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.