April 7

U.S. Airway debacle continued


As MD and I were waiting to get off the packed plane in Dallas a mere 8 hours after our scheduled landing a guy standing in the aisle backed up a step and came down on my foot with his heel. He had on big, black clodhoppers; I had on the soft, little driving shoes I always wear when I fly. It hurt like hell.
We had started off by getting up at 4:30 AM to make it to the airport for a 6:30 flight. We got to the airport early and as we were unloading the bags from the car I said to MD: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” She did too. It seems like every time we’re early to the airport some sort of snafu strikes.
We checked in without a hitch, made it through security with only a minor hassle (the troll directing people through the metal detector made me take off my shirt, claiming that it was an “outer garment.”), and were setting in the boarding area waiting to get on the plane, which we could see sitting out on the tarmac. The guy came who checked us in came over to get everyone boarded. (U.S Airways doesn’t like to have too many employees so they all do double duty in Santa Barbara.)
But alas he wasn’t there to get us boarded. He was there to announce that there was a problem with the door of the plane and that it was likely the flight wouldn’t go. He said not to worry, the computer would have us all rebooked and we could pick up our new itineraries within 10 minutes.
I immediately went into mental meltdown mode because I could have been on American instead. MD and I were headed to Dallas for the eldest grandson’s birthday and Easter. American Airlines has the only direct flight from Santa Barbara to Dallas, and we usually take that flight. I checked on tickets about three weeks before the trip and found them to be about $300 apiece, which is pretty standard. For some reason I didn’t go ahead and book them. Instead I waited until the next day when I had a little more time. When I got on the American site I discovered that the $300 tickets had gone up to almost $800 IN ONE DAY. As you can imagine, I was torqued to the extreme. I went to the U.S. Airway site, which has a flight to Dallas with a plane change in Phoenix, and discovered the tickets to Dallas were about $300. I booked with U.S. Airways. Big, big mistake.
I have flown American to Dallas tons of times without a mishap. I’ve flown U.S. Air a few times and one of those had the flight canceled. Now I found myself looking at cancellation number two. (Click here for my account of the other. It was America West then, but US Air recently merged with them.)
MD and I wandered back over to the ticket counter to pick up our computer-regenerated tickets only to find that all the other passengers (who obviously had more experience in dealing with the vagaries of U.S. Airways than we) had queued up and were whining about their new itineraries. As a consequence, MD and I waited a full TWO HOURS in the line to get to the counter only to discover that all the whiners before us had copped the good flights.
During the wait, we called U.S. Airways Gold (which we are not because we fly them a lot but because it’s a perk of a credit card we have) to get ourselves rebooked. The woman I talked to said that the flight the guy at Santa Barbara said was not going to go was not listed as canceled. She rebooked us on a 12:20 flight from Phoenix to Dallas and assured us the the Santa Barbara to Phoenix flight would go and get us there in time. This woman acted like she would rather be doing anything else other than helping us out and was definitely eager to be off the phone. And lest you think otherwise, I was the epitome of politeness as I always am in these situations because I know it is not the fault of the person I’m talking to.
As we got closer and closer to the counter, we called the US Air Gold line a couple of more times and got the run around each time. The flight we were originally scheduled to leave on was finally formally canceled.
By the time we got to the counter all that was left was a flight out of Santa Barbara that left at 12:30 PM connecting through Phoenix and arriving in Dallas at 7:30 PM, many hours after our earlier scheduled arrival, which was going to cause maximal inconvenience to the people picking us up.
We got our boarding passes and noticed that we weren’t sitting together from Santa Barbara to Phoenix, a situation that always gives MD major angst. The guy at the counter said those were the only seats he had. We decided to try to switch with someone on the plane.
Since we had a couple of hours to kill we went for breakfast and threw back large bloody marys, after which I felt minimally better. During the 2 hour wait in line at the airport and the multiple calls to US Air it was only my wife’s calmness that kept my mass murderer tendencies in check. I badly needed the large bloody mary.
We went back to the airport, put all our stuff through the scanner and went through the metal detector under the watchful eye of the same troll as before. This time, wearing the exact same clothes as I had on 4 hours before, I set the alarm off. I went back through again with the same outcome and had to submit to the indignity of a wanding and pat down.
We boarded the plane and MD set about getting our seats switched, which she did. The only problem was that the seats she traded for that got us together were in the row right in front of the exit row, which meant that we couldn’t recline our seats. I”m 6′ 2″ with long legs so I always try to get an exit row, but this time I’m in front of it and can’t even lean back. And as my horrible luck this day would have it the guy right behind me jibbered at full voice for the entire trip and the guy right in front of be was a bouncer, which drives me crazy. (A bouncer (it’s my lingo) is one who whenever he (it’s usually a ‘he’) tries to get comfortable in his seat, he bangs his body against the seat much like people do to when they whack a pillow to get it to their liking. The worst kind of bouncers do it throughout the flight.)
We get to Phoenix and all we hear from the speakers are announcements of all the US Air flights that have been canceled or are delayed. Passengers everywhere are screaming into their cell phones and don’t look to be any too pleased. I overheard one guy say resignedly to whomever he was talking to: “Oh well, what can you expect? It’s US Air.”
Fearing the worst we head to our flight to Dallas, which was only 4 gates short of being the longest distance one would have to walk in the Phoenix airport. We came in at a gate almost at the end of one concourse and went out of a gate at the very end of a terminal 3 concourses away. Ah, well, at least it was in the same terminal.
We got to the flight to Dallas and loaded about 15 minutes late and had an uneventful flight to Dallas. The flight was totally full because multiple feeder flights (ours, for one) earlier in the day had been canceled and all those passengers were on this later flight. The lady behind us had had her flight from Sacramento to Dallas canceled because the breaks on her plane were bad.
It would seem to me that since a flight cancellation really screws up the schedule for the entire day not just for the passengers but for the airline as well that they would take more care to keep it from happening. Our plane had a problem in the door that wouldn’t allow it to close properly. The plane came in the night before on a flight from Phoenix and sat on the tarmac all night. Apparently the problem was discovered when the crew go on the plane and started all their checks. Why didn’t someone check the plane out the night before so that if there was a problem it could be fixed BEFORE the 6:30
AM flight the next morning. The lady’s plane from Sacramento…did the breaks just go bad that very morning or could that problem have been discovered earlier?
In my opinion U.S. Airways is a shoddily run airline that doesn’t care squat about customer service and probably not much about maintenance. In the future I’ll fly them only when I have no other choice. Unfortunately we have to fly them back to Santa Barbrara next Tuesday since we’ve got round trip tickets.
Oh, and when the guy stomped on my foot as we were getting ready to get off the plane in Dallas, he apologized profusely.
I said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s the least bad thing that’s happened to me all day.”

