True Tales of Holiday Travel Horror

… courtesy of US Airways.

Now, I know what you’re thinking — why was I on US Airways again, after flaming them so badly once already? Well, I had already booked the flight long before that Thanksgiving experience ever happened, so backing out wasn’t an option. Besides, I figured that maybe on Thanksgiving I’d just hit them at a bad time; every company has bad customer service moments, even ones with an otherwise great record. Maybe it was just a blip.


How did US Airways screw me? Let me count the ways…

First, on the trip home for the holiday, they managed to overbook my flight. Now, that in itself is not unusual — they often overbook by one or two seats, and the issue is resolved by getting a volunteer to give up their seat in exchange for a free ticket. What IS unusual is that they simultaneously overbooked the plane, and overloaded it, to the point that they had to ask for fifteen volunteers to give up their seats (on a commuter plane with a grand total of fifty seats)!

Of course, they didn’t get anywhere near fifteen volunteers. That’s when the screws came down. I had been told by the guy at the check-in counter that they would assign my seat at the gate. This should have set my Spidey-sense tingling, since every other time, they had assigned my seat at the check-in counter; but like a good little passenger, I went along. It was when I got to the gate that they lowered the boom: “Oh, we’re sorry, this flight is overbooked, and since you don’t have a seat assignment you’ll be bumped from the flight if we need to make room.”

Do what? I mean, I’m not flying standby here. I paid full fare, I have a boarding pass, a reservation…

“I know, sir, but having a reservation isn’t what matters. What matters is whether you have a seat assignment.”

Huh? So what exactly am I buying when I pay the (not low) price for that reservation? A kinda-sorta-maybe-possibly-if-its-convenient-for-you chance to get to where I’m going, subject to revocation if you turn out not to know how to load an aircraft? Apparently, if you’re flying US Airways, that’s exactly what you’re getting. If you have a seat assignment, though, all is goodness and light.

What makes this story even more amusing is that, when the time came to board the plane, they made a big show of lining up twelve or so of us who didn’t have seat assignments, and marching everyone else by us as they got on board. Nothing like being stared at by strangers for a while (“what did they do?”) to make you feel high on life. And then, once all the GOOD passengers had gotten on board, they made us stand around while they PICKED OUR NAMES AT RANDOM to see which ones of us would get to ride and which wouldn’t. Never mind that I’m in their frequent-flyer program, that I’ve been a customer of theirs for ten years, or any of that stuff — nope, I get treated like I should expect getting a ride on their planes to be like winning Powerball.

The punchline? Of the twelve of us, they called seven other names before they got to me. And then I saw at least three or four more people get on after me. So after all that, as far as I can tell, we all ended up getting a seat anyway.

What the fuck??? What happened to the mysterious extra cargo weight, or the extra passengers? Why the “pick a number, any number!” treatment when I tried to board? I mean, what the fuck?

The incompetence continued on my return flight. It was supposed to be pretty simple — leave Dayton at 7, change planes in Philadelphia, then get into DC. However, despite unseasonably warm weather and clear skies, I was amazed to find that my flight from Dayton to Philadelphia was delayed. I say “amazed” because the only way I found this out was to ask someone — all the Departure boards still listed the flight as “On Time”, but when we got down to five minutes before the scheduled departure time and I hadn’t even boarded yet, I sussed out that maybe the board wasn’t telling me the whole truth. So I asked the gate agent, and she said “oh, yeah, that plane is running about half an hour late.”

“Don’t you think you should update your information board then?” I asked, pointing to the board located right behind her, which listed the flight as “On Time” and still showed its original departure time. “It’s a little confusing for a flight to be delayed if the boards all say it’s on time.”

She returned a look of utter incomprehension. I gave up and returned to my seat to await the arrival of the plane. It ended up taking closer to 45 minutes than half an hour, and it wasn’t until we were in the air that I found out why. “Sorry for the delay, folks,” one of the flight attendants said over the intercom. “The other flight attendant who was assigned to this flight got sick, and we thought we were going to have to cancel the flight, but Julie here volunteered to take her place, so we had to wait for the flight Julie was on to touch down before we could leave.”

Huh? We sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes (and almost had the flight scratched altogether) because a flight attendant got sick? Has this never happened before in the history of US Airways? Do they not have contingency plans for such an event? Oh wait, apparently they do — “cancel the flight”.

So we leave Dayton way behind schedule, and arrive in Philly with about 20 minutes for me to make my connection, rather than the hour-plus originally planned. Of course, the connecting flight is conveniently located on the complete other side of the airport, so I have to run like a madman just to get there three minutes before they close the doors for good. And then it turns out that the flight from Philly to DC takes a grand total of eighteen minutes, which really makes you feel like all the stress was worth it, you know?

The punchline to this story? Because we got to Philadelphia late, I made the connecting flight, but my suitcase didn’t. I discovered upon arriving in DC that it’s still sitting in the tarmac in Philly. While I was busting my ass to get to the connecting flight, the baggage handlers, I was told, decided that there was “no way” they could get the bags to the connector in time. Apparently I was the only one who felt that any hustle was required. So I won’t see my suitcase until tomorrow night.

Jeez louise, US Airways has gone downhill. They used to be a perfectly fine air carrier, but now I wouldn’t recommend them to my worst enemy. If they can’t handle relatively short and simple tasks like moving people between DC and Ohio, God only knows how badly they’re screwing up other things. And their new “the customer is always a pain in the ass” approach to customer service leaves a lot to be desired. So, from now on, I’m in the market for a new carrier. I’m not picky. Hell, I’ll fly Baron von Richtofen’s Open-Cockpit Bugs-in-the-Teeth Express before I give business to US Airways again. I’ll drive before I fly US Airways again. We are done. US Airways, you are dead to me!

OK, enough venting 🙂



December 29, 2003
7:32 pm

I think while the twelve of you were lined up as the other passengers marched in, you should have said something like “They (points to staff) think they foiled our plot.”


December 29, 2003
7:34 pm

OR said “We’re being transported to the Gacy Institute for the Criminally Insane.”

Jason Lefkowitz

December 29, 2003
8:05 pm

LOL! Too good… or just pick one of them out at random and whisper “Don’t get on the plane!”
God, we are evil 🙂


December 21, 2008
10:22 pm

As I sit here waiting for my lost luggage to be delivered- I found this blog and it made my day- thanks!

Sherry Merritt

January 3, 2009
11:42 am

My baggage was lost November 22, and after more than 50 calls and faxes, nothing has happened.
My first flight on US Airway and my last.