Do Not Fly US Airways

I know it’s been awhile. I’ve been traveling a lot lately and just haven’t had the time or motivation to blog.

Speaking of travel, I had our office manager book my travel for the trip I just got back from. I was in Denver from the 16th to the 26th of May, but when that trip came up I was already in Toronto. I thought it would be easier to ask the office manager to book my travel than to try to do it through a crappy internet connection from a hotel in Canada.

She books travel through Orbitz which is convenient for her, but chooses the cheapest fares it can find. I do try to keep my fares as low as possible, but there is a reason that some airlines are cheaper than others.

My flight out was with Delta, my normal choice in airlines because in my experience they don’t suck QUITE as bad as the rest, but my flight home was with US Airways.

What a fiasco.

Granted, it was a holiday weekend, but according to the experts it was not supposed to be very busy for the airlines relative to Memorial Day weekends of the past. It really didn’t seem any busier at the airports than usual to me overall (and, as I said, I’ve been traveling a lot lately).

I always check in online to make things quicker when I get to the airport. With Delta, checking in online makes things relatively painless. I did have a bag to check, but with Delta, that just means stand in the very rapidly moving “online check in” line, hand the person at the counter my pre-printed boarding pass to be scanned and give them my bag to be tagged. A very smooth process that usually takes 10 minutes or so max, even if there is a line.

OK…so when I checked in using US Airways online check in process, it seemed pretty much the same as Delta. The web site said to be there a minimum of 45 minutes prior to departure (Delta usually says 30) with bags to check. I figured a half hour cushion should be plenty. My flight was supposed to depart at 6:45, I got to the airport at about 5:00 and by the time I got my rental car turned in, rode the shuttle to the terminal (I was the only rider on a shuttle that holds about 30 people…that’s how busy a day it was) and got to the US Airways check in counter area, it was about 5:30, just as I planned.

The thing that struck me was that the US Airways counters are right down from the Delta counters. There was no one waiting at the Delta area. No one. I can’t imagine that Delta had no flights going out of Denver on the Saturday morning before Memorial Day. I believe that this is just further evidence of their superior process and efficiency.

Anyway, as I approached the US Airways area, I noted (it was hard to miss) a whole gaggle of people standing in line in front of the 5 or 6 agents they had working. They were lined up all the way across the lobby and the lines ended underneath the flight status displays on the wall opposite the ticket counters.

Hmmm. This doesn’t look good.

I found the line that seemed to be designated for Web Check Ins and began my wait.

By about 6:00, I’d gotten far enough up the line and close enough to notice that the agents were calling out names rather than just taking people in the order they were in the line. Not only that, but when the agents in the web check in line called a name, about half of the time, the person who struggled through the mass of humanity dragging their luggage up to that area, were from the full service line. The sign that said “web check in” apparently meant nothing.

A few minutes later I realized, to my chagrin, that if you didn’t check in at the kiosk (that I still hadn’t quite reached yet), they would never call your name. Checking in on the web is apparently just a placebo for US Airways victims…er…passengers. Unfortunately, by the time I realized that I needed to do this and was actually able to reach the kiosk, it was already about 6:05…40 minutes from my departure time.

Remember that note on the web site about being there 45 minutes before departure? Apparently it was not a suggestion. If you don’t hit a kiosk and check in (for the second time, if you’ve already done so online) before that 45 minute cutoff, they will not allow you to check in to the flight. The kiosk gives a message saying “sorry, but you’re SOL” or something to that effect.

Needless to say, as those of us who were trying to catch our 6:45 flight started realizing that we were not going to be able to do so, we got a bit irritated by the lack of organization. Several of us voiced our concerns to a few of the ticket agents, who basically told us “sorry, you’re SOL” or something to that effect. Oh…and that it was our fault that we didn’t know that we were supposed to check in at the kiosk until it was too late…stupid passengers.

