A cautionary tale if you plan to travel by air this summer…
I read an article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago about how terrible air travel was going to be this summer. The gist of the article was that most airlines are in real financial trouble and that their management teams are desperate to preserve their bottom lines. They are cutting costs by, among other things, eliminating unprofitable routes and cutting back on employee pay benefits and salary increases. So summer is shaping up to be a powder keg of disgruntled, resentful airline employees coupled with severely reduced flight availability just waiting to be ignited by a horde of travelers at peak travel season.
It’s one thing to read about it, it’s another thing entirely to be victimized by the situation.
MD and I were flying to Dallas a few days ago for a few days with the kids when our nightmare began. We were flying out of Santa Barbara on America West Airline, which many people refer to as America’s Worst Airline (which, we discovered, is not without cause). When we fly to Dallas from Santa Barbara we usually take the early morning flight on a small jet to Phoenix where we then catch a larger jet into DFW. The early flight out of Santa Barbara leaves at 6:30 AM so we have to be up at 4:30 AM to get our stuff together and get there, check bags, go through security, etc. We duly arrived at the airport at about 5:45 (the Santa Barbara airport is tiny and requires arrival at a reasonable 30-40 minutes before the flight verses the hour or more required at most larger airports) only to be informed that the plane taking us to Phoenix wasn’t there.
This plane comes in from Phoenix at 9 PM or so the night before and stays overnight at the airport awaiting the 6:30 AM flight. So, it was no surprise to anyone at America West that our flight was going to be delayed, since someone there had known about it at least since 8 PM the night before when the plane didn’t leave from Phoenix to Santa Barbara. Since I had to leave a contact number when booking the flight (as, I would assume, everyone else who booked that flight as well) it would have been nice for someone at America West to have called the night before to tell us that there was a problem. As it was, we, along with an entire plane full of other passengers (who also got up at 4:30 AM), were left to stand around at the airport while the minuscule staff at the America West terminal (who didn’t know there was a problem either until they showed up for work that morning and saw no plane out on the tarmac) tried to rebook everyone.
Our option was to wait until later in the afternoon and get in Dallas late, which we didn’t want to do since we had plans that afternoon or take a shuttle to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and catch an American Airlines flight from there directly to Dallas. We opted to take the shuttle. We were given vouchers for the shuttle and vouchers for the American flight and told to go directly to the American check in counter, present our vouchers, and we would be checked in.
The shuttle turned out to be a taxi cab, the driver of which, God bless him, drove like a maniac for almost two hours to get us there in time to catch the American flight we were scheduled on. We got there in the nick of time (we foolishly thought), sprinted to the American check in counter, presented our vouchers, and precipitated a huddle of airline employees of various levels of management. The huddle broke and a manager informed us that the voucher wouldn’t work because we needed an actual paper ticket from America West to go along with the voucher. The voucher would have worked at the Santa Barbara airport (so they told us), but not at LAX. The manager told us that they would call America West and have an Ameica West agent hand carry the ticket to them at the American counter at which point they would get us on the next flight with seat availability. We asked if we could go pick up the tickets ourselves and not rely on the unreliability of the staff at America West. Sure, we were told, but we were warned that we would have to go both ways (if you’ve never been there, the LAX airport is huge with multiple terminals; the America West terminal is as far away from the American terminal as it can possible be) whereas the America West person would have to travel just one way to get the tickets to us. We had already missed the flight the bozos from America West in Santa Barbara had scheduled us on, and if the agent from the America West counter couldn’t get us the tickets to trade in within a half hour we would miss the next flight. We waited and just before the half hour expired we went to the America counter to see if the America West agent had slipped in without our seeing.
The American agent told us that the America West agent had radioed that he was on his way with the tickets so we could go ahead and check our bags. Why the American agent didn’t come tell us that when he found out instead of making us sweat an extra ten minutes I don’t know. We were right there waiting in full view of him the entire time.
We checked our bags, the America West agent finally arrived, we got our tickets, and headed for security. As luck always seems to have it at times like this we were both selected (by something encoded on our tickets) to go through the entire pat down and baggage search. One security person (or personnel, as they would say) searched our persons while another rummaged through our carry ons.
We finally made it to the plane only to find someone else in my seat who was demanding that I sit somewhere else. We finally resolved the seat situation, the plane took off, and the guy right in front of me threw back his seat and slept all the way. The real indignity was that we rode (me with a seat back in my face) in knees-under-chin class while our original America West tickets were first class (the leg from Phoenix to Dallas) that we had upgraded with miles.
We have to fly back tonight from Dallas to Santa Barbara on America’s Worst Airline on the second half of our trip. We’re already experiencing some angst because when we tried to check in online last night a message came up that said: see airport personnel tomorrow. Who knows what kind of nightmare awaits. Pray for us.
Summer Travel Nightmare