And the Pig-Fucking Continues

Two years ago in this space, I wrote the following:

[F]rom 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!

That was a promise I managed to keep until this month. I now have a fresh reminder of why I made the promise in the first place.

When it came time to make holiday plans for this year, we had some scheduling confusion in the fam as we tried to figure out where we’d be gathering. We eventually decided to meet in Dayton like always, but by the time we got everything worked out I didn’t have a whole lot of options for a plane ticket — it was either pay $400 to US Airways to fly from National Airport, or pay the even more extortionate fee of $600 to someone else and have to schlep out to Dulles.

Now, I’m a reasonably principled guy, and when I make a decision I try to stick to it (witness the fact that I have not set foot on a US Airways flight in two years, despite their being the only major air carrier with daily non-stops to Dayton). But under the circumstances my options were few, so I broke down and made the reservation with US Airways.

They managed to get me out to Dayton with only a minimal drizzling of incompetence. Today, though, I got the full US Airways treatment when I attempted to fly back to DC.

My flight was scheduled to depart at 3:00 PM and have me in Washington by 4:30. Not too bad. But at 2:45 they came over the intercom at the gate with an announcement that the plane we were supposed to be flying out on had been struck by lightning on its way into Dayton.

Yes! Struck by lightning. Great.

I am generally willing to cut people some slack when they are dealing with acts of God like this. I mean, it’s not like there’s anything the airline could have done to prevent it. It was what came next that was so gob-smackingly boneheaded.

When they made the announcement at 2:45, they told us that the plane was being towed (!!!) to a maintenance hangar for inspection to see if it was still airworthy. Our flight, in other words, had not been cancelled; it had merely been delayed while they ascertained the extent of the damage to the aircraft.

A half hour passes and there’s no word on the status of the plane. The flight is listed as “Delayed, departing 3:30” on the info boards.

Now another half hour passes. The info boards update: “Delayed, departing 4:00”. The counter staff are telling people that unless you have a connection to make in DC you should just sit tight.

By 4:00 I am beginning to suspect this is bullshit. My suspicions are confirmed with the next update to the info boards: “Delayed, departing 4:30”. I start to wonder if they couldn’t save valuable staff time by just expressing the departure time algebraically (“Delayed, departing x+30minutes, where x is the current time”) rather than putting up a new bullshit departure time every half hour.

At 4:15, the staff makes another announcement. Word from the mechanics! Huzzah! Well, actually not. The mechanics, we are told, are still deliberating over the condition of the aircraft. However, the ever-so-helpful counter staff want to let us know that if we wish, we can switch to a different flight rather than wait for this one. However, this other flight isn’t a non-stop; it has a layover in Charlotte that means you wouldn’t reach DC until 11:00 PM or so.

Oh, and seats on the Charlotte flight are limited, so if you want one, they inform us, speak up now!

As you can imagine, pandemonium ensues as hordes of travelers jam the desk trying to get one of those limited seats. I see one young woman score a transfer ticket and slink away from the counter with “My preciousssss….” on her lips.

Once the predictable chaos subsides a bit, I approach the counter again and ask them what’s going on with our original flight. It’s now been nearly two hours since the incident, surely they can tell by now if the plane is airworthy, no?

(I ask this question not to be pushy, but because the airline, thanks to its shoddy communications with us, has presented me with a “The Lady or the Tiger” paradox. I can choose an alternate flight that will result in my dragging my ass halfway across the country to make a layover and will turn a comfortable afternoon arrival into a late-night yuckfest. Or I can stay with my current flight and pray that it’s not cancelled altogether, without any knowledge of the condition of the aircraft. Under those conditions it’s impossible to make any kind of informed decision.)

The answer: no, two hours is not enough time to determine the status of the aircraft. No, they can’t tell me how likely it is that my flight will end up being cancelled. I have to choose blindly.

