US Airways Continued. . .

I said I would keep you posted. So here’s what I got from them shortly after sending my prior letter.

Dear Mr. Swiniarski,

On behalf of US Airways and the entire Customer Relations team, please accept our sincere apology for the travel difficulties you experienced. Your concerns have been thoroughly documented and your comments have been shared with the appropriate management teams to help us improve our service.

To convey our apologies we have authorized two $250 Electronic Travel With Us Vouchers as a gesture of goodwill, in hopes you will allow US Airways another opportunity to regain your confidence. Your E-TUV is valid toward the purchase of travel on US Airways or America West Airlines. Please be advised the E-TUV is not valid with Internet bookings. The E-TUV must be redeemed one year from the date of this letter. In addition, please take a moment to read the terms and conditions below […]

Doesn’t this make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Why, US Airways actually cares about us. This little e-mail has all the warmth and sincerity of the recorded message, “your call is very important to us.” Of course, you must admire the absolute chutzpah of the person who first thought up this idea:

ROB: Hey, the biggest untapped market for airline passengers are. . . get this. . . pissed off airline passengers! Follow me here. Let’s respond to customer complaints by giving people coupons for money off ANOTHER FLIGHT! We shut the poor bastard up, and we sell another ticket!

PHIL: Rob, you’re a genius, I’m making you the new VP in charge of customer relations.

Needless to say, I’m not particularly enamored with the idea of “allowing US Airways another opportunity to regain my confidence,” especially as our use of air travel amounts to once every seven years or so. So I’ve sent them another letter (e-mail) that I reproduce here for your edification:

To whom it may concern,

To recap our complaint with US Airways: You canceled our flight for no good reason, your employees lied repeatedly about our ability to get back to Cleveland, and after several hours of a hellish runaround in the Philadelphia International airport, you gave us no choice but to rent a car and pay for our own hotel room, and to add one final insult, you damaged our luggage and sent it to us 48 hours late despite many assurances that it would be on the next flight. This entire episode has cost us $900 out-of-pocket, including a ticket we never actually got to use.

Now, in response to this abject abuse of your customers, you offer us two $250 “vouchers” that we can apply to an attempt to relive the horrible experience you put us through. Frankly, this proposed compensation is not commensurate with the fact that we are out-of-pocket $900, a good chunk of which WE paid YOU for the unused ticket. Even if you raised the “value” of these vouchers to $450 each, you are still responding to actual monetary losses with a phantom coupon that costs you nothing, is non-transferable, and has no intrinsic value. To add insult to injury, your supposed compensation literally forces us to use your services within the next twelve months if we want any compensation at all. This is unacceptable.

I will repeat my request from my prior letter. I want you to reimburse us financially for the expenses we incurred. I want you to reimburse us with actual money, not with “vouchers”, “coupons”, “miles” or any other instrument that requires a business transaction with US Airways beyond the cashing of a check.

I expect you to send us a check for the full $900 by August 19th, or I will consider other options by which to achieve satisfaction from you.

My Vacation: The Ugly. . .

As you probably gathered from the last post, our return from Germany was made less than pleasant by the incompetent nimrods that are US Airways. To show exactly what me and my wife went through at their hands, and hopefully to cost them as many reservations as possible, I am reprinting a letter I am sending to US Airways. I will keep you posted as my communications with them develop.

US Airways
Customer Relations
4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ 85034

To whom it may concern:

My name is Steven Swiniarski. I, along with my wife Michelle, recently returned from a trip to Germany via US Airways. This was our 10th Anniversary vacation which encompassed nearly 12 months of planning and saving of financial resources in order to afford the $3003 airfare round trip from Cleveland to Munich via Philadelphia International Airport. Our return flight was on July 29, and upon landing in Philadelphia International Airport we entered a tragic comedy of horrors worthy of a Kafka novel. We landed a bit late, but supposedly with about an hour in which to make our connection to Cleveland at 6:15 PM, we managed to make our way through the gauntlet of customs and security, re-check our bags and literally ran across the terminal to make out alleged boarding time by a few minutes.