Because we couldn’t check in to the kiosk, they never got our names at the desk, so they just kept merrily calling other people’s names and pretending like we didn’t exist.

Until three or four of us just basically camped out in front of one of the counter positions and (politely) refused to move until they addressed our issues…namely that we needed new tickets and this was, after all, a ticketing and check in counter.

One guy that was in our boat but not with our little rabble rousing group started making comments to the effect of “Anybody need a job? It looks like US Airways needs to hire some competent people” At which point one of the ticketing agents threatened to call security and have him removed. I couldn’t quite discern what he said that rose to the level of calling security, and I was kind of hoping that they’d call them, just to see how it would play out, but she never called and the guy eventually quieted down.

Anyway, the ticketing agents finally decided that they’d better do something with us so one agent finally started dealing with all of us who had just missed our flight. We eventually all got scheduled onto later flights, some were not happy with the flights that were available (mainly the ones who weren’t going to get where they were going until the next day), but we all got placed.

So…what they worked out for me was a flight to Charlotte (on an overbooked flight for which they had to ask for volunteers to take an even later flight) that was to arrive at about 1:30pm. Then there was a flight to Norfolk leaving at 2:35pm, but it was full and the system wouldn’t allow a Denver ticketing agent to overbook a Charlotte flight, so he booked me as a standby on that one. The next flight from Charlotte to Norfolk was leaving at 6:00pm and he also got me a seat on that one just in case.

Of course, the later flight would mean that I’d miss my granddaughter’s birthday party, but hopefully I’d get a seat on the earlier flight.

OK. Of course the flight from Denver to Charlotte was delayed (trying to figure out who was going to get on the flight and who wasn’t was another fiasco in and of itself), so we ended up getting into Charlotte just before 2. By the time we got to the gate and off the plane it was about 2:10. That meant that the flight to Norfolk was already boarding and I had barely 15 minutes to get from Terminal B to Terminal E and find the gate.

I ran…as best I could dragging a carry-on suitcase, a computer bag and an extra 40 pounds around my gut. I’m sure it was quite a sight.

I made it by about 2:20…arriving at the gate just in time to hear the announcement that there would be a slight delay before boarding. Whew..at least I hadn’t missed it.

I went up to the counter for the gate (that counter served gates 4, 6 and 8, I was leaving from gate 6), and told the nice lady there that I had a standby ticket and asked what I needed to do to see if I was going to get a seat. She said that I needed to wait until the plane was boarded and then they’d see if there was a seat for me. She then asked my name, which I gave, and I believed from that, that they’d call my name when the time came to let me know.

So, we sat there for a few minutes and then a different lady, the one actually at the door for gate 6, announced the start of boarding. The normal routine ensued until it was obvious that they’d finished boarding, but no one called my name. I started getting nervous and walked back up to the desk. The lady I’d spoken to the first time asked if she could help me. I reminded her that I was waiting to see if I’d gotten a seat on the plane and she replied “OK” with a smile. My impression was that I should continue waiting…but, as I said, I had gotten nervous so I just kept standing at the counter.

About that time, the lady who had been at the door for gate 6 walked up to the counter and started fiddling with a computer. She noticed me standing there and she asked “can I help you?” I told her I was waiting to see if I’d gotten a seat and she replied: “Oh yes, I’ve got an empty seat for you. When you’re on stand by, you need to speak to the gate agent. I didn’t even know we had any standby passengers for this flight.”

I didn’t have time to be angry because she reprinted a boarding pass with a seat assignment and hustled me out the door before they could close it up.

But…What.The.Heck.

Don’t the people that are all working the same counter talk to each other? Isn’t there a process for this? If the process for a standby is for the passenger to talk to the gate agent and ONLY to the gate agent on the gate for their flight, why didn’t the lady at the counter that took my name tell me this? And why the heck did she take my name in the first place if she wasn’t going to give it to the other gate agent? And then why didn’t she tell me this the SECOND time I approached her about it?

US Airways…strike two.

