Why Travelers Hate Airlines
January 9th, 2012

The airline industry has gotten a rather ugly reputation lately. Being in the travel industry, and a business owner in the industry at that, I usually try to look at both sides of the coin and find a reason behind what the airlines are doing – even if I don’t particularly agree with their motivation. However, my flight experience this past week is a perfect example of one major downfall (of the airline or any other industry) that I simply don’t feel can be excused – horrendous customer service and communication, and people simply not doing their jobs.

Let me start by saying that I was flying to California for my grandmother’s funeral. So my plans were in no way flexible and it was imperative that I get there on time. In addition, I couldn’t have planned my travel differently because obviously travel to a funeral is last minute and basically everything but the flights I was taking were already sold out.

My mom, dad and I got to the airport, sleepy, at 5 AM for a 6:50 flight – I’m quite anal retentive about getting to the airport early, even at this awful hour of the morning. The airline represetnative checking in our bag was talking on the phone the whole time, clearly not paying attention, and when we asked her a question she put her hand up to us to silence us and turned away. We weren’t happy, but our bag appeared to be checked. We boarded and pushed back from the gate on time – a virtual miracle, as anyone that’s every taken a flight from Philadelphia International knows. The only connection we could get was 55 minutes in Phoenix, which made me sweat a little, but I hoped that at this hour we wouldn’t have too much delay. My hopes were, to say the least, dashed.

As we got ready to take off, the pilot came over the loud speaker and said that there was a technical problem and we had to go back to the gate. We did, they “fixed” it, and we pulled back out. We got ready to take off and the pilot told us that it appeared the issue wasn’t fixed, and we went back to the gate again. The pilot actually came over the loud speaker and said, I quote, “looks like we got a lemon”. Just what you want to hear about your plane that is to spend the next four hours at 35,000 feet. After a wait, they told us to deplane. We knew that at this point, we’d missed our connection and I wipped out my iphone to start looking for the next potential flights to Santa Ana once we got to Phoenix. This, I’ll admit, was a mistake on my part – I thought we might still at least get to Phoenix.

We got back on the plane, assured that “this is a working plane” (phew). We sat there. And sat there. The pilot informed us that the mechanics were still there (I thought it was a working plane!) and that he thought actually it was a more serious issue than the mechanics believed it was (oh, goody). After a few more minutes wait we were told that the plane was going to be sent for servicing – basically, it was broken – and deplaned, again.

We waited in line at the gate counter to see what our options were, during which time I search on my phone for other flight options. Basically, everything was sold out. I finally found a Southwest flight (this was not our original airline) that would get my dad there by 6 PM – we needed to get him there for the viewing that night, as it was his mother who’d passed. I called Southwest directly and got him on that, and we sent him off to gate E  (all the way across the airport) for his flight. My mom and I continued to stand in a long line. There was one person assigned to help the 100+ people that were on this cancelled flight. Good emergency planning on the part of the airline, don’t you think? No one from the airline was in the area that was willing/able to answer any questions while we waited in line. They had one “customer service” representative milling around there to “help” us, but basically it seems the only phrases he knew were the un-helpful “no” and “I don’t know what to tell you”. We were then sent to another gate where we were assured there was no wait for service.

We got to that gate, and there are two people ahead of us. They took about 30 minutes. While waiting in line, we and everyone else waiting were told that the bags we’ve checked will be sent to our final destination – how, they didn’t specify. We were not able to go get them. Some people had to stay overnight in Philly, and would’ve like at least a change of underwear from their bags and to re-check their bags the next day. They were told no. Many people had to check their bags at the gate, so had things in there that weren’t supposed to be checked (ie medication). They were reprimanded for not keeping these items on their person and told more or less “tough luck”.  While I personally try to keep medications in my purse when traveling, these people had done what they thought was the right thing – put them in their carry-on, except that this carry on had to be checked… why we’re not sure since there was plenty of overhead room on the original flight. Upon requesting further details about our bags, we were told that our bags would either be sent along to the final location or be “dumped” in Philly (I don’t even know what this means) and if we didn’t get them, we’d have to write a complaint and hopefully they’d be shipped to us. Delightful!

