I am posting this letter on my web site because I think the treatment my wife and I received at the hands of US Airways on our flights May 14, 2012 reflect a contagion of indifference toward passengers among domestic airlines.
Dear US Airways:
On Tuesday, May 14, my wife and I were to board a US Airways flight at noon in Minneapolis, MN that was bound for Charlotte, NC where we could connect with a flight to Wilmington, NC, our final destination. The schedule showed us that we had approximately 50 minutes to disembark the Charlotte flight, cross the terminal, and board the Wilmington flight—a tight fit. We did not check our bags.
The Minneapolis flight, however, was delayed in arriving due to a problem it experienced somewhere in route. The passengers waiting to board were urged to check their baggage through to their final destination because it would speed up boarding time. None did, probably because they did not trust that their bags would arrive at the same time as they did, an apprehension probably rooted in previous experience. I know that it was for us.
US Airways charges extra for checking bags. As it turns out, it is only a measure the force the baggage handling into the hands of the passengers. There is no additional charge if the passenger carries the bag to the gate and checks it at that point.
US Airways knew that our flight was behind schedule with ample time, perhaps as much as a half a day, to take proactive steps to help passengers who could be expected to have trouble making their connections.
Once in flight and it became obvious that the pilot was not going to make up the 25 minutes delay in the arrival at Charlotte, passengers with shorter connecting time could have been asked to identify themselves and been permitted to disembark first to gain as much time as possible to get to their connecting gate. I have seen this done in the past. Passengers comfortable with their connections would remain seated until those who were pressed for time filed out of the cabin. As it was, no effort was made, and passengers toward the rear of the cabin were forced to wait for others to secure their baggage and disembark. Those is the back of the cabin lost 10 to 12 minutes as a result, enough in our case to have made our connection.
Even better, passengers with connecting flights could have been identified by the US Airways computer system and have been advised by attendants that a special effort was being made to accommodate them. An electric tram could be waiting at the gate for passengers a considerable distance from their connecting flight gate. The trams are always faster than walking.
Better still, signs could be held up with passenger names as they disembarked to call them into conference during which they would be advised of their failure to connect and of steps that had already been taken to book them on the next available flight. This, in fact, happened to us. No sign was held up, but I asked the gate attendant for directions to my connecting flight as I passed. He was asked for my final destination. When I replied, he asked for my name, an irritating request of someone eager to save time. As it turned out, one of the airline employees standing at the desk already held boarding passes for my wife and me for our next available flight. The gesture was lost completely, however, when my wife asked whether we could still make our flight as originally scheduled. The employee said, “You could try.”
So off we went, dodging and weaving our way through the crowded terminal, roll-a-board cases in tow. I am 73 years old and I have been a cardiac patient. My wife finds walking quickly difficult because of arthritis. Our connecting flight was at the opposite end of the terminal, about as far from our arriving flight as it could be. Nevertheless, I actually made it. The scheduled departure time for the flight that we were supposed to catch was 4:19 EDT. I arrived at the gate at 4:17, and an indifferent gate clerk informed me that I was too late. Time once was, a flight of the same company would be held for connecting passengers, especially if they were making every effort to get to the gate and the airline in question knew they that they were coming.
It would have been far better for the clerk who had arranged to reissue our boarding passes to have told us that we did not stand a chance of making our connection and that we should wait the additional 90 minutes for the next flight. Her proactive effort to reissue boarding passes was forfeited by her reluctance to be forthright with us.
Taking a more cynical view, if US Airways had already reissued us boarding passes for the next available flight, then it only follows that the US Airways system knew that we would not be boarding the flight for which we were scheduled initially. That being so, my bet is that our seats were given to standbys. That being so, two senior citizens were dispatched on a breathless chase toward an outcome that the US Airways employee who gave them their passes knew was hopeless from the start.
My suspicions were based on an earlier observation. In Minneapolis, before we boarded, a call went out from the gate clerk for any passengers wanting to upgrade to first class for an additional $125.00. None responded. After a few minutes, the gate clerk began calling out the names of people on standby. Boarding the plane, I noticed that several standby passengers were awarded the first class seats. US Airways awarded first class seats to standby passengers rather than promote coach ticket holders to first class and giving their coach seats to the standbys. Passengers could be promoted based on any fair criteria including, earliest booked flight, longest overall flight, most frequent flyer miles, or the most expensive ticket–to suggest just a few.
Our delay meant that my wife and I would not be home for our evening meal. I asked the customer service agent to be reimbursed for our dinner in the airport. I was told that US Airways no longer does that. At one time, he explained, they would give out a coupon for $5.00 (enough for a bottle of water at least, given airport prices) but even that had been discontinued. He alluded to something generally vague about departmentalization in US Airways, etc. etc, which I understood was his way of telling me that the problems that US Airways was experiencing were really my problems, a fact that the preceding 6 hours had more than adequately demonstrated for me.
I was told I could email US Airways and request reimbursement. I chose to publish this letter instead.
The apologies repeated several times on the public address system sounded contrite. Words do not replace deeds, however. US Airways, like others of its size, has an information system that should be utilized to the fullest to make the travel experience for its customers as carefree and seamless as possible. It is patently clear that they have chosen not to develop nor exploit these capabilities. I traveled as part of my job in the decade of the 70’s. Customer service was better at that than it is today, forty year later. Worse of all, flight attendants have been turned into the sale representative and spend their time hawking credit cards to a captive audience rather than attending to the needs of the passengers.
If US Airways continues to experience financial trouble, analysts need to scrutinize the company’s clear failure to put their customers first. I for one will fly them only as a last alternative the next time I go anywhere.
John J. Hohn
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