OK…so I got on the plane. It was a small plane with only two rows of seats on each side. No problem there. It was completely full (after I took the last seat). No problem there. The cabin air conditioning wasn’t working. BIG problem there.

They disconnected the ground A/C unit in preparation for leaving…AFTER which the pilots or someone decided they needed more paperwork filled out. We sat there for about 15 minutes or so with the cabin getting hotter and hotter, until the flight attendant (I wasn’t tempted to call this guy a stewardess anyway, so there’s that) finally asked for the ground A/C unit to be hooked back up. I’d guess it was close to 100 degrees in the cabin by the time that happened. I was actually feeling a bit woozy and nauseous from the heat. I can’t imagine how badly the older passengers were suffering.

I’m not sure the ground A/C ever actually got hooked up because I felt no discernible difference, but at least it didn’t seem like it got any hotter after that, so maybe they did.

Anyway, after about 30 or 40 minutes in the sweltering heat while the flight crew finished up a little paperwork (or at least that’s what the flight attendant told us they were doing…was this some sort of new, surprise paperwork they’d never had to fill out before? Because it seems to me that if they’d been doing this for, say, more than a week, they’d know what needed to be filled out and have it done before boarding the passengers, but what do I know, I was only in Aviation for 21 years) we finally got underway.

The cabin A/C units generally run off bleed air from the engines, so I was expecting, as soon as the pilots got the main engines online, that the cabin A/C would kick in and it would start cooling off.

Silly me. Apparently the A/C was completely non-functional, not just unable to operate under the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). It did cool off slightly once we reached altitude, but it was already so hot in there, that it really didn’t make much difference, and since there was no fresh air forthcoming from the little air nozzles above our heads, it was still very stuffy for the entire flight and never got below probably 90 degrees. Luckily, it was only a little over an hour flight time so no one died of heat stroke during the experience.

Strike Three US Airways.

I’d normally call “You’re Out!” at this point, but the adventure wasn’t finished quite yet.

I finally arrived at the Norfolk airport, was greeted by my relieved, smiling wife and we adjourned to the baggage claim area to claim my bag.

Or not.

It was still in Charlotte.

Strike Four.

Now you’re REALLY out.

The ironic thing is that, when the ticketing agent in Denver was setting up the whole “standby on one flight, seat on a later flight” thing, he warned me that my bag would be placed on the earlier flight whether I made it onboard or not. If I ended up on the later flight, I’d have to get my bag from the US Airways baggage counter rather than pick it up from the carousel.

Apparently he was sadly misinformed. I’d call strike 5, but after a while it just gets silly to keep counting.

I’m not even sure that my bag made it onto the 6pm flight because they didn’t call to tell me it was in Norfolk until this morning.

At any rate, we finally did make it to at least the tail end of my granddaughter’s birthday party, and my bag arrived from Charlotte so I was able to collect it today, but that was the single worst travel experience of my very long, very extensive traveling career.

I will never fly US Airways again, I don’t care how cheap the tickets are. Some things are simply more important than a few dollars. So now you know why I titled this post as I did.

And yes, I realize that this is the longest post I’ve put up in months. Sometimes anger and frustration can be a great motivator.

7 thoughts on “Do Not Fly US Airways

  1. Imagine going John Madden. Or Wyatt (in Easy Rider).

    The more honest answer is more like John Candy’s character in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. You’re traveling. You’ll get there. Not on your time of course, but that’s the way it is. The pain comes from trying to bracket commercial airline travel and its constant threat of detainment with real life goals and desires like being home and parties.

    I’d even guess that expressing your goals to the airline workers would be met with the same disdain as explaining why you were speeding while being ticketed. The more hurried you are, the slower the ticketing process goes. Just because. Your average airline counter worker probably operates the same way. A Wonderful Life is not our movie it seems.

  2. Yeah, chosing an airline company these days is a little like picking from the losers to play on your team. I’ve sworn off all of them at some point in time, but US Airways has been probably the worst for me too.