Given that, I decide to hang on to my ticket and see what happens rather than switch to the Charlotte flight. My reasoning is simple: the plane couldn’t be in too bad of a shape, or else it would have been immediately obvious it wasn’t going anywhere (“hey, where did the other wing go?”). If they’ve been deliberating for hours that means at least some of the mechanics think the flight can be salvaged. So I choose to stick it out and hope for the best.

(Of course, one could reasonably ask whether the simple fact that God reached down and smote your fucking airplane oughtn’t be enough to make you seriously consider cancelling the flight. I mean, take a hint, right?)

Time passes. No further information is forthcoming. The departure time continues to be bumped up every half hour.

Finally, at 5:30 PM, we get another announcement: our original flight has been cancelled. Passengers should consult the counter staff to be placed on an alternate flight.

Except — ha ha! — by this time all the seats on the alternate flights leaving today have been taken. Yes, even the ones with the layovers. So by deferring the decision until 5:30 they have effectively spiked any chance we had of flying to Washington today.

So, chalk up another instance of bad communications and poor management to US Airways. At least I have a fresh example to keep in my head the next time I question whether it’s worth paying $200 just to avoid having to do business with them again.

Other stories of my ongoing war with US Airways:


Susana Meza

December 29, 2005
4:31 am

I’ve seen that you are into strategy games and would like to get in touch with you. Drop me an e-mail at
Kind regards
Susana Meza
Paradox Interactive


January 2, 2006
3:45 pm

Just want you to know how comforting it is to find ONE other person out there with worse travel karma than me! Here’s hoping your next trip involves being carried somewhere nearby on a sedan chair!


January 4, 2006
7:37 am

Mother Nature can play hell with aircraft navigational equipment. Problems are difficult to diagnose. The airline can only wait until a final decision is made by the maintenance personnel. This accounts for the creeping delay. US Airways tried to keep you informed with their many announcements and offers of alternate routing. It’s obviously frustrating for the waiting traveler but your reaction is one of a spoiled crybaby. Next time fly Independence Air, oh they are out of business…oh well drive to Dayton and bitch about the F**cking traffic !!

Jason Lefkowitz

January 5, 2006
2:37 pm

From “zman” (always a sign of courage when a commenter chooses to hide behind a pseudonym):
“US Airways tried to keep you informed with their many announcements and offers of alternate routing.”
The “announcements” were only made to push the projected departure time back every half hour, and the “offers of alternate routing” were announced as only for people who were making a connection at DCA, not for people who were terminating at DCA.
By the time they opened up the “offers of alternate routing” to those of us who were flying to DCA, they were booked up. Gee, thanks, guys.
“Next time fly Independence Air, oh they are out of business…”
Yeah, I found their attitude to customer service to be on a par with US Airways’ the few times I flew with them. No wonder they’re a bad memory now.

Ticked off traveller #2

January 9, 2006
11:48 am

Zman – US Air is a bunch of liars…
My girlfriend and I flew to London on US Air for the New Year’s holiday – our flight back was to take off out of Gatwick on the 2nd. We get there about 3 hours early to find that our flight (coming from Philadelphia) was cancelled… about an hour after standing in line to re-book, we were all given a photocopied piece of paper saying that “3 of our transatlantic flights on the ground in both Philadelphia and Charlotte were struck by lightning” – now, I can see ONE plane being struck – but three planes is two very different cities? While the planes were on the ground?
— come on —
It can’t be a concidence… I mean, at the very least, if there’s a storm, the planes should have static lines attached to them while they’re on the ground and at the gate just so this doesn’t happen…
It sounds to me like US Air overbooked the peak season travel times to get the high prices, and the profit was enough so they could afford to let people be stuck for 1 or 2 days.

Jason Lefkowitz

January 9, 2006
11:52 am

“We were all given a photocopied piece of paper saying that ‘3 of our transatlantic flights on the ground in both Philadelphia and Charlotte were struck by lightning’…”
The obvious conclusion: God hates US Airways.