Flight 3610 was not at gate F25 as printed on our ticket. At that gate, we managed, after about ten minutes of confusion on the part of one of your employees, to get the information that the flight’s gate had been changed. By now we were about fifteen minutes late for boarding, and I ran across the terminal again, carrying rather heavy carry-ons. At this new gate, we waited behind an irate couple who were being ill-served by another one of your employees. It turns out that they had reason to be irate, as they, like us, were traveling to Cleveland and had just been notified that the flight had been cancelled due to “weather.” (I put weather in quotes because at the time we stood at this gate it was sunny and clear in both Philadelphia and Cleveland.) Your worker printed us standby tickets for the next flight number 3463 allegedly boarding at 8:40 PM and assured all five people in front of him that we all had a “good chance” to make this flight because at least fifteen people would be missing their connection.

I will point out that even if this statement was made in good faith, it meant that your employees are relying on systemic failures and near-criminal incompetence in order to do their jobs. They are taking these breakdowns for granted. I should also point out that this statement by your employee was not made in good faith. When this man printed the boarding pass for our standby on flight 3463 on 7/29 he could see plainly on his monitor that the flight was overbooked by 9 people and already had nearly 20 people on standby. Therefore stating that there was any possibility at all of us getting on board this flight was either the result of rank stupidity, or a lie showing a reckless disregard for your customers bordering on malice.

Still we made the mistake of attempting to work within the fatally broken system that is US Airways at Philadelphia International Airport. We went to gate C24 as printed on our ticket to try and get on flight 3463. Since the boarding time was still a few hours away, we weren’t too surprised to see another flight listed at the gate. So we waited about an hour in line at the gate to talk to your employee who worked there. It was here where the complete breakdown of your system was manifest to us. We saw another irate woman ahead of us, whose flight to another city had been canceled, and saw your man make a nearly word-for-word repeat of what we had heard earlier at the prior gate. She really had a “good chance” to make her standby flight.

In dealing with our questions— why we had this gate for Cleveland when the sign read Boston— he gave us our first honest answer. He didn’t know where the flight from Cleveland was boarding, didn’t know if it was cancelled, didn’t know when it would be boarding, and was frankly powerless to help us. It didn’t help our piece of mind that, by now, the city of Cleveland had disappeared from the departure monitors.

It was at this point we got in line for the customer service desk and spent the most tedious and pointless two hours of my entire life. In that line I saw appalling examples of US Airways’ disregard for the welfare of their clientele. We talked with an 85 year old woman traveling alone who had been in the airport for 16 hours, who had been bounced from two separate flights. No one had even offered to give her anything to eat. Another man in a wheelchair had apparently been rolled off of a cancelled flight and left to fend completely for himself, and he only got some attention when a fellow passenger in the obscenely long line gave up her space to roll him up to the desk and demand they do something for him. By then, of course, all the hotels had been booked, and the best US Airways could do for this man was offer to have someone from airport security stay with the man through the night at the airport.

By the bitter end, after being in line for over two hours, after watching three of your people abandon the customer service desk in the face of the growing line, and seeing our Cleveland flight, the one we had a “good chance” of making, reappear with a departure time of 11:15 PM, then of 12:45 AM, we realized quite starkly that if we were to continue relying on US Airways for assistance we would be forced to spend the night in the Philadelphia Airport terminal. Worse, judging by how many people were waiting for travel to Cleveland, it seemed unlikely that we would receive seating on the next day’s flights. So, facing one of the three remaining workers at the customer service desk, we asked for US Airways to refund our ticket and pay for a car rental, we were refused the car rental, there were no hotel rooms left to book, and we couldn’t even get a guaranteed seat on the following day’s flight.

