretty striking. Portland provides areas in the terminals with desks and free wireless; finding a quiet desk in Philadelphia means going to Laptop Lane for $8.99/fifteen minutes. (Since I can buy wireless access for $9.99/day, I guess you're paying for the quiet and the phone calls.) I get to enjoy six hours after a redeye flight in a generally noisy place that's mostly designed to get me to spend money while I wait. Wonderful!

I guess I'll write them a letter, and share whatever response I get back.

Update: It got worse. My 1:57pm flight turned into a 5:20pm flight through the usual excruciating set of delays. If I'd known that I had that much time, I would have wandered around Philadelphia instead of bumbling around the airport uselessly, but of course it couldn't be that simple. And then, of course, they finally got the flight to Ithaca but left most of the luggage behind. Perhaps 10 hours isn't long enough to move some luggage?

Second update, July 30th: I just ran by the airport and picked up my baggage. Other than the fact that I had to call them to find out if it had come in, the Ithaca Airport folks at least seem to be on top of things. They also gave me a $25 "Air Check", good toward travel within a year on US Airways, but I can't say $25 makes me excited about flying on US Airways again. Reading the terms on the back, it also seems to need to be used in person, and I can't remember when I last bought a ticket at a counter. Who knows.

Posted by simon at July 29, 2007 8:37 AM in
Note on photos


Mike Lane said:

Sounds like you had a terrible day. I think all the airlines are imploding. Today's news had reports about angry passengers at Northwest Air. They are mad because Northwest cancelled so many flights.

No one is happy with U.S. Airway's Philadelphia connection. The loss of the hub at Pittsburg really hurt us. That was a nice airport to travel through.

No railroads mean no alternative. We've put all our eggs in one basket. Deregulation, and the high cost of fuel is killing air travel.

It would be nice if we had more air carriers in Tompkins County, but we don't. Delta just abandoned Binghamton Airport with little notice.

It can never make a traveler who's had a bad experience like you had today feel any better, but because Ithaca is a "destination airport" we are actually lucky to have two carriers,even if both are troublesome. Higher rated airlines like Southwest Air will never service Ithaca. They compete and skim profits only in heavily travelled routes.

KAZ said:

Do write a letter. I did after being stranded in the Syracuse Airport for 9 hours (it took 24 hours in all to fly from there to San Diego) and got two free tickets to anywhere in the lower 48. Of course, since I had to use them fairly immediately, they proved useless. But you never know. . . .