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  1. You might be interested in reading about “Rule 240” on this Consumerist.com site. I didn’t know about it until this morning, but will certainly use the info if or when I decide to get back on a plane again.
    I haven’t flown anywhere since May of 2002. I’m not scared, I just decided I would NOT continue to spend my money for such ridiculously awful customer service as the airlines generally provide. I’m talking about pitifully poor, generally uncaring service at ticket counters, the fact that they’ll let you and the plane sit there for hours with no reasonable explanation or end in sight, and that the design of the plane is physically quite uncomfortable, almost cruelly so, for most people. They don’t HAVE to have such crowded seating and it didn’t used to be that way — they redesigned the planes at some point in the past to hold more people and therefore make more money. “More legroom” — pah.
    Most of what I hear makes me think things are not much better than they were in 2002; in fact they may be worse. So far my life has not been impeded by not flying. I drive and allow more time, or I don’t go. –Anne
    Hi Anne–
    It’s called ‘invoking the rule’ and I invoked the heck out of it.  But, the guy at the counter told us that all the other airlines were fully booked on the earlier flights as well.  I don’t know if it was true, but there was no way I could find out short of jumping over the counter and manning the computer myself.  I suppose I could have started calling other airlines to see, but I didn’t.
    MD and I drive as much as we can, but the drive to Dallas takes 2 days, and 2 days there and 2 days back is a little too much driving for a 4 day visit.  So, we are left to the tender mercies of the non-customer service oriented airlines.

  2. Hi Dr Mike
    Sorry to hear about your airline woes, what an awful start to the holiday break 🙁 My hubby is flying in today from Australia, Easter Sunday flying into London was the only one he could get. Singapore Airlines – now that is what you call an Airline! Qantas has gone right down the tubes, British Airways think everyone are midgets. Singapore is just brilliant service is wonderful and there is a good 3″ more legroom than the others what a difference that makes even though it doesn’t sound a lot. If you are ever on one of those long-haul flights they are the one to use.
    Hope the rest of your easter takes the pain away.
    Hi Glenice–
    Thanks for the sympathy.  I’ve heard great things about Singapore Airlines.  Too bad they don’t fly between Santa Barbara and Dallas.

  3. If it had been me, they would of also lost my luggage. It seems that my motto is “If it wasn’t for bad luck I would have no luck at all.”
    Hope your next flight is much better.
    Hi Jay–
    I forgot to mention the luggage.  At least it did get there on time, although there was one last aggravation with it.  We checked three items–MD’s bag, mine and a box of stuff for the kids for Easter.  When the luggage finally came out on the conveyor belt, MD’s bag and the box came out almost immediately.  My bag came out almost last.

