Why is US Airways the worst US Airline?

First, let’s get clear on the ranking. Consumer Reports reported in their June issue that a survey of their readers (over 30,000 respondents) ranked US Airways as the worst US Airline. Now, the question is how do they earn that distinction? 

Well, I don’t know for sure because in my experience as a VERY frequent flyer, most of the airlines treat their non-frequent flyers pretty poorly. My comment is that airlines (for the most part) operate as if passengers were an inconvenience to the efficient movement of airplanes.  

Some are different. Southwest appears to treat everyone the same virtually all the time. They rank pretty high in customer satisfaction and if what they do works for you, they are a good, consistent choice. Jet Blue, ranked #1 by Consumer Reports and JD Powers, appears to have a staff with a different attitude. I don’t fly them enough to comment, but I believe I can tell you a bit about why US Airways is ranked dead last. Their employees don’t appear to care. Don’t know why, probably because of how they are staffed and managed, but the result is the same. 

For the first time in 20 years I missed a client engagement because I could not work around the airlines poor execution. To be fair, the fundamental problem was created by United Airlines, but the true customer service failure was at US Airways. I’ll tell you a shortened version of the story so you aren’t reading a novel. 

I had to get to Pittsburgh yesterday. Had reservations on United from San Jose to Denver, and Denver to Pittsburgh. The San Jose flight was 2 hours late so I was going to miss the last connection to Pittsburgh. The United 1K desk (see I do fly a lot) offered to route me on the red-eye from SFO to Pittsburgh (operated by US Airways). While that was not optimal it allowed me to make my client commitment. I agreed. 

United sent me an email as promised with my new itinerary showing the US Airways flight from SFO to Pittsburgh. I arrived at SFO 10 hours later and a bit over one hour before my flight so I could check in. The kiosk would not check me in. I stood in line to talk to the (yes “the” not “one of the”) counter agent. Forty minutes before flight time I connected with her. She confirmed I had a seat on the flight (an aisle seat even though when I had called earlier in the day I was told they only had middles left, but whose going to complain about that good luck). She then asked for my “ticket.” What ticket?, I asked, I’m on an electronic ticket. 

She pointed out that was a United ticket and she needed a US Airways ticket. Knowing the lingo, I asked her if United had “pushed” the ticket to US Airways as they should have. She said, we don’t “push” tickets anymore. (So much for knowing the lingo.) She asked for my ticket # which I did not have. (It appears on your ticket, if you have one, but then if I had a ticket, this would have been moot.)

I immediately called United to get my ticket #. They gave it to me and the agent told me that since that ticket was from San Jose to Pittsburgh it would have to be reissued. I said go ahead. She said only United could do that. (Why they had not done so previously is the root cause of this problem, but that was human error, which we all suffer from.) 

I then asked the 1K desk person to help re-issue the ticket (now 30 minutes before flight time). She said a supervisor would have to do it and she would get on it. I am now on hold with United. In the mean time, I asked the US Airways agent if I could just buy a one-way ticket on her flight to Pittsburgh. She said the flight was oversold and she could not do that. (Odd since I had an assigned seat on the flight, and I just wanted to pay for it again.) I was too stunned to deal with that one, so I waited for United to get back on the line. 

25 minutes before flight time, still no word from United. The agent then considers giving me my boarding pass to get through security and having me get the ticket piece at the gate once United had finished with the transfer. Then she realized that would not work. Why you might ask? And I quote her, “Gate agents don’t like to deal with that kind of stuff.” So, getting to the gate was no longer an option. 

About this time (20 minutes before flight) she denied boarding to two other people who had been in line for 15 minutes and missed the baggage cut off time. Knowing that two seats had now freed up on her flight, I asked again if I could buy a seat. She said no, it was now too late to sell me one even though there were empty seats on the plane. (It’s not clear to me it was ever over-sold.) 

At 15 minutes I determined I could no longer make the flight and gave up. About 10 minutes later United did get my ticket over to US Airways, so they now have to move it back to get me my refund. 

The plane left on time, with empty seats and a passenger who has time today to blog about this and be reminded once again that passengers are an inconvenience to the efficient movement of airplanes. The fact that a lack of passengers in the earlier part of this decade cost thousands of airline jobs does not seem to connect for the employees of most airlines when dealing with each of us as single passengers.


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15 Responses to Why is US Airways the worst US Airline?

  1. Ah, the customer stories we could tell about airlines! I wrote a blog entry recently called “Are you doing stupid things to your customers” about American Airlines, usually in the top 5 of ratings. I typically like flying them, but they were particularly dumb a month or so ago.

