I had a hell of a time getting home this weekend. I flew up to Washington, DC on Monday of last week and was scheduled to come home on Friday. You’d think that was a simple task. You buy a ticket, you check in, you endure a bunch of worthless security measures, you board your plane, and you fly home.
Apparently, it’s not that easy.
It started at 4:30am on Friday; the day I was supposed to fly home. My phone started ringing. Of course, I was in a dead sleep, so it is no surprise that I sat up in bed, didn’t realize I was in a hotel room, got off on the wrong side of bed, and promptly ran into the wall. Cursing and rubbing my toe, I limped to the phone and got there just as it stopped ringing.
It was USAir calling to tell me that my flight had been delayed. Instead of taking off at 3:00pm as originally intended, it was going to take off 5:00pm. I groggily logged on to the USAir website and checked the flight status for more information. Apparently the plan was getting maintenance performed on it. I supposed that was a good thing, so I put the phone down, and tried to go back to sleep.
I went to the DC office, worked the day, and left at 3:00pm for the airport. By this time the flight had been pushed back another hour and was scheduled to take off at 6:00pm. When I arrived, I couldn’t auto-check in because I was checking in after the flight was originally scheduled to depart. I was annoyed – they had pushed the flight back; I should have been able to check in. Yes – I could have checked in online, but I had a bag to check anyway, and my seat was assigned, so I saw no value in checking in early.
The agent finally checked me in and I went through security. Now, those of you who know me personally know that I despise airport security. With over 3 million people flying every day in the United States, random security checks are worthless. I understand the X Ray bag check. I reluctantly concede that checking shoes can make sense. Random swabs of hands for explosives and random “extra” screenings are ridiculous, though. The odds of a terrorist getting singled out by an extra security check is, literally, one in 3 million. But that’s a debate for another day.
I get through security, and I am waiting at my gate. Very quickly I realize that it’s not going as well as one would hope. Every flight to the Southeast was pulling people from the flight because of weight restrictions. I understood without being told that the planes were flying into the storms down south and were burning more fuel. It was necessary to lighten the load so less fuel would be consumed – making it possible to complete the flight.
When my flight boarded, though, they didn’t remove anyone. We all boarded. I was very happy.
Until they come on and asked for volunteers to stay behind. They had to remove 18 people from the flight for weight restrictions. I sighed and became worried because I knew that 18 people would not volunteer and USAir would be forced to pull people from the plane. Sure enough, five minutes later they said they were going to pull people in reverse order of check in.
I had checked in EXTREMELY late. I knew where this was going.
I had been away from my family all week, and I wanted to get home. USAir said they were offering anyone who volunteered a $550.00 voucher for a flight any time in the next 12 months, a free hotel stay for the night, and a meal voucher. They also said there were flights at noon, 3:00pm, and 5:25pm the next day they would book us on. I knew I was going to get pulled, so I texted Carey and told her I was going to volunteer, so I could at least get the benefits. With the noon flight I could get home in time for my daughter’s birthday celebration; a trip to Hard Knocks: Combat Lazer Tag in Orlando. I volunteered, to the applause of all the other passengers who wanted to go home, and left the plane.
Sure enough, as soon as I volunteered, I got a peek at the “remove” list; I was on it. I had played my cards right! Woohoo!
Then, the agents said they had pulled too many people, everyone except the volunteers could get back on. I was annoyed at the deception. The volunteers were forced to stay, but the people they pulled kicking and screaming from the flight got to go back on. (and they were kicking and screaming – saying loudly they would sue USAir, etc). I decided not to make an issue of it, though. USAir was going to take care of me and get me home tomorrow morning anyway.
The harried gate agent gave me my $550.00 voucher and sent me to “Special Services” to rebook my flight, get my hotel voucher, and my meal voucher. I hurried over and waited, feeling pretty good about the situation. Until I spoke to the agent.
I was told:
- There was no fights available the next day. I would have to wait until Sunday to fly back.
- She could not give me a hotel voucher – only the gate agent could do that.
- She could not give me a meal voucher – only the gate agent could do that.
As you can imagine, I was stunned. I was first from my flight at the special services desk. I turned to the other volunteers behind me and had them affirm that the gate agent had promised us flights out tomorrow, hotels, and meal vouchers and had said that Special Services would take care of us. Reluctantly, the agents agreed to handle it for us, but only after we all very vociferously protested. Now, I still had the problem of finding a flight home.
I started chatting with the agent, trying my best to be Mr. Nice Guy and not the Annoying Customer. I mentioned that I really wanted to get home in time for my daughter’s birthday outing. Somehow, the subject of cancer came up. The agent’s friend’s father had passed away the day before from cancer. I offered condolences and told her that I was nervous because I am a cancer survivor and my scans were just a couple of days away. It was just conversation, but the agent connected with me because of it. She pulled me over to one side and whispered to me, “Hold on, I’ll see what I can do.”
I ended up getting a Preferred seat on the 8:35am flight the next day. Tearfully, the agent grabbed my hand and shotgunned a prayer for me. I was amused, and touched, and had the good sense to thank her and pat her hand. She gave me a hotel voucher for the Crowne Plaza hotel in Crystal City; one of the hotels I regularly stay at when I am in DC. As I was walking away, I heard all the other volunteers arguing with the agents because they could not get on any flights the next day. They asked me what I had gotten, so rather than create an awkward situation, I told them I had a medical reason, cancer, and they had to bump someone else to get me home on time for my scans. Mollified, the other passengers didn’t feel any resentment because of my special treatment. I felt bad lying, but the alternative would be to get my agent, who had helped me, in trouble by telling the truth; she had helped me because she had liked me. I got preferred treatment.
I took the Metro to the closest stop to the hotel, walked to the hotel, and checked in. I Skyped Carey, called the kids, had dinner, did a little work, then went to bed. I didn’t have my luggage; it was on the original flight, so I had to sleep in my skivvies and use bottled water and 2 glasses to hold my contacts, but it all worked out all right.
Until 4:30am. I got a call; my flight was delayed until 10:50am. I may not get home in time for my daughter’s birthday if it were further delayed. I groaned, texted Carey, and we agreed to wait see what developed. I got called, literally, 10 more times as the flight time changes from 10:50am to 9:00am to 10:15am – over and over again. I checked the website and it said they reason it was delayed was for “prior crew rest.” I didn’t understand how they could have such a screwed up schedule, but I rolled with it.
I got to the airport early and waited the phone calls and delay changes out. My flight ended up leaving at 11:00am in the end. As we boarded, the agents once again came on an announced that they were oversold, over weight, and were going to pull people off. No way was I going to be pulled off – so I didn’t volunteer.
The flight ended up leaving, after a few unlucky souls were dragged off the plane, and I made it on time to barely make it to Ashlee’s party.
I ended up getting a free hotel, a free flight, and a free meal out of it – but this is still a massive USAir fail. Their system broke down on many levels and what should have been a smooth and regular flight home became a stressful drama-filled encounter. USAir couldn’t get their act together, they deceived us about available flights, tried to deny me a hotel and meal voucher, and delayed my flight two days in a row. The only reason I made it home at all on Saturday is because I made a personal connection with a sympathetic agent. There were half a dozen other volunteers who weren’t so lucky. That’s just not right.
I fly USAir to DC from Orlando – they have direct flights and that is very convenient for me. Still, I don’t have to like it. And if a USAir executive stumbles on this blog, take my advice and work on training your agents to work together – I was almost the victim of being pawned off between multiple people who were immersed in bureaucracy and not really concerned with customer service. Fix your problems, USAir.