My father used to joke when he traveled occasionally on business that US Airways’ name is missing a few letters to make it more accurate. I’m inclined to agree.
We took K’s mother, J, to the airport Thursday afternoon, leaving here at about 2:00 pm. She finally arrived in Poland Saturday at about 4:00 am, our time. And why?
Simple — US Air has both the competency and the professionalism of a wart.
Because of “heavy air traffic,” J’s flight from Charlotte left more than an hour late. K was with J at the gate, and K was asking what will happen if J misses the flight. US Air said that they would not take responsibility for the cost of getting J a hotel room in the eventuality that she missed her flight.
On the flight here, US Air lost both of J’s pieces of luggage. J landed in Chicago and then flew to Charlotte — but her luggage took a vacation somewhere else.
More accurately, the US Air representative could have said, “We don’t take responsibility for our customers. Period.” That was the reality of the situation, but we didn’t know that then.
K and I drive home, wondering if J got on board and whether everything was okay. Just as we were parking, the phone rings. It was J. She’d missed her flight and had no idea what to do. She was hysterical, literally. After all, it was almost twelve. The airport was virtually empty. There was no one at all from LOT, the Polish national carrier. As previously arranged, someone from US Air had led her to the next gate, but that was it. She was left stranded, not knowing what to do and unable to communicate with anyone. Finally, someone at the baggage claim area helped her get in touch with us, and all I heard from K was, “Mother, please calm down. Please. I can’t understand what you’re saying when you’re crying like that.”
Eventually, I got on the phone with US Air and had them re-book a ticket to Poland, but it was to be twenty-four hours after her originally scheduled departure time. Or at least that’s what the bloke at US Air told me.
Was there an offer at this point to arrange for a hotel for this poor woman stuck in the middle if an airport? No.
The difference between American flight crews and German flight crews.
While waiting for the first flight, K and J had the chance to observe several flight crews walking to their planes. Slowly, jackets unbuttoned, relaxed. In Germany, K watched a Lufthansa flight crew: everyone in perfectly pressed, buttoned uniforms, walking quick-step in a single-file line to their plane. “It was like they were in the army!” J laughed.
I spoke with Mark — the gentleman at baggage claim helping J — and he helped write a note for J explaining in English what her situation was so that she could go to the ticket counter when it opened and have her ticket reissued. He agreed to take care of her in the lost-baggage section, and even asked us what kind of coffee she preferred. If I were there, I’d have bought it a beer. Or a whole case.
We left it at that.
Friday, J spent the day in the airport. It turned out that Mark had taken the initiative to hunt down someone in the airport who could speak Polish, and this woman helped J through the rest of the day after Mark had left work. More — Mark had taken J to the ticket counter and helped her get her ticket reissued, and showed her where she’d have to go afterwards.
But it turned out that the ticket was not for a flight that left 11 pm Friday. It was for a flight that left 11 pm Saturday. So the guy who arranged the ticket for us, knowing that it’s for a woman who doesn’t speak English, arranged a flight 48 hours later and didn’t bother even to ask what this woman would do during said 48 hours.
Fortunately, the mystery Polish woman — also an employee of the airport — got better arrangements for J: a Lufthansa flight that left 30 hours earlier.
But that was just the beginning of J’s adventures.
Saturday morning, we learned that the Lufthansa flight was also late, and she missed her connecting flight in Frankfurt. But here German efficiency showed itself to be better than American “customer service.” Knowing that the flight would be late, Lufthansa had checked the passenger manifest, determined who would miss which flight, and re-booked those individuals. When J got off the plane, someone was waiting with a new ticket and guided her directly to the gate.
For those who might comment, “If that were me, letters would be written and calls would be made,” don’t worry — it’s in the works.
It seems to me that this how “civilized”carriers treat their customers. It seems to me that modern carriers will realize that, no matter what the cause of the delay, it is their responsibility to take care of passengers. It seems to me that passengers who arrange for special assistance — as we had done for J — should get that assistance as opposed to being dumped in the middle of an airport in the middle of the night. It seems to me that if a carrier wants to keep someone as a customer, it wouldn’t treat that customer to the same kind of service it provides said customer’s luggage.
And it seems to me that US Air’s price will have to be significantly lower than any other airline’s for me to consider using them.