My terrible day of flying: A complaint letter

So I rambled on an on about this yesterday on Facebook. I’m not First World enough to think this is the worst thing that can happen to someone — but I am alarmed at how quickly customer service has fallen off, especially in the airline industry. I sent this letter to US Airways, the Philadelphia Airport and the mayor of Philly. Any suggestions as to where else I should send?

Yes, I was mad — but more than that, I was exhausted. Imagine if I was in bad health or elderly… how are they treated?

So here goes… what you are about to read is 100 percent factual, as I am terrible at lying.

Aug. 19, 2014

Dear US Airways and American Airlines:

I will preface this note with this – I am an agreeable, hopefully easy-to-get-along with person. I am not a travel newbie, and I don’t expect to be treated like a princess. I am usually quick to come to the defense of airline employees because my family is full of them and I understand that travel customers can be difficult.

That being said – I am absolutely floored with how I was treated on my trip home from Seattle on Sunday, Aug. 17 into Monday, Aug. 18. It was, by far, my most awful day of travel EVER. And I’ve flown a lot, since I was 5.

I was in the mountains with no cell phone service, but occasional WiFi. I checked my American phone app to see that my original flight home, an 11:25 p.m. flight out of SeaTak, had been canceled and replaced with a 12:45 a.m. US Airways flight with a stop in Philly. I had booked this trip in First Class to get some rest – I work at ESPN and work weird hours, so I was hoping to sleep in comfort. My First Class ticket was not to be a bigshot, but to sleep — I paid for a First Class ticket round-trip. I saw that I was booked in coach now – I wasn’t happy, but figured someone would help me out when I got to the airport.

Once I arrived at SeaTak, I checked in at the US Airways desk. A girl named Ana D. checked me in. I tried to explain to her that I was in First and ask her what I should do about that, but she just kept referring me to American Airlines, telling me I was in Coach now and that was that, and not offering any help other than that. Actually, she just kept pointing to the AA desk – not even offering any words of help or encouragement for how I would be repaid for the First Class portion of the trip I purchased. She replied by making me pay for my bags – YES, she made me pay for my bags, which were part of the First Class package I’d already bought. In fact, that had a lot to do with why I finally bought the First Class tickets. I was traveling for my sister’s wedding and had a lot of stuff with me. Ana D. didn’t offer any help, just told me I had to pay if I expected the bags to get back to Hartford. What was I to do? Again, she just pointed to the AA desk. I tried to stop there and ask for help, but the line was so bad, I guess due to problems in the DFW area.

So yeah, I was angry, but I tried to let it go – I knew I’d take care of that once I got home. I boarded my flight and tried to relax in my now exit-row seat in Coach with no reclining seats or neck rests.

The plane sat on the runway for 45 minutes. Something about a baggage handler crashing into a plane and there being a shortage of people to load the plane. OK, fine. But I better make my connection that you guys laid out for me – with nary a spare second.

Of course I didn’t. When I got to the end of the tarmac in Philly, an agent handed me two standby tickets and told me to go try to make the plane. I did not. I ran across three terminals to get there, and when I got to the gate, I asked if I could board. “That plane left five minutes ago,” the agent sneered at me. Almost like she was laughing at me.

I seethed, but went to the gate for my next option, an 11:30 flight to Hartford. This was the only semi-pleasant experience I had that day. The girl working at C 23 was a bit short at first, but I could tell she honestly wanted me to get on the plane. The flight was, of course, oversold. (This has got to stop, by the way – it’s not fair in the least.) Still, this woman, whose name I didn’t get but I wish I could praise, was nice enough to at least push for me to get on. I didn’t get on, but this agent told me about the other options and at least seemed concerned. She was the ONLY person in Philly (besides the Chick-Fil-A guy, who was so nice), who helped me. She small-talked with me, which goes a long way in stressful situations. She rolled me onto the top of the Standby list, which was much appreciated.

So feeling better and a bit hopeful, I had some lunch and proceeded to C17 in Philly, where the 1:30 flight was coming out of. Mind you, by this point, I’ve been up for 28 hours straight, thinking I’d get a nice comfy ride In First. I wait for the agent to come up, and it’s a helpful woman I see in line, but she vanishes, replaced by the coldest agent in the lot, a girl with long braids and an attitude the size of Dallas. She called my name and I came to the desk. She didn’t like where I was standing, and rolled her eyes at me, shouting, “COME AROUND.” I moved a few feet over and she raised her voice again, “COME AROUND.” I mean, we’re talking a few feet here. But since she was in charge, she got to yell at me. I asked her what she wanted me to do, and she said, “You know what? Forget it.” And ripped up my ticket. Yes. You read that right.

