Wednesday, August 17, 2011

FAIL: WHY I WILL NEVER FLY ON USAIRWAYS AGAIN

In a May 2011 Consumer Reports survey, readers ranked USAirways the worst airline for customer satisfaction among the 10 largest domestic carriers. A Today/Zagat Airline Survey similarly deemed the airline worst in the nation.

Want more? According to the Dept. of Transportation, USAir was dead last out of 20 domestic carriers for on-time performance. And the May 2011 Business Insider ranked USAir No. 6 among The Most Hated Companies in America, thanks to excessive fees, fussy cabin-crew service and untoward seat room.

Tell me about it... I have come to accept that anytime one flies the unfriendly skies, you’re going to be screwed either going or returning. Anymore, there’s no such thing as an uneventful round trip. But this time, traveling from New York to Lynchburg, Va., I simply could not get from here to there—and then had the beautiful agony of a repeat nightmare on the return.

Here, as succinctly as I can muster, is why I shall never again fly USAir

TUESDAY
4:15p: Arrive at New York’s LaGuardia for a purported 6:12p departure, connecting at Charlotte (CLT), on to Lynchburg, Va. (LYH). Uh, oh, it’s raining. Typically, NYC airports are paralyzed by a cool breeze. Get it? Foreshadowing.

4:30p: I’ve pre-printed my boarding pass, but am stopped at security and told my luggage is too large to carry on, despite the fact that this bag has been on-board previous flights with Delta, American and United. A guard with a ghastly toupee suggests I speak to a manager when I grumble.

4:35p: The prissy supervisor shows me a “If your bag is bigger than this…” display with USAir’s carry-on requirements: Pretty much, if luggage is bigger than a cereal box, they add $25 to the more than $500 million in ancillary revenue posted last year for baggage and seat upgrade fees.

4:45p: By the time I check baggage, am robbed of $25 and work through security, my flight is delayed 20 minutes.

4:55p: Flight now delayed 60 minutes.

5:10p: Flight is delayed 2 hours. I will miss my connection in CLT, despite a previously luxurious 2-hour layover.

5:18p: A gracious staffer puts me on stand-by—passenger No. 19—for a 6:35p flight to CLT that’s already delayed until 7:30p. Because of the rain, more than a dozen flights have been canceled; all remaining are delayed.

5:20p: Two minutes after securing stand-by, my original 6:12p flight is canceled.

6:40p: Stand-by 6:35p flight, delayed until 7:30p, is now postponed until 8:30p, because hundreds of late flights are circling, in line to land.

8:30p: Boarding begins... Thank heavens I manage to get on-board—only to discover that another passenger has the same seat assignment. He’s moved. We take off.

10:20p: Flight arrives in Charlotte. I hoof it an interminable distance from CLT’s E to B terminal for LYH flight, scheduled to depart at 10:40p.

10:35p: Arrive at the terminal and am relieved it's still at the gate. Oh, wait, now the LYH flight is delayed, because the entire flight crew is AWOL in the airport.

11p: Crew manages to locate the gate. We take off for LYH.

12a: Arrive in LYH, 30 minutes late and sit on the runway for 15 minutes as airport staff figure out how to attach a reclining walkway to the plane instead of stairs, because of a handicapped passenger. No ventilation as we stand and wait to disembark.


12:15a: Lynchburg, at last… Six hours and 75 knots in my back later.

So karma is supposed to assure that when one flight is a bloody massacre, the second leg of a round trip is a breeze, right? Obviously karma has not done business with USAir. Ready?

THE FOLLOWING TUESDAY
10:20a: Arrive at Lynchburg airport for assumed sweet & easy departure to Charlotte. After all, LYH has only two gates. Even though I have only 40 minutes before my connection at CLT to JFK, what could go wrong? (Ha ha ha.)

10:30a: Outgoing LYH is delayed 30 minutes, meaning I will have 10 minutes to skedaddle from the E to B terminal in Charlotte. While I flew to LYH out of LaGuardia, I am returning to NYC via JFK, and am informed that the next flight to New York leaves for LaGuardia at 2:21p—but because USAir forced me to check baggage (another $25, ching!), I can only fly into JFK. The next flight to JFK, should I miss my connection: 9:10p, 11 hours later.

12p: Boarding for LYH to CLT. We touch down in Charlotte at 12:50p, giving me 16 minutes to make my connection to JFK at 1:06p. Huffing, puffing, with shin splints ensuing, I sprint to the terminal for CLT to JFK.

12:58p: A flippant woman at the gate says, “The door is closed so we could make an on-time departure.” The irony is practically side-splitting. Now they're concerned about being on time?

1:06p: The staff at LYH had no idea what they were talking about. Thankfully, I am re-routed on the LGA flight at 2:21p, instead of ludicrously waiting for the JFK leg at 9:10p.

1:56p: Arrive at the gate for the LGA 2:21p flight. As boarding is about to begin, they announce a lock is malfunctioning on a plane door. Flight delayed until 3p.

2:55p: Boarding. Doors closed. We sit on the runway for 25 minutes, with no explanation from the pilot nor an apology for the delay.

3:10p: There's only one thing missing at this point: a screaming infant. Like clockwork, a howling baby launches into a tantrum two rows behind me. Of course, we’re not allowed to use headphones, so the entire plane bears the brunt of a horrible child.

5:20: Success! We land at LGA… no flames from the engine, no blown-out tires. I’m home.

Oh, but wait... The grand finale: I watch the luggage carousel circle round and round, until all passengers have picked up their bags. Except me. Somehow, in the 16 minutes between my failed flight from CLT—while the door closed on me—my luggage made it to JFK.

Miraculously, a helpful claim staffer is able to locate the bag, thanks to my claim ticket, and tells me it will be delivered home by 11p.

As of midnight, no bag. When I call USAir, a real person explains to me that a private vendor delivers lost luggage and for sure, I will have it… within the next five days.

Next time: Amtrak, you're my guy. From here on, I'll be riding the rails to Va. It takes seven hours, but at least one is assured of reaching his or her destination without suffering an aneurism. Boo ha, USAir.