(Fred Weinberg/The Penny Press) – As regular readers know, in addition to publishing the Penny Press, I also have responsibilities related to our other media outlets around the Western United States.
In that capacity, I travel a lot out of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Last week, I had to go to Alamogordo, New Mexico, to deal with a technical problem at our group of radio stations there.
The way you get to Alamogordo—which is the cradle of our nation’s space program—is through El Paso, Texas.
Our Phoenix office booked me on US Air for this trip because, at the time, it looked like a better deal than our normal Southwest Airlines trip. Looks can be deceiving.
I didn’t argue because I am all for the company saving money.
We should have known better.
The first thing that happened was that a trip which had been planned for the end of the week became a high priority when a recalcitrant transmitter blew up, taking our FM Country station off the air.
New ticket, $150 plus a $25 service charge because we had the nerve to actually call this alleged airline and ask for the change in person. And, the lady was pretty rude for our $25.
Then, I get to the airport carrying two cases with a new transmitter.
Luggage: one 64-pound bag and one 28-pound bag, $150.
Those two items alone are almost the price of the Southwest flight.
I have two flights to get to El Paso, changing planes in, ironically, Phoenix.
The first flight—in one of US Air’s French imitation Boeing 737’s (Airbus 319)—gets off pretty much on time. I turn on my cell phone as we’re taxiing to the gate in Phoenix and I have voicemail. Who could be calling me on a Sunday evening?
To tell me that they are sorry but that my connecting flight to El Paso has been cancelled. Well, I don’t know how sorry an automated voice could be, but it sure said it was sorry.
So I did as instructed and called the number and I got a young man on the phone who was a little less sorry than the automated voice.
“Hello, my name is Fred Weinberg, I’m on flight 440 on the ground in Phoenix and I just got a call from you telling me my connecting flight to El Paso has been cancelled. How are you going to get me to El Paso?”
“You’re still in Reno, right?” asks the young man?
“Hey, pal, I’m on your plane, taxiing to the gate in PHOENIX!”
“Well, you’ll have to stay in Phoenix overnight.”
At that point, I realized that some clown in a call center wasn’t going to help me even had he wanted to which he obviously did not, so I hung up.
I got off the plane, went to the gate desk and was told, after a fumbling attempt to find me another flight, “Uh, listen, we have to load the plane, you’ll have to go to customer service, and maybe they can help you.”
I went to the customer service desk, got in line and called my business partner who lives in Phoenix to tell him what was happening. While I’m talking to him, a “lady” behind the counter yelled at me to stop using my cell phone. I asked her for her lead agent.
She didn’t even reply.
When I got to the head of the line, I got a very nice lady (the only one of the trip employed by US Air) who chuckled a bit and said she could get me there that evening because there was a flight that had just been added but was not, for some reason, in the computer system properly.
It would have me in El Paso at 2:05 a.m., but that was better than nothing.
The only catch was my reservation with Avis. I called the Avis Executive Desk in Tulsa (where, not coincidentally, we used to own radio stations) and they got me on the phone with the manager of the Avis counter in El Paso, and they said they would wait for me. They did. When you make your reputation by trying harder, it’s probably a difficult habit to break.
Now, I have five hours to kill, so I headed to the scheduled gate and asked the extremely rude lady at the gate if this was the gate my flight was leaving from.
“Probably not,” she said.
Then why did my boarding pass say B5?
“They had to put something on it.”
Now I’m no longer exactly in US Air’s territory. You see, the flights to places like El Paso from Phoenix are actually made in cute little stretched Learjets (well, made by the same manufacturer, anyway) by a company called Mesa Airlines dressed in US Air uniforms.
If there is a worse airline than US Air with worse customer service, it’s Mesa. Maybe it’s the same uniforms. Put on a US Air uniform and you start acting the part.
In any event, they were having a bad night, and they didn’t even try to make the very large group of people who were not getting where they were scheduled to go comfortable.
There were pregnant women, kids, large families—the whole gamut of airline travelers—and the whole gate area was a train wreck. The woman at B5 was rude, unaccommodating and was acting like something which rhymes with “witch.”
Long story short, they did change our gate, we boarded a plane and sat there for an hour.
Got into El Paso at about 3:15 a.m.
Avis was there. But I wasn’t going to drive 90 miles, so I got a room at the Airport Radisson. $153.
