Fun (or lack thereof) with US Airways

Why I never want to fly with US Airways again, and why you shouldn’t either.

Notes:

  • You may find this first-hand account to be the needless, incessant whining of a spoiled malcontent. That is certainly plausible. Yet I am quite certain that anyone who had the misfortune of traveling with US Airways on these dates, from the same departure site, and to the same destination will have a very similar story to tell and will express some level of discontent, yet not likely with quite the restraint, neutral tone, and lack of expletives that I’ve attempted to employ here (though they would have every right to use those expletives). I only hope that, all in all, their stories weren’t quite as bad. In a potential attempt to continue my misfortune, I have no choice but to fly back with US Airways in a few days to get home. After that… you can judge for yourself.
  • It goes without saying that any of these mishaps would have been quite tolerable on their own, but when grouped together with another, or two more, or three, or — I haven’t counted them — more, they become somewhat less so. I’ve left out many of the details, but I’d be glad to answer questions about them, if there are any.
  • All queries regarding problems during this trip were responded to with explanations of “weather related” issues; one idiot was running around one of the airports, telling everyone who would listen that the problems were caused by a plane that had been “struck by lightning” and destroyed. Yet I still have yet to see or hear of any [remotely plausible] evidence of severe weather that might have justly caused any of these delays and cancellations.

July 29, 2007

Schedule: depart Islip, NY at 11:55 AM; arrive in Raleigh, NC at 3:05 PM (including a 1+ hour layover in Philadelphia).

My wife dropped me off at MacArthur Airport in Islip, New York, at 11:00 AM for an 11:55 AM flight. When I arrived, I learned that the terminal for US Airways flights was closed. I had to go to another entrance and through both terminals to reach the gate. Our flight boarded on time, but we sat in the plane outside of the gate for two hours and twenty minutes before takeoff. That wasn’t great fun, but we were told that inclement weather somewhere other than where we were was causing delays elsewhere. Since there wasn’t much anyone could do, I remained optimistic that this inevitable delay would be the worst of the problems that might crop up, and that things would surely improve from there. Unfortunately, that assumption was a mistake.

Eventually, we took off, and on arriving at Philadelphia, I was told by a clerk that my connecting flight had been delayed until 4 PM and that I could catch it if I hurried. I hurried, and when I got there, I found that its departure had been delayed until 6 PM. After a few more minutes of waiting, the flight was outright canceled.

I waited on line at US Airways Customer Service for two hours to get tickets for another flight. As I stood at the counter, two people that were behind me, and that had been working with different ticket clerks than mine, got the final two tickets for the next flight at 7:30 PM. Eventually, I was put on the next flight after that, which was scheduled to depart an hour later; however, the clerk was under the impression that she had gotten me tickets for the first flight, and told me to “Run, don’t walk!” if I wanted to make the flight, because it was already boarding. So I sprinted through two wings of US Airways terminals, which were completely packed with travelers standing in line and running for their own flights. But when I arrived at the departing gate, I verified that the clerk did not get me on the correct flight, and concluded that that flight wasn’t boarding yet after all, and that it was not scheduled to leave for another hour. After a few more minutes, the departure time was further pushed back by another hour and a half, and we finally boarded the plane another half hour beyond that time.

After boarding, we were assured that the weather everywhere was fine and that we would reach our destination in less than an hour. That was just after 8 PM. After 10 PM, and after the plane had taxied across several runways, we were informed by the pilot that a queue of departing planes ahead of us had kept us from leaving, and things were finally starting to move. Ten minutes later, the pilot told us that the daily scheduled allotment of working hours for his crew had expired, and that he had already begun turning the plane around and bringing us back to the terminal. Once there, he assured us, we would assemble at Customer Service to find out about make-up flights and lodging for the night, which he was certain would be arranged without hassle. Then, as we exited the plane, we were instructed to proceed instead to Ticketing, which we did.

After standing in line at Ticketing for an hour, an attendant announced that the cancellations were due to weather, and not to the inability of the airline to fulfill its obligations, and that as a result, the airline would not issue hotel vouchers or reimburse us for any hotel expenses.

After another half hour of waiting on line at Ticketing, I reached a ticketing clerk, who told me there was one ticket left for a 10 AM flight the next morning. After five minutes of fumbling on, and cursing at, a computer keyboard, she announced that she had lost that seat, but that she could instead get me on a connecting flight to Charlotte at 10, after which I could take another flight to Raleigh. I said that was fine. Then the clerk made some strange, guttural and clicking sounds, called another young clerk over, seemed to struggle with the computer keyboard again for a few more minutes, and then proclaimed the she had lost that seat as well, but that she could obtain a seat on a 10:50 AM flight instead. I said that was fine. Twenty minutes later, I had my boarding pass. What I did not realize until later was that she had put me on a flight that was scheduled to depart at 10:50 PM, not AM, the next night. I also later found out that there were several earlier flights the next day, including three whose departure times were before 10 AM, and realized that the ticket clerk had neglected to even mention any of these flights.