I begged and pleaded, telling her I was sorry for saying whatever I’d said to offend her. Her braids obscured her nametag, sorry. She ignored me and gave the seats to someone behind me. Another agent standing near her — I could tell she felt badly but couldn’t do anything about it. She said, “There’s a spot open on the 4:10 flight, I’ll try to get you that one.” The other agent heard her say that and gave that spot to the next person in spite. She was awful.

So, defeated, near tears (I had a sick dog at home who needed me) and exhausted, I went to Customer Service in Gate C25 for help. WHAT A JOKE. A woman named Valerie N. looked pleasant enough, so I opened with my sob story and asked if there was anything I could do to at least have some hope of getting on – maybe through American, elsewhere, something – since I didn’t miss my flight due to my mistake, I expected a little bit of a sympathetic ear.

Valerie talked to me like I was inconveniencing her, and like I was possibly the dumbest human being in the world. She asked me, “So you’re coming here asking how I can help? How do you expect me to help?” and I said, “I was just looking for a little hope, I’ve been up 30 hours.” And she said, “Here’s some hope. You might get on a plane.” I was furious, and tried to put it in words she would understand. I asked again if there were any options and she just rolled her eyes at me again. I asked if she had kids and knew what I was going through – she said to me – “My kids are adults.” And went back to work. I walked away, nearly in tears again, completely blown away by what was going on.

So I went to the gate for the 4:10 flight. By this time, I was completely drained. I waited for the flight, didn’t check in or say anything. The flight was in C31. I witnessed a male agent tell a woman that she was on a flight, but he could take that away from her easily – which he did, and it created quite a stir in the gate. I got on that flight because I smiled and kissed the agents’ behinds.  That’s what troubled me most about the whole day – the feeling that these agents relished holding all the power, enjoyed saying no to customers, and willfully worked against getting anybody home. They got off on making us cry. THAT’s bullying. I’m a tough person – but imagine if someone not used to that had gone through this. They’d be mortified.

It felt a bit like they were the Ticket Agent Soup Nazis – “I don’t like the look on your face. NO FLIGHT FOR YOU.” It’s shameful.

I got on, got home to Connecticut, and was greeted by friendly gate agents – no problems there at all. The flight staff, on the entire day’s flight, was great too. But Philly is a dark, dark place and I’ll never go there again. I’ll also never willingly fly US Airways again, but I know the merger will take care of some of that. Shout-out to the baggage crew too, who got my bags to Hartford, where they were safely waiting for me. A friendly baggage agent smiled and helped me get my bags. I thought New Englanders were supposed to be “The mean ones.” Philly is the city of brotherly love, right?

I have a stack of boarding passes going nowhere that the agents issued, I guess just to get me to shut up.

And I also realize they can’t do anything about the corporate policy of overselling flights – but they could do something about how they treat CUSTOMERS who spent THOUSANDS of dollars to fly on that plane. We are not inconveniences. We pay your salary. We should be treated as such.

***I expect a refund or travel voucher for my time and for my lost First Class ticket, and a refund of the $60 I had to spend checking bags that Ana D. charged me. *** But more than that, I expect you to do something about this. I expect BETTER of an airline with the American flag on it. I expect you to fix the problems in Philly by talking to whoever’s hiring these people and telling them to be as rude as possible or not disciplining those who are. It was a disgrace.

And again, I realize you’re going through a merger. That’s a tough situation. But the customers shouldn’t have to bear the brunt. It’s not fair, and obviously, it’s not working.

Please (never heard that yesterday either) let me know if I can help in any way. My email is sarah.hart@espn.com, and my number is 918-630-5376.

Thank you.

Sarah Hart

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Travel

2 responses to “My terrible day of flying: A complaint letter

  1. Wow, wow, wow! I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a flightmare even close to the level of rudeness and incompetence described here. I haven’t flown a US flagged carrier in years and, frankly, I’m glad that I don’t have to. In fact, I will gladly pay extra not to. After a few years of spoiling on carriers like Etihad, Turkish Air, and hell, even start ups like FlyDubai, I have learned that the American commercial aviation industry has a lot to learn about customer service and could also use some reminders about what it means to be a compassionate human being. I’d love to hear if and how American and US Airways respond and attempt to make things right.

  2. Janet Schweinfurth

    It won’t get any better worth the merger. I have the direct number to a lady in American Airlines corporate because of flight problems, and I can’t even get people to call me on her orders. Three flights on American, three horror stories. My son got of a plane for hours late (2:00 am) and the first thing he told me was how this small elderly Asian lady with limited English had asked a flight attendant for a blanket. This, after being delayed in a plane and in the airport for three hours. The attendant told her blankets were only for first class passengers. By the way, the plane wag delayed because the carpet had been err do long, part in the cabin floor had disintegrated.

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