  4. Dr. Mike:
    Sorry to hear about your holiday debacle with this airline. On the Eastern Seaboard where we live it was not that long ago folks gave this airline the nickname “Useless Air.” I think they tried to improve for awhile after that, but went way downhill again and obviously the recent merger has made things even worse. (Maybe their new nickname should be “Completely Useless Air.”) Makes me nostalgic for the days when airlines were still regulated and it was an exciting and glamorous experience to fly, albeit more expensive.
    Seems like some of the offered pricing you experienced trying to get booked on American is in fact approaching the level of the days of regulation, but of course without the benefit of getting decent service; and as noted in other comments, the airlines are packing us on the planes like sardines (or maybe beef cattle in a pen is a more apt analogy).
    Where and when will it get better? Here’s one idea: Boeing should start designing their planes to prevent the airlines from being able to reconfigure passenger seating to position them too close together. Maybe FAA could tweak their airframe design regulations for passenger aircraft?
    Until these issues are fixed, I for one will try almost any alternative for travel needs. The train seems like a good possibility in places where service is available. And in cases where the holiday is just too short to justify driving or taking the train, I may give serious thought to video conferencing, even for family get togethers! Well….., maybe that’s a bit over the top (except for business meetings), but the CEOs of the airlines ought to be shaking in their boots over the customer enmity they are earning. (Rant now concluded.)
    Happy holiday to you and MD.
    Hi Will– 
    Thanks for the good wishes.  Happy holiday to you and yours.
    When America’s worst airline (America West) merges with Useless Air (US Air) I guess the worst should be expected.  What bugs me is that the airlines spend big bucks to advertise in an effort, one assumes, to attract more customers.  Why don’t they instead spend their money on keeping the passengers they have by improving customer service.  It appears instead that they are in a battle to attract more customers through advertising than they’re running off with their shoddy service.

  5. I am so sorry to hear your story! I have round trip tickets on US Air to fly from TUS to MCI next month, and they are non refundable and already paid for! I can only hope for a better experience than you had. If I had heard your story sooner I would have booked on American. It would only have been five dollars more each way!
    Thanks for the info! RR
    I hope you have better luck.  I have had decent US Ari flights–I hope yours is one of those.

  6. So sorry to hear that your weekend, which should have been relaxing and enjoyable, turned out so hectic.
    We are flying from St. Louis to Vegas on Wed. morning with America West. This will be the first time we’ve used them and I’m not looking forward to it. We usually fly Southwest, which has always been a good experience, even if the seats could use more room.
    I know what you mean about being uncomfortable unless you have the exit seat. My husband is 6′ 3 1/2″ and always tries to get an isle seat (so he can stick his legs in the isle when no one needs through) or over the wing where he can stretch out. He requested isle seats on this flight, but it doesn’t look like we got them. So I’m sure he’ll be uncomfortable the whole way. Poor guy looks like a pretzel while he’s crammed in one of those seats.
    I can only hope this flight goes through without too many issues. I hope I have absolutely no stories to tell when we get back. But if we do, you can be sure I’ll be sharing them with everyone. :0)
    Is it true you can’t take snacks on the plan anymore? I want to take some protein bars with me. The last thing I want is to spend airport prices on food I shouldn’t be eating to begin with.
    Hi Amy–
    We took some nuts and jerky with us with no problems.
    I hope your flight goes well.  I’ve flown American West/US Air a number of times without hassle, so it can happen.  It’s just that when it has happened to me it has been nightmarish to a much greater extent than cancellations on other airlines have been.
    Good luck.

  7. Sorry to hear about your Traveling Experience From Hell. I’ve flown US Airways several times without mishap. Sending good travel karma your way …
    Thanks.  I’ll take all the good karma I can get.

  8. Wow…you’re giving a lot of credit to American Airlines. I usually fly American or Delta, and I wouldn’t consider my luck to be much better with either of them than yours on US Airways.
    So far I’ve been lucky with those two I guess.  Hope it keeps up.

  9. So sorry to hear that you had yet another miserable experience with your flight. Hubby’s also 6’2″ with long, long legs so I know what you mean about having enough leg room. Jet Blue does seem to have the most decent leg-room that we’ve encountered on our last few trips. My only complaint is their leather seats which I find slippery. When on a red-eye and trying to sleep, it’s rather annoying to find myself sliding of the seat every time I start to nod off.
    I’ll trade slippery leather seats for more leg room any time.  I like Jet Blue, but I’m glad I wasn’t flying them a couple of months ago when they had their meltdown.  I hope they’ve learned and gotten it together by now.


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