    I was forced to fly United recently and was aghast at the lack of leg room. I thought, “How interesting that a company would make it more and more unpleasant to partake in their product.” So it is with all airlines I think.

    Good blog!

    Rebecca Morgan
    blog: http://www.GrowYourKeyTalent.com

  2. Mitch says:

    If you fly enough, I think you can learn to hate them all. If you fly United a lot (or pay a bit extra) you can sit in the Economy Plus section and get a bit more leg room, like on American in most seats.

    As I said, I think to root cause problem is that passengers are not really their focus. Freight is apparently a lot more profitable and it does not complain.

  3. DENGuy says:

    The true customer service failure was at United for not reissuing the ticket in the first place so that you would not have had that problem when you arrived at US Airways. I always reissue my tickets over to other airlines when it needs it so that the customer has no problems checking in. Agents cannot reissue other airline ticket stock when the city pairs do not match. You would have received this treatment at any other airline with the same issue.

  4. Mitch says:

    You are absolutely correct that the original error was made by United and they should not have made that error. However, US Airways had numerous opportunitiest to fix it, including selling me a second ticket. They were not interested in fixing it.

    We all make mistakes, it is what we do when we make a mistake, or what we can do when others make a mistake, that creates great customer service. When things go well, everyone looks good (and would that it would be that way always, but it isn’t). It’s what you do when things go wrong that makes you a great company … or not.

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  7. Jack says:

    I work for US Airways, and I can tell you this: US Airways flights are always oversold. They don’t care how many seats are available, they sell as much as 180 tickets for a 140 seater. US Airways reduced the Ticket price by 40% from 2000. They could double the ticket prices and solve the “always oversold” situation, but they chose not to do so. They loose thousands of dollars on every flight, considering the fuel price. Every normal business man would adjust the price of their product to avoid losses, specialy since there is more clients willing to buy the product than product availability. Not US Airways. They decided to cut down on the flights. They will cancel 20% of their oversold flights, to save 20% on their daily losses. I could put my 8-year old into charge of US Airways, and he could probably solve the problem without my help within 2 weeks. I am wondering how much the managers make for their retarded plans to save the Airline.

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  9. Leigh says:

    I am sitting at the airport now. There is no plane here and I was supposed to board 15 minutes ago. There was no message that there was a delay. I payed $50 for an earlier flight and now I’m not getting home when I thought I would. I hate US Air.

  10. Darrell says:

    As an a employee and soon-to-be ex employee, I can unfortunately attest to what many people R saying. US Airways’ alleged ‘merge’ with America West has been a joke: flight attendants still dont have a contract for the new company, east and west pilots are always at odds with each other, staffing issues, managment issues, cutting back on flights, charging for checked baggage, the constantly changing of a la cart service, and the CEO is in way over his head and doesnt know what he is doing. The current CEO, the former CEO of America West, has betrayed the America West employees and sucks up to the East. My sister nonreved on them last week and they treated my sister horribly, sent her bags to the wrong city at the wrong time, left her stranded and refused to help her, etc. US Airways treats their employees just as poorly as their regular paying passengers. Luckily, I wont B there much longer. It saddens me that US is so bad compared to even United and the rest of the industry. People have every right to be upset at the abysmal service.

  11. Steve says:

    When an airline does not even care about their premium passengers anymore then something must really be wrong with the management. A “First Class” passenger typically pays 10 times more for his ticket than an Economy passenger and they make up a big part of the revenue. I am a Frequent Traveler and decided to avoid these clowns under any circumstance in the future. They showed me very clear that they don’t care about me and my business and the only response that I have for them is Southwest Airlines / Jet Blue / Hawaiian Airlines. But probably they don’t even care about losing a premium customer, if their finances reflect a loss in profits they will probably think about inventing new fees instead of improving their services.

  12. jimmy says:

    I agree that they all have their problems, but US Air continues to be in a class by itself. I was in Philadelphia this week and the gate agent threatened to throw people off the flight unless they stopped complaining about the terrible seats. The agent was reassigning seats and separating people left and right.

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  14. Keith says:

    Ahhh, I join the ranks of the “US Air” as the worst airline. Now I know why my friends call it Useless Air. Still trying to figure out how they lose luggage when it gets to its destination and why they cannot answer phones, why they have sucky attitudes and all I hear from them is what they cannot do, what they cannot accomplish. Next time I must go from Richmond to Philly, it will be via rental car, it definitely will not be via Useless Air.

  15. I had not hear Useless Air, but I have heard US Scareways.

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