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February 4th, 2013
11:30 pm


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Dear U.S. Airways,

Congratulations. You have successfully irritated me. (Some people would say that's not terribly hard.) Luckily, I am on a United flight right now, so I have the time to type an angry letter to you.

This morning, I flew US 708 (SFO to PHL, in theory arriving at 1633, arriving gate C28). Because US Air boards people who are in the front of the airplane first, boarding took an excessively long time. Because US Air charges for bags checked, many people had large bags that they had to stick above them, which also took a very long time. (Sometimes there was not enough room. The flight attendants seemed unprepared for this situation, and so the passengers who had bags that did not fit just stood in the middle of the aisle -- or took their seats, and left their bags in the aisle -- compounding the boarding delay.) Crucially, because US Air seems completely blind to the reality of the effects of their policies on the ability to board the aircraft in a timely fashion, the aircraft departed later than expected -- and, consequentially, arrived later than expected.

This would not be a problem, but for the fact that US Air, for some unknown reason, splits their flights across two terminals in Philadelphia, which are linked by a shuttle bus that is occasionally sent between the terminals. (Sometimes a long line forms, full of people griping about how they are about to miss their flight, since there was no indication that they would have to take a shuttle bus. In such a case, the staff are either unable or unwilling to provide any information about where the shuttle bus is, or when it might arrive.) The shuttle bus is driven in an unhurried fashion, and has no provisions for informing gate staff on the other end that passengers are on their way (and has no way of informing passengers that flights are boarding).

Eventually, I and seven other passengers arrived from the shuttlebus at the gate for US 3788, to Ithaca. We arrived as soon as we could, which is to say 5 minutes before the flight's scheduled departure. As we arrived, we saw the staff outside look up at us through the window, shrug, and then raise the stairs into the aircraft. We waved in relative disbelief, but the staff outside seemed not to care. Some minutes later, a man came inside, informed the eight passengers standing there that he would under no circumstance reopen the door, and directed us to a gate agent at the end of the concourse. (A glance at the monitor at the gate indicated that the plane seated about 25 or 30 people, so somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of the customers who were supposed to be on board got screwed.)

The gate agent also behaved in an unhurried fashion, seemingly unbothered by the irate passengers standing in front of her. She had no particular reason to care about their plight, and she made this relatively obvious. A passenger adjacent me had apparently had this occur three times in recent history; when she asked for a phone number to call to complain, the gate agent was unable to provide one. (My fellow passenger and I were shocked, but not surprised, that there seems no way to actually get a human to direct a complaint to. I will admit, however, that the moment was somewhat surreal when I realized that taking away the phones was a direct response to having too many complaints.)

The gate agent was able to offer me standby for a later (9:45PM) flight to Ithaca; only when repeatedly pressed did she indicate that I would be fourth standby. (She provided no guidance as to what that meant in terms of how likely I would be to get on the plane.) She offered me a seat on a later flight to Elmira, with no option for getting from Elmira to Ithaca. She was not capable of looking at other airlines to see what other options I might have, and certainly would not be able to move my reservation to a partner airline. (Eventually, I called my travel agent, who was able to book me on a United flight. The United gate agent indicated that I'd have a tight connection because of a delay, but courteously offered to transfer my reservation to a different carrier at their expense.)

You may ask why I congratulated you at the beginning of this e-mail. That's because this is the part of the e-mail where I'd come up with some statement of hyperbole like "I am never flying US Air again!", or "I'll tell all my friends about you!", or something equally ridiculous and ineffective. But, to be honest, I probably will fly US Air again, because there will be some place that will be difficult to fly to, and US Air will have a fare that's only an arm and a leg, as opposed to both arms and both legs. And, I'd tell all my friends, but they'd be able to give me a horror story right back for every other air carrier out there.

So, congratulations. You have the market locked up. You can screw not just one customer, but a third of a plane load, and essentially, you don't have to care; there will simply be no repercussions. To be honest, having your customers feeling completely powerless is something of an enviable position. Good luck.

Best regards,
Joshua Wise

I tried submitting this through their web form. It spun for about 90 seconds, then gave up and said "An error occured while fetching the URI. Please retry.". You can't make this kind of shit up.

(hello. I have 5 potato cannonses | buy PVC)

[User Picture]
Date:February 5th, 2013 04:36 am (UTC)
US airways is the only airline where I've had a flight that took off after its scheduled arrival time. This was a cross-country flight too, so it's not like it was only a couple hours late.

I guess I'm fortunate that I never need to go to an out-of-the-way city. But this is really stupid. :\
[User Picture]
Date:February 5th, 2013 04:55 am (UTC)
Well, there are horror stories about all airlines, but I'd be willing to bet that there's a skewed distribution of the most horrific horror stories being concentrated in a few problem companies. It's a comparatively tiny point, but I believe that U.S. Air was the one airline I was on that charged money for soft drinks, snacks, and tea on medium-length -- right about at the same time its Lufthansa code-shares were giving out free newspapers and wine with meals on international flights. A company that's begrudging customers the small, customary comforts probably handles the big concerns at least as badly.

Sorry to hear about your annoyance, and I hope you get your complaint officially registered somehow!
[User Picture]
Date:February 5th, 2013 05:43 am (UTC)
there are days when i wonder if there would be less collective frustration with flying if it just got amtrak'd.
[User Picture]
Date:February 5th, 2013 08:58 am (UTC)
I had to change an Amtrak ticket some time ago. I asked how much the change fee was going to be. The lady on the other end of the line made a confused noise, and asked where I wanted the refund of the difference in ticket price sent.

I would LOVE it if the airlines got Amtrak'd.
Date:February 6th, 2013 05:45 am (UTC)
I have heard Southwest works this way! But then, they have the cattle-herding boarding process.
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