  3. I just read your post about AT&T being shamed into backing off and this one about US Airways. I wish the problem was isolated to just a few companies but it has been my experience that things like competence, concern for others, and pride in the work one does are generally lacking these days. I recently claimed the domain http://truthinadvertising.ws with the intention of allowing people to share their stories of frustration and praise. Frustration with companies that under-deliver and praise for those who have gone above and beyond expectations.

    Of course, the expectations of most are probably very low. It is also true that individual employees (like the woman who took your name at the gate – why?) can sour an interaction and give a company a “strike”. As you said, US Airways had so many strikes pile up that it reached the silly stage.

    I suspect that your experience was the result of many worn-down workers breaking down. Had the people responsible for implementing the Web check-in process handled their “ounce”, then everyone else, from the check-in counter through to the baggage handlers would have been relieved of many “pound”ing headaches.

    It would be refreshing to see more companies competing to impress their customers rather than trying to figure out what an acceptable rate of pissed-off customers is and how best to appease them.

  4. What i have to say is that … its common sense. why would u stand in the line and know that you need to get though security and checkin. From you traveling a lot you should know that you can check in on the kiosk or check in on line. I don’t understand why you stood in line that long without saying something to an agent so that you could make your flight on time. I don’t unerstand people that comes to the airport and blame their crazyness on airlines. Use your common sense next time and the you would be alright.

  5. From you traveling a lot you should know that you can check in on the kiosk or check in on line.

    Apparently you have reading comprehension problems.

    That was exactly my point. You see, I already HAD checked in on line…so common sense would tell me that I didn’t NEED to check in again at a kiosk at the airport.

    It was the exact opposite of common sense to expect someone to just “know” that they needed to do both.

    I’ve never had to do that with any other airline I’ve flown (and I’ve flown them all)…which might also explain why every other airline had no line at all, but US Airways check in counter was swamped.

    On the other hand, perhaps you don’t have reading comprehension issues; perhaps in your world, stupidity and inefficiency ARE common sense. If so, I’m happy to live with my own “craziness” thank you very much. And I don’t “blame” others…I simply learn from my mistakes. What I learned from this mistake is “Do Not fly US Airways”…hence the title of this post.

  6. Found your post when my friend just called and said he missed his flight due to the 45-minute double-check-in rule. I thought it was ridiculous (because I usually fly Southwest) and started Googling to see if this was true.

    Just a horrible Airline.

  7. You are absolutely on point—it makes no sense at all. The only way you’d be able to efficiently use their bag checking process is if you were psychic. We flew US Airways twice in the past week, and absolutely *no one* at either airport knew where they should be. There are kiosks, there are desks with agents, and there is one gigantic line. You get in the back of the long line because that’s what it looks like you are supposed to do. Then a rude person in a suit comes and around and shames/rolls eyes at everyone who is in the wrong place. Happened in two airports. They come and bark at you to find an open computer, and you’re all “I just checked in at a computer and now I am waiting for someone to take my bag.” This last person–someone who works for US Air and whose sole job is apparently to walk around and help people figure out the system–said to me, “Fine, keep standing in line if you want.” So I finally get up to the counters and find out my name had already been called so they have gone back to merrily calling other names and ignoring me. Apparently after you use a kiosk to check in you are supposed to hover around a *certain* manned desk, not just any manned desk. I never did figure out what the line is actually for other than just confused customers. Ever here of making a, gasp, SIGN to help people understand this asinine new system? Or better yet, have the actual kiosk say in the final screen, “Go hover around desk C until you name is called.” It’s definitely not efficient to pay a person to walk down the line insulting everyone and barking at them to “go find an open computer,” even when they tell you they already have, and then roll your eyes at them. I saw this happen with person after person, all the way down the line, in both Raleigh and LA and both times was so infuriated. I just found your post by googling “why is US Airways check in procedure so stupid.” People need to know!

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