I'm a complainer. I'll admit that. Being a cheap bastard, when I do actually spend money and don't get what I pay for, I'm going to complain. The drawback of that was that I generally hate confrontation, but hooray for the Internet, allowing us to complain through things like email and social media. It's actually very effective (well, usually it is) and very therapeutic, as long as you don't overkill it. Most companies want to hear if something goes wrong and will bend over backwards to make it better. Those that don't - well, they end up getting blog posts written about them.
A couple of weeks ago, I was scheduled to go down to Baton Rouge to work in our regional office down there for a week. The process was simple - fly down on Monday morning, fly back on Friday morning, with car and hotel and food paid for by my employer. I call the travel agent (remember them?) that the company does all their travel through and get booked on a US Airways flight both ways - RDU to Baton Rouge with a stopover in Charlotte (since apparently Baton Rouge's is just a step above a cornfield with a windsock). This is actually pretty cool since my company (in conjunction with US Airways) was offering trial memberships in their "silver preferred" flyer program, which offered cool little perks including a chance to upgrade for free to 1st class. I sign up and we're set. The trip down went off without a hitch. The trip back? Notsomuch.
I had checked in the day before and was psyched to see that I could grab a first class upgrade on the Charlotte/Raleigh leg of the flight, and while the Baton Rouge/Charlotte leg didn't have first class (that happens when you only have like six seats in the plane), I got a seat in the first row on the aisle, so no waiting for morons to figure out which overhead compartment their huge carryon was wedged into. I got to the Baton Rouge airport a few hours early, went through security, and walked over to the gate. I had my e-boarding pass on my iPhone (technology, AHOY) and was ready to go.
There was no one there.
When I say "no one", I mean it. Baton Rouge airport splits into two "concourses" when you get past security - A and B. B was where I was supposed to board (there are three or four gates in both A and B), but the B concourse was empty. The monitors there still showed flight information (including my flight, which read "ON TIME"), but no airline employees were at the gates, and no passengers were sitting around hogging the power outlets.
This seemed odd.
I shrugged and went to go get breakfast in the snack bar/cafeteria-type place that was the only option for food (except for a place before you hit security, and I wasn't going through that again). As I ate, I overheard a small group of people talking about taking another flight and stressing about getting luggage and "how long are we going to have to wait" and something about "US Airways". Between that and the empty concourse, I grabbed my phone to check the "flight status" for my flight, which the monitors still beamed to be "ON TIME".
Sure enough, my flight was canceled. Apparently, no one told the monitors.
Annoyed (there goes my choice seats and first class), I got a to-go box for my sandwich and went to the US Airways ticket counter, which was on the other side of security. Generally I assumed when someone cancels a flight, there are people there at the gate that use their little terminals to get you on another flight. Since there was no one at the gate(s), I had to go to the ticket counter and wait on line there with a group of passengers who were trying to check their luggage, not realizing that their flight was canceled too. They wouldn't know, because at the US Airways ticket counter, it showed my flight - the canceled one - as "ON TIME". I checked to see what the status was of the Baton Rouge/Charlotte flight before this one, and it too had been canceled, which no one would have known because that flight wasn't even LISTED on the monitor. Apparently, we'll pretend that one never existed.
I called my company's travel agency to let them know what was going on and to find out through them what to do next. The agent, who initially didn't see that my flight was canceled, received the notification as I was on the phone with her. She told me to stay in line and to see what US Airways offered, but as a backup plan to make sure I wouldn't be stranded, she reserved me a spot on a Delta flight going to Raleigh (through Atlanta). If US Airways couldn't get me out of Baton Rouge, I could always buy a ticket on the Delta flight and the company would reimburse me. Pain in the butt, but it made sure I'd get home that day.
When I got to the ticket counter, I greeted the woman behind the counter. One thing I noticed was that the US Airways employees I did see (two ticket agents and occasionally someone else here or there) didn't seem stressed at all. In fact, they seemed pretty aloof, like this was an everyday thing. The ticket counter woman asked me how I was doing and I said I was probably doing better than her today because of the situation. She shrugged and took my ID to look me up in the system. Ooooook. She confirmed that I was going to Raleigh (yep), then said that it looked like that I had already reserved a seat on another flight. I explained to her about the travel agent and the backup plan, and as I did that she confirmed the Delta reservation, printed me out a confirmation, and told me to go over to the Delta kiosk and check in there to print out my boarding pass. That was it. No options, no "sorry for the inconvenience", no "here's a coupon for some headphones", nothing. I mentioned the first class upgrade I had, and she said there was no first class available on the Delta flights, and that if I had paid for the upgrade that I'd receive a refund in the mail.