We finally got to the front of the line and upon speaking to the representative, found out that basically there was nothing available, but we’re given phone number to call. While I called the phone number and finally got a flight on another airline, the representative we’d spoken with, Troy, did everything he could to figure out where our bags were.  Troy was the only person so far that was at all worthwhile to speak with, other than whoever I spoke to at Southwest that booked my dad’s flight. Still, he was unable to find our bags. Apparently, the dedicated check-in employee that was too busy on the phone with her friend to check our bag properly never actually inputted our bag into the computer, so our PNR showed no checked bags attached to any of us.  Our bag had basically disappeared into thin air as far as the airline was concerned.

We were now at least booked on a flight though, thanks to my phone call. We went down to baggage to try to get some further information on the fate of our checked luggage. We are told it couldn’t be pulled and re-checked on our new airline, but it would be sent to Santa Ana on the next flight so we should have it in California. We then went to check in for our new flight. We waited at least 20 minutes. We got up to the desk and were told that my mom’s ticket was all set but I was never ticketed – and I was the one that spoke with the rep on the phone! The nice representative at the counter pulls some strings and got me ticketed, thank goodness, because our flight was scheduled to take off in about 40 minutes at this point.

It was 2 PM and we were boarding our flight finally. Oh but wait – no we weren’t! Our boarding passes weren’t valid and we were pulled out of line to get them “corrected”. After a few minutes, we finally got on our flight. Luckily, the rest of our flight went smoothly, other than the fact that boarding passes for our connecting flight also didn’t work, and again we had to get out of the boarding line to have them corrected. We landed in Santa Ana at 7 PM. Our bag was arriving at 8:15 PM on a flight from Phoenix. Miraculously, it actually did. We looked at the tag that the airline has put on our bag. It had big print that said “Rush! Expedited Bag!”. My mom and I burst out laughing. It took a mere 17 hours since we checked it. How long, exactly, does it take for the airline to send a bag that’s not expedited?

We missed my grandmother’s viewing all together (though luckily my dad, thanks to Southwest, was able to attend). I understand that planes break. I understand that when you’re trying to get a last minute flight, that there’s little availability and prices are at a premium. I understand sometimes you just can’t get there in time. What I mind is this:

1. We were told a plane was fixed when it wasn’t, and they knew that it wasn’t. This wasted valuable time, getting back on a broken plane to sit there only to be told it was in fact broken and deplaning again.

2. The “customer service rep” didn’t want to answer questions or help anyone out at all. Basically, it “wasn’t his job”.

3. The the check-in employee was too busy being social to do her job, and that basically no one cared about this.

4. Basically, only three people in this entire scenario were actually doing their jobs properly – Troy, the woman who helped us check-in on the second flight, by getting us properly ticketed when the original woman I’d spoken to on the phone had messed up, and the reservations agent from Southwest.

I’m not naming airlines, other than Southwest who did a wonderful job. I’m not writing this to badmouth a particular airline or several. I’m writing this as what I believe is an example of why people are so frustrated with the airline industry in general these days.  I now truly understand why people hate airlines.


2 Responses to “Why Travelers Hate Airlines”

  1. maya says:

    Thanks for your comment dad, I forgot to add that in. Actually you weren’t cancelled, just divided off into a different confirmation number. But the fact that you were listed as a no-show is ridiculous.

  2. Maya,thanks for posting this. I would only add that because I had to get on Southwest in order to make the funeral, my ticket home was canceled because the original airline listed me as a “no show” on the flight out of Philly, despite the fact that I had boarded their airplane twice! Isn’t it wonderful that you are given a choice between losing the price of your airline ticket or missing your mother’s funeral. I don’t have any qualms about listing the specific airline responsible, but our of respect for your blog I won’t.

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