As I was now without cash or other resources to pay for a hotel (I was using a debit card, and the hotel and rental car place had both tried to authorize the card multiple times for different amounts, rendering my account utterly useless for at least 24 hours), I proceeded back to the terminals to check in, where I was stopped immediately by a security clerk, who told me that the security gates were “closed” and that I would have to get an airline employee to check me in and verify in person that I had checked in before I could go through security. I went back down to Ticketing and waited another half hour for someone to “check me in,” which resulted in another fifteen minutes of another clerk’s bumbling on a computer keyboard, and the addition of a code “SSSS” on my boarding pass. I returned to the security checkpoint, and as the clerk looked at my pass, she yelled out for a “MANUAL PAT-CHECK MALE,” which I learned meant that I would have to stand in the corner and have a security officer pat me down and scan me with a metal detector, even though I didn’t trigger any alarms when I walked through the security detector. After the officer patted me down and scanned me, I asked why I was singled out for being checked. He explained that the “SSSS” code triggers an automatic pat-down, and he wasn’t sure why that code had been put on my boarding pass.

I finally proceeded to Terminal C, which was next to the security checkpoint. I then saw a sign that warned that if a passenger were to travel from Terminal C to Terminal F, which was where my flight was scheduled to leave the next night, that another security check — and in my case, another “MANUAL PAT-CHECK MALE” — would be mandatory, even though the passenger hadn’t left the terminal tunnels.

Since I had now confirmed that I would not be leaving Philadelphia tonight, I wanted to ensure that my hotel and rental car reservations would not be lost when I showed up the next day (hopefully). So I called the emergency number for Omega World Travel, the travel agency through whom my employer booked the trip. After holding for a half hour, and listening to repeated recorded messages that suggested to callers that they should do whatever they could through the company’s web site instead of staying on hold to speak to a human, a representative listened to my story and concerns, and then asked, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?” Since it didn’t seem that this person was going to call anyone for me and confirm my reservations, I asked for the telephone numbers for the hotel and car rental agency, to which she responded with a sigh and told me to hold. Ten minutes later, she returned and gave me the numbers. I called and updated my reservations; oddly enough, even though I had a “guaranteed rate” with the rental car company, National Car Rental, and my reservation was now shortened form six days to five, the clerk quoted me a total that was higher for five days than the one I had been given for six. Perplexed, I asked whether they routinely fluctuated their rates, even when they were guaranteed rates, and the clerk responded: “Absolutely.”

July 30, 2007

I waited in the airport overnight until 6:30 AM the next morning, when the Customer Service opened up again, and then I waited on line to speak with another clerk, who was able to put me on the 8:30 connecting flight to Charlottesville, which the other clerk couldn’t seem to accomplish about seven hours before. Since there was little chance at this point that I would arrive in time to attend the first day of my training session (the reason for my trip), I sent a message to the instructor to let him know I’d have to miss at least one day.

The 8:30 flight to Charlottesville, which had been bumped back to 9 AM by the time I got it, was then delayed until 10, and then to 11, and by 11 AM, it had been pushed back to 11:15. Since my connecting flight to Raleigh was scheduled to depart at 12:40 PM, every flight so far was delayed, and the flight was going to last over an hour, I asked a clerk whether I would make my connecting flight. His response: “If we leave on time, you’ll make it.” I expressed my concern in its being cut a bit too close, and his response was: “You’ll be fine.” As it happened, we boarded the plane at 11:15, left the terminal for the runway at 11:30, sat on the runway until 12:45, and arrived in Charlotte at 2:05.

On exiting the plane, I headed toward the first available clerk at the arrival gate, and soon learned just why he was available: he told me that there was a seat left on a 2:30 departure, and after trying to reserve it, pounding a keyboard, and appearing utterly bewildered for 10 minutes, he gave up and suggested I try another clerk at another gate, who was able to book my flight and have my boarding pass printed within 5 minutes.

After a quick flight, I finally arrived at Raleigh Durham Airport, and I headed through the terminal to Baggage Claim. I waited for all of the flight baggage to roll through, but my bag was not on the baggage train. I then spoke with a claims clerk, who said that my name sounded familiar. She verified that the bag had been scanned and received, and that is should have been there. She spent the next 20 minutes trying to find the bag, and when she couldn’t do so, she then filled out a claim form to have the bag delivered to my hotel when it was found. Since all the flight bookings had screwed up my credit card, an attempt to rent a car failed, and I found a taxi who transported me to my hotel (for a small $40 fee).

After 11 PM that night (I was asleep at my hotel, since I hadn’t slept since Saturday night), the claims desk called to tell me they had the bag, and that they refused to deliver it to me because it had been “right here the whole time you” (actually, to be technically accurate, it was the claims clerk, and not me) “was lookin’ for it.” Since I had been wearing the same clothes for days, and since I had nothing to my name without that bag, I then spent my last $40 in cash on another 15 minute taxi cab ride back to the airport to pick it up.


That concludes my record of the one-stop, two-hour flight from Islip, NY, to Raleigh, North Carolina, which took less than three hours on paper but ended up lasting a bit longer than that. I’m hoping that the return flight back to New York will end up being somewhat less eventful.


Please feel free to add your own experience or comments, or to link here.

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2 thoughts on “Fun (or lack thereof) with US Airways

  1. Thanks Chris! Yeah, it definitely was: still got delayed about an hour, and in fact, in Philly, we were told that the airline had overbooked the flight and were asked for volunteers to give up our seats. Guess what my response was? 😉

    Regardless, it was nowhere near as bad as the original flight.

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