US Airways canceled my flight, and all I had to show for it was a dot matrix printout which got me one boarding pass (for the Baton Rouge/Atlanta leg). After going through security again (yay) I went to the Delta gate (on the A side, so there were actual people there) to ask to be put on standby for an earlier flight, and the gate agent not only did that but also cleaned up my reservation (which is why I wasn't getting a second boarding pass - apparently they left the second leg of my US Airways trip active) and tentatively booked me on the flight after the Atlanta/Raleigh flight I was scheduled to go on since it was a really short layover. That's the type of help I was hoping to get from US Airways at the gate, had anyone shown up.
Naturally, I was pissed, and I took to Twitter. After venting, I got a response from the US Airways Twitter account saying they were sorry, saw that I was re-booked, and thanking me for my patience. After I vented a little further about their service, I was given a link to file a "formal complaint" with Customer Relations.
Which I did. Since it was a form and not an actual email address, it ended up being a little ramble-ly (no paragraphs will do that to a guy.) Below is what I sent, along with specific information about the flight:
I was very disappointed in the way US Airways treated myself and other passengers in regards to the above-referenced flight. No evidence that flight would be canceled however no agents at any gates US Airways used at Baton Rouge airport, though monitors still showed "on time" flight. Earlier Baton Rouge/Charlotte flight was canceled but no evidence of this in the gate area either. Looked up flight online and saw it was canceled, so went back through security to ticket counter to wait in line with others, many of whom thought they were just checking baggage because they didn't know flight was canceled either. Monitor at US Airways ticket counter showed flight as "on time" despite US Airways website showing that it was canceled, and I never saw it change for the entire time I was on line. Waited on line 45 minutes while I spoke to my company's travel service to see what other options I had if ticket agent couldn't help. Travel service reserved a flight with Delta leaving later if the cancellation would leave me stranded. After I got to the ticket counter I told the US Airways ticket agent where I was going (BTR to Charlotte to Raleigh) and stated that Charlotte to Raleigh flight was first class. Agent saw Delta flight my company's travel service reserved, said "well, they've already got you on a flight" and confirmed me for the Delta flight. Mentioned the first class leg of the trip and was told that any money paid for the first class upgrade would be refunded. What I saw was an airline that inconvenienced a "preferred flyer" (silver status) and seemingly hid issues they knew they were having (since apparently every gate agent knew not to show up that day or to hide somewhere) so that plans couldn't be made until the very last minute, then took the easiest way out possible when it came to assisting the "preferred flyer". Instead of having a first row aisle seat on one leg and a first class seat in the other leg, I got to sit for a few extra hours in a small airport with only one place to eat, went through security twice (since I had to go back through to go to the ticket counter to find out the flight was cancelled), then had to sprint to make a connecting flight on a different airline (middle seat, halfway back) in order to make it home in time to see my kids. I didn't even get an apology from a single US Airways employee; they just laughed and joked with each other as if this was something that happened every day. If this is how you treat your "preferred" flyers, I'd hate to see what happens to everyone else.
I got this email a few days later from "US Airways Customer Relations":
Dear Mr. Edwards:
Thank you for contacting Customer Relations. We appreciate it when customers take the time to share their concerns.
It is relatively easy to provide good customer service when an operation is running smoothly. We know the test of quality service occurs when we are faced with flight irregularities and problems such as you experienced. We are truly sorry for the cancellation of Flight 2556 and the inconvenience it caused. Your frustration with our failure to operate this flight as scheduled is understandable. It is not our intent to create difficulties for our customers and we make every effort to avoid flight interruptions.
Our intention is not to upset or frustrate our passengers. I apologize if this was the case. The greatest benefit I can provide to you is to carefully record your comments and ensure they are forwarded to the appropriate management personnel for consideration of future changes. It is of utmost importance to convey your opinions on these matters.
To reiterate my apology for our cancellation and so you will try US again, I’ve authorized one $50.00 Electronic Travel With US Voucher (E-TUV). Your E-TUV is valid toward the purchase of travel on US Airways. You can’t book with the E-TUV online, and you must redeem it within one year from the date of this correspondence. When you’re ready to book, please call Reservations at 800-428-4322 and provide the E-TUV code listed below. You will not be charged the customary ticketing fee. In addition, please take a moment to read the terms and conditions listed below to receive the full benefit of this compensation.
The E-TUV code is:
XXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXX $50.00
Mr. Edwards, as a Silver Preferred Dividend Miles member, your business and opinions are important to US. We look forward to seeing you on your next US Airways flight.
