Love, Hate, USAirways, and Southwest

I don’t know that anyone loves an airline or even really loves air travel. Going somewhere if fun, but the hassle is also large. TSA, carry-on requirements, regional jets, delays, passengers who seem to have been living under a rock for the last 13 years all conspire to stress you out. I know why they serve booze in airports.

Last year I regularly flew Southwest for work, twice a month or so. Same flights every time and I complained. I complained about the cattle call boarding (really? I just want to know where I’m sitting) and the jovial pilots and attendants (do your job of getting me to my destination and stop trying to entertain me). The clientele of SW can be decidedly less experienced at flying as well. BUT. BUT. They were on time. Always. And I had enough miles/points to get first priority boarding, so I usually sat in the exit row with the other six business travelers on the plane. That meant no trouble with my carry on either (then I used a small rolling laptop bag and a purse/tote).

For a few months this year I was doing a similar flight with USAirways and I can’t believe I ever complained about SW. Really, I can’t understand how one airline can have such a tight ship in terms of boarding, on time rates, and pleasant employees and another manages to be late every single time I fly with them.

The last five flights I’ve taken with USAirways have been delayed or canceled. Three of these are the exact same flight–the 3:45 from PHL to ROC. I’ve been cancelled to Seattle after two delays for mechanical issues for an AM flight, told I there was no way to get me to Seattle that day, and sent home after spending 8 hours in the airport. I arrived less than one hour before my presentation time. Another was delayed because my plane was hit by lightning at the gate. Clearly, this delay is out of their hands, but it was a small set of passengers and I’m amazed that we couldn’t be placed on other flights rather than waiting four hours for a new plane. The three from PHL were delayed for a flat tire, an overtime crew, and nothing. That’s right. Nothing.

I submitted a complaint to USAirways, explaining that this is my regular flight, that three times in seven weeks it was delayed and that in that particular case it was listed as on time both online and in the airport despite the fact that the plane was just pulling up to the gate at our departure time. They passengers needed to deplane and the plane loaded before we could leave, resulting in a 40 minute delay that was never updated or announced.

Here’s the reply:

Thank you for contacting Customer Relations. We appreciate it when customers take the time to share their concerns.

I’m sorry that you have had continued delays to Rochester. Your most recent flight on July 11, Flight 4057 shows a 38 minute delay due to loading baggage. It is not our intent to create difficulties for our customer’s and realize this continuous irregularity is frustrating.

If you would like us to further review your other flight delays, please send us your ticketing information for each one you would like us to address.

We look forward to providing a more pleasant flying experience in the future. Thank you for choosing US Airways.

Really, loading baggage? I was standing there. The plane wasn’t delayed for baggage, it wasn’t even there at the departure time. Also, it was not listed as delayed anywhere.  My reply:

Thank you for your reply. I find it fascinating that the flight described below was delayed for baggage, as the plane arrived at the gate and the passengers from the previous flight were deplaning at the time I was listed to depart. Seems as though my flight was late because the previous flight was late. Also, the boards, gate and website all showed that we were on time despite the very obvious delay.

But that is neither here nor there. USAirways can list whatever it likes as its reason for late. The fact remains that in the last three times I’ve taken that flight it has been delayed by a minimum of 38 minutes (as you state below). Three times in seven weeks. One delayed flight is just some bad luck, but consistent delays on the same flight are signs of larger problems.

I don’t expect resolution. I just want you to know that when I can convince my corporate travel manager to stop using your airline you will know why.

I know. I’m a juvenile. All of this and I’m still using my Dividends Miles card to earn 25000 more points so we can get one RT to Rome next year. I’m a glutton for punishment. But I’m also really surprised that they didn’t offer some points or free drinks or something. Not much later they replied that the case was closed. I should have pressed I suppose.

This is where SW gets it right I think. I’ve had one bad SW experience–Buffalo to Key West. At the time, SW had one flight a day to Key West from Orlando. We were slightly delayed out of Buffalo for deicing and were told that many people on our plane were headed to KW and the SW would hold the plane. We landed to watch our KW flight pull away from the gate and were told we’d have to wait 24 hours, that they couldn’t get us a hotel or a car and weather (deicing) was not their fault. I was annoyed that I was told they’d hold the plane but even more annoyed when they said there was nothing they could do. I asked for a manager and another manager. I explained that I was a frequent flier with them, that I had used rewards for these tickets and that I understood a flight was 24 hours away, but that we would drive and get out of their hair (we’d been holding up the line for nearly an hour by this point) if they would pay for the rental car and refund my points for the Orlando-KW leg of the trip. They did and gave us $200 in flight credits. We used the car voucher to get a convertible Camaro and drove 5 hours to Key West. Not the best day, but certainly not the worst and they kept my business.

USAirways is only getting my business because I’m 2/3 of the way to a free RT to Europe. I’m sure we’ll be delayed and lose a day of our Roman holiday next year.

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