The next morning, I called the toll free number US Air publishes.
I got a young man and I asked who I could talk to about the flights I was on the previous night.
“I can give you an email address,” said the young man in the well modulated Queen’s English of an Indian worker halfway around the globe.
“I want to talk with a human being.”
“I’m sorry, sir, we no longer talk to our customers.”
Really. Well, you have a nice day.
So, I called US Air’s Media Relations department, introduced myself and asked if, in fact, what the young man had said is true.
The young lady assured me it was.
Tell you what we are going to do.
We’re going to use that email, attaching this editorial. I want the extra $500 or so that we spent because of their screwups. Nothing more. Just what we spent.
Unless I miss my guess, they’ll laugh at us.
If they do (so far, they have, as you’ll see below), we’ll file a small claims suit in Humboldt County where this particular company is headquartered. With a request to the judge to broadcast the hearing.
I hope they send a lawyer to defend themselves.
It will be the first responsible adult representing US Air that we’ll have a chance to talk to.
And Their First Response:
fromCustomer Relations email@example.com to Fred Weinberg <FRED1340@gmail.com>
dateSat, Jun 11, 2011 at 8:08 AMsubjectUS Airways Customer Relations – US-11WEINBERG-G06H11 – S1A
Dear Mr. Weinberg:
Thank you for contacting US Airways. We appreciate hearing from our customers and having an opportunity to address their concerns. Customer Relations responds on behalf of Mr. Parker, all executive officers and VP’s.
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 2887 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.
It is particularly disappointing to know our employees failed to provide the level of service you expected in Phoenix. We work hard to make certain our airline personnel are courteous, friendly, and helpful at all times. It is always a concern to learn this has not been the case. These matters will be reviewed with the Phoenix Station manager so the issues can be addressed internally.
Mr. Weinberg, I understand your reservation was changed to this flight which was then cancelled. Re-issue fees and additional collections for changes are non-refundable; therefore, we are unable to honor your request. At the time your ticket was changed and fees were collected, there was no indication that the flight would be interrupted. Despite the best planning, some situations simply cannot be anticipated.
To convey our apologies, we have authorized a $100.00 Electronic Travel With Us Voucher (E-TUV). Your E-TUV is valid toward the purchase of travel on US Airways. Please be advised the E-TUV is not valid with Internet bookings and must be redeemed within one year from the date of this correspondence. In addition, please take a moment to read the terms and conditions listed below to receive the full benefit of this compensation. When you are ready to make your future travel arrangements, please call our Reservations Department at 800-428-4322 and provide the E-TUV code listed below. The customary ticketing fee will not be assessed at the time of booking with our Reservations Department.
The E-TUV code is:
Fred Weinberg ——– $100.00
While we realize the compensation issued does not undo the situation you encountered, we hope you will accept it in the spirit of goodwill that it was offered. Your comments have helped us to identify areas within our service that need improvement. Additionally, we welcome the opportunity to provide your future travel needs.
Representative, Customer Relations
From: Fred Weinberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sat, Jun 11, 2011 at 10:20 AM
To: Customer Relations <email@example.com>
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m sure that you are very disappointed with your customer service in Phoenix but your proposed solution simply is not adequate. It is not my problem that the change fee was for a change to a flight which was subsequently cancelled. I am equally sure that you did not know on Saturday that the flight would be cancelled. But the irrefutable fact is that it WAS cancelled. Please note that I’m not complaining about $7 beer and $8 mixed drinks on your planes. This is the United States of America and if you can get away with a particular fee, good for you. That’s what the free market is all about. (Although it would not be improper to observe that the taxpayers pay a tremendous subsidy in many different ways to keep the airlines in business.) But if I paid $8 and got a vodka tonic with no vodka or no tonic you would not have earned that fee. Or even half of it. That is certainly the case here.
And then, the consequential damages. I know you don’t think you are liable for them, but we’ll see if a Nevada judge thinks you are. You’ll spend a lot of money on a lawyer and we’ll point out to our readers and listeners that you want to weasel your way out of a bad situation by relying on a document which is in the finest of print and offering a travel voucher with is, essentially, worthless—especially in view of the fact you cannot use it online where your best fares are.
No, thank you. I want good old American greenbacks. The kind I can spend on Southwest Airlines.