So, after being awake nearly 24 hours, I and my wife abandoned US Airways and the Hell that is Philadelphia International Airport, rented a car from Alamo, and drove back to Cleveland. If your first employee had been forthcoming about the likelihood of us flying out of Philadelphia that evening, we might have made it all the way back in one shot— driving time from Philadelphia to Cleveland is only slightly longer than the time we wasted at the airport. As it was, safety considerations required us to rent a hotel room on the way home. Even with an overnight stay, we made it back to Cleveland eight hours before three other people who had been scheduled on our same flight.

Now we were assured, again by employees of US Airways, that our luggage would be placed on the next flight to Cleveland. However, when I returned the rental car and went to inquire about our luggage, I found that this too was a convenient, borderline malicious, falsehood. Our bags showed up, damaged, 72 hours later.

I am demanding compensation for having to endure this trial. There is no excuse for the way US Airways repeatedly lied to us and their other customers, and there is no excuse for the Faustian chaos that is the Philadelphia International Airport. It should not be an unreasonable expectation that buying an airline ticket means that you will fly to your destination within 24 hours of the time printed on the ticket. It should not be an unreasonable expectation that checked baggage will make it to its destination within 48 hours. It should not be an unreasonable expectation that, when an airline screws up so badly, and so repeatedly, that it can at the very least provide compensation for the costs it has inflicted on its customers.

These are the costs that US Airways has inflicted upon me and my wife. First is the cost you charged us for our non-existent connecting flight, about $150. Second is the cost of our car rental from Philadelphia to Cleveland, $216. Third is the cost of our hotel stay on our way home, this was $102. Then, because of the delay returning home, and more importantly because of the failure of your workers in being forthcoming about the impossibility of getting a flight back to Cleveland— had they been truthful, we would have left hours earlier and returned home late on the 29th and not the afternoon of the 30th— we have lost one day of wages which amounts to $355. Fourth, is the damage to our luggage, the bags will take $99 to replace.

In other words, US Airways has cost my family close to $900. In return for that sum we will be willing to forgo any future action against US Airways by us, or on our behalf. I expect to hear from US Airways in a timely manner, by the 10th of August 2007 at the latest.

Steven A. Swiniarski

My Vacation: The Bad. . .

Apparently, our vacation karma was confiscated by customs upon our return to the states. I have a travel tip for all of you. If you are given a choice between being sodomized by a rusty farm implement, and making a US Airways connection at Philadelphia International Airport, you are better off choosing sodomy. It is less painful, and will be over much sooner. If you do find yourself forced to traverse the circle of hell that encompasses the US Airways terminal at Philadelphia— and by forced I mean at gunpoint, as this is no fate a sane person would choose except at the threat of their own life or the life of a loved one— I have a few suggestions:

  1. Always allow at least six hours between connections. This way, in the unlikely event your connecting flight leaves at some time resembling its scheduled departure, you might just be able run across the terminal from your five-hour-delayed incoming flight in time to see it leave the gate.
  2. Of course, more likely than not, your connection will be canceled due to weather. This seems especially likely for Pittsburgh-Cleveland flights at times when the sky is clear and sunny in both Philadelphia and Cleveland at the same time. If you pack a toothbrush, a pillow, and a change of underwear in your carry-on you will make the resulting 24-48 hour stay in the Philadelphia Terminal more pleasant. Don’t expect a hotel room, they will be all booked by the time US Airways admits that the “standby” boarding pass they printed for the next flight that evening was just as much a sick joke as their departure schedule.
  3. Bear in mind that the job of the US Airways’ employees is to get you away from their desk as quickly as possible, and to do so they will sincerely promise that you have a “good chance” to make the next flight out. View these promises as the airport’s equivalent of e-mails from wealthy Nigerian economic ministers.
  4. Remember that driving a rental car from Philadelphia to Cleveland takes about 6.5 hours. Trying to use a standby ticket to get from Philadelphia to Cleveland will take you more than 24 hours, not including the actual two hours flying time. But at that point, what’s two hours? You’ll spend more than that standing in line at the US Airways customer service desk.
  5. Please try not to hold out any hope of seeing your checked baggage again. You’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.