Representative, Customer Relations
US Airways Corporate Office
So for all that, they offer me what amounts to a $50 coupon on future air travel, which is only good for a year. I left out all the disclaimers for the credit, but it amounted to it only being able to be used for air travel, non-transferable, only good for a year, and couldn't be used to book travel online - you had to call an 800 number to use it. Since my company paid for my travel and I didn't see myself flying anywhere else any time soon, this was useless to me. I was going to let it go, but when I heard that I was going to be traveling again for the company in the near future (and most likely on US Airways), I figured I'd let them know how useless their voucher was, and offered (what I thought) was a good alternative:
Thank you for your follow-up email. I want you to know that I was much less frustrated with the actual cancelation of the flight than I was with what happened as a result of it. The lack of communication to the passengers to allow them to make alternate plans was easily the biggest issue, as it appeared that the US Airways staff knew that there would not be flights that morning (hence no agents at any of the US Airways gates) but only through Internet access could I find out that the flight was actually canceled. Without any gate agents, I had to go back through security to get to a ticketing agent, get my new reservations, then go through security again.
The other annoyance to me was the lack of options that were offered to me by US Airways in response to the canceled flight. While on line waiting for a US Airways ticketing agent I called my company's travel department to ask what my next step should be since they had booked the original travel. They told me to see what the ticketing agent said, but in case the agent/airline couldn't do anything, she reserved me a seat on a Delta flight so that I wouldn't be completely stranded. When I got to the US Airways ticketing agent, she pulled up my information, saw the Delta reservation, and just gave me that flight without offering me any other option. My preference was to still fly US Airways and to ideally get my preferred seating and first class upgrade, but I wasn't given that option.
While I thank you for the $50 voucher, it is of no use to me due to my travel being paid for by my employer, and no plans to have any recreational air travel in the next year. Perhaps access to the US Airways Club would be comparable?
The US Airways club is a "members only" lounge type-thing that has locations in both the Raleigh and Charlotte airports (not Baton Rouge, because Lowell wouldn't build it with his giant wrench). You can get a day pass for $29 when you book your ticket, or $50 at the door. I thought hey - $50 voucher, $50 to get into the club, makes sense, right? Nah.
I get a phone call today from a US Airways customer service rep who wants to talk to me about my email. He says he understands that I'm "dissatisfied" with the $50 voucher, and that he's been authorized to offer a pass good for $25-$100 off future travel.
So wait - since $50 wasn't good enough, he's something that could be worth potentially less?
I asked how they determine what the varying value was, and he said it depended on the cost of the actual travel - cheaper airfare would give less of a discount. So in other words, instead of a flat $50 value, they were giving me a "percent off" coupon. Which would be fine if I were paying for the airfare, but I'm not. I explained that a voucher, regardless of its floating value, was useless to me because my company paid for my airfare, not me, and that I wasn't about to purchase airfare just for the sake of using a credit, especially for one that was - at best - 25% off of a one-way flight. He didn't seem to get it. I explained that if I used it the next time I flew on business, the company would be receiving the benefit, not me, and that if I paid for it myself using the voucher and asked to be reimbursed by my company for the full amount, I would be defrauding my employer and would likely get fired.
He finally understood, and I explained why I thought the club pass was an ideal solution. He said that access to the club would not be possible, and put me on hold. When he came back, he reconfirmed that the club access wouldn't be possible, but that he had another solution - he would make the voucher transferable, so that I could give it to someone else.
I clarified that his best offer was to give me a $50 coupon that I could give to anyone who might be flying US Airways in the next twelve months, who would then let me know they were flying US Airways before they flew so that I could tell them about my voucher, allowing them to hold off on making their reservation until I contacted customer service to take my voucher and put it in the other person's name and received the confirmation so that I could let the other person know so that they could call an 800 number (instead of booking online) to make their reservation.
He said yes.
I told him that it was still useless to me and that I guessed that it was just going to have to go to waste. I got off the phone with him and went and got a Five Guys bacon cheeseburger for lunch. When I got back, I got this email:
Dear Mr. Edwards:
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. We are unable to exchange access to our US Airways Club as a form of compensation. I am sorry that we were unable to come to that agreement.
Per our conversation, I’ve forwarded your concerns to our Executive Management team. This method has proven very successful; as I mentioned, many of our current policies, procedures, and positive changes are a direct result of customer feedback.
We appreciate the time you took to contact us regarding this matter. Above all, we appreciate your business and look forward to serving you on a future US Airways flight.
Representative, Customer Relations
US Airways Corporate Office
And that's it. I'm supposed to be going to Baton Rouge again the week of July 9th, but I'm holding off on booking the trip until I hear the latest from US Airways. Until then, I'll keep you posted.