As a boy, I loved going to the airport. I remember being fascinated by the TWA terminal at JFK, awed by the escalator down from LAX, and excited to see the ocean immediately after take off from Fort Lauderdale. Airports also meant seeing family, visiting new places, and let’s not forget all the cool planes. I associated air travel with very positive emotions.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Detroit…
Today’s world finds me loathing any experience with airports, airlines, or at this point just air travel. For the third time in a year, US Airways cancelled my flight. I like numbers, so let’s look at it this way… I’ve taken 3 trips on US Airways since April 2008. Each of the three have had a cancelled flight, and, two of the three delayed overnight; requiring a hotel stay. So, in percentage… 100% of trips on US Airways have a cancelled flight and 67% delay arrival by a day or more.
After my last trip on US Airways, I became so upset with the way I had been treated that I promised to boycott them forever. On this recent trip, my client purchased the tickets to LAX and I neglected to mention “any airline other than US Airways, please.” I justified the flight thinking to myself, “Well Fred, you didn’t give any money to US Airways, so it’s still ok.”
Flying from Los Angeles to Detroit yesterday, the schedule had me traveling to Phoenix, spending 2 hours in the Phoenix Airport, and then continuing to Detroit. I checked in, went to the gate, and waited. Boarding time (4 p.m.) came, and no announcement. The next gate also had a flight to Phoenix, and I watched that plane take off into the clear, blue sky (very similar to my Newark experience). At 4:30 p.m., the representative said there was a slight delay and not to worry, the staff would be taking care of connecting flights and ensuring we make it to Phoenix very shortly. Some of us started to form a line and were told to “just sit and wait” by the manager (no please, no sorry, only “just sit and wait sir/ma’am”).
Well, 5:00 p.m. came and the representative announced the flight had been cancelled. The manager told us to form a single file line and we would be booked on new flights. When my turn arrived, the representative booked me on an American Airlines flight to Detroit via Dallas. I’d arrive at 7am, and yet… I was happy to just go home. The representative printed an itinerary and told me to head out to American. I asked for my confirmation number, and was told to “just show them the itinerary.” I asked again, “can you please give me a confirmation number?” The manager cam over and said, “Sir, you have an itinerary and it’s time to go. They will help you at American Airlines.” I thought about it, and well… Yeni’s been encouraging me to “be nice” and there were other people needing help… so I went off to American.
I will say this: The people at the American Airlines ticket counter were beyond friendly. Very nice. Sadly, US Airways did not book me on an available flight. The flight, being full, could not accept the booking which is why US Airways had not given me a confirmation number. American tried to get me on a different flight, but simply couldn’t find a seat. They said they were truly sorry and let me know I needed to go back to US Airways.
I arrived at the US Airways ticketing counter at 6:30 p.m (it was a very, very long walk from Terminal 4 back to Terminal 1). Fellow passengers from my cancelled flight (493) greeted me in line — each with a similar story. Whether American, United, Delta, or others, each of the fellow passengers in line had been improperly booked on another airline. The line moved at a snail’s pace as only 2 agents were assisting us. At 7 p.m., our “friendly” manager strolled to the counter; drink and cellphone in hand.
A guy about 5 people in front of me yelled “Hey, that’s the stupid bitch who told me it was ok.” Which, in turn, had many people in line agreeing. When it was his turn, the man received news he didn’t like and literally had a meltdown. The police came; he calmed down, left, and was out of sight / out of mind from the rest of us.
At 7:30 p.m. or so, my turn had finally come. I walked up to the counter and was given a flight leaving LAX at noon (the next day), flying to Philadelphia, then to Chicago, and then to Detroit. I would be arriving in Detroit after midnight on the next day. I believe my exact words were “You’re kidding me, right? Can you just put me on a train instead?” She laughed. “I’m not making a joke. I don’t think you’ll get me there without canceling another flight.”
I told her to put me on the flight that gets me to Detroit the fastest. Not what leaves the earliest, but rather what arrives the soonest. While she was typing away (for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually less than 20 minutes), our friendly manager returned to the area. She was getting a little bitchy with three passengers and I had had enough. Sure I was hesitant with the police already called, but I figured “I gotta be me” and just maybe keep it down a notch.
I told her, “Excuse me. You know what? You need to apologize.”
“I’m sorry your plane had technical problems.”
I continued, “No. We’re all fine with that. You need to apologize because you’re a horrible manager and you did a bad job.”
I was thinking to myself that this is nice… she argues like a 6th grader. So I continued, “Yes, you did. You’re a horrible manager and you did a bad job. All of us are here because you are a horrible manager and did a bad job. You didn’t even call American Airlines to make sure any of us had confirmed flights. You wasted our time and caused us further delays.”
“I did call.”
“No, you really did not.”
“I did call —”
Now a bunch of people were watching. “You’re kidding me here. No, you didn’t call. And there’s a whole bunch of us here as proof. You never once picked up a phone. I know. I was there. You are simply lying. You are a horrible manager. You did a bad job, and you need to apologize to us now.” (People clapped, which I gotta say, was pretty awesome)
“I’m not going to argue with you sir.”
“You are arguing with me, and you’re not winning. You are a horrible manager. You did a bad job. Now apologize.” She just stared at me. No words, nothing. “Did you go to manager training?” Nothing. “Well, if you didn’t, you need to go. And if you did, you need to get your money back, because you’re a horrible manager and you did a bad job.”
“For being a horrible manager.”
“And for doing what?”
“A bad job.”
With that, they gave me a hotel voucher for a local airport, a ticket to a Northwest Airlines flight (the next day), a $10 meal voucher, and I was on my way. You know, when it comes down to it, I know that planes have problems. Hell, if it’s a machine, chances are there will be a technical issue now and then. And, I’m much happier being safe then sorry when it comes to air travel. That being said… sometimes it’s not what you say or do, but how you handle the situation that makes the difference.
In the last year, 100% of my US Airways flights have had at least one cancelled leg. That number is ridiculous. And in my entire life, I have had 0 flights cancelled on other airlines.
When I was delayed for 4 hours in December, American Airlines handled it perfectly. When I exited the plane, I was told to please go to the assistance counter. They had already booked me on a new plane and gave me priority standby on the next flight to my destination. And even more, they sincerely apologized.
To make a long story longer, there’s a reason why I have so many road trip photos and blog posts. With carriers like US Airways, flying simply doesn’t appeal to me. I’d much rather drive to where I need to go and enjoy the flexibility, ability to use a phone while traveling, and a nice comfy ride where I’m not treated poorly. When it comes down to it, I can usually drive to where I need to go for less than plane ticket (plus no rental car needed of course and I can take as many bags as I can fit).
As a child, I would have never dreamed that one day I’d prefer to take long trips in the car than a flight in a big, shiny airplane. Sometimes, I miss seeing the world through the eyes of a child.