Why I will never fly US Air

You will have heard by now that US Air has offered the Hudson crash survivors a full year’s worth of upgrades for their trouble. “Sorry you nearly died. Here’s a coupon for extra peanuts when next you fly.”

Well, you can argue that the crash was not entirely, or even any, of US Air’s fault, so it’s not clear that they owe the passengers much of anything beyond paying for their lost luggage and refunding their original ticket price (no word whether they have done that). A coupon to upgrade is a particularly stupid palliative; at least, it sounds lame.

An “upgrade”, after all, means you first have to give money to US Air for a lower-class ticket. They will then, if possible, offer you a slightly roomier seat if they have it. Don’t forget that most US Air flights are on aircraft that have only one class: there is nowhere to upgrade to most of the time. Plus, most people only fly maybe once or twice a year anyway, and it’s not clear how quickly these water-logged people will return to the air.

But this incident of ham-handedness by US Air is not the reason I will not ever, under any circumstances, fly them. This is.

About three years ago I bought a round-trip ticket to visit a friend in Knoxville, Tennessee. Before I left for the trip, I was offered a job interview at the University of Florida. It made sense to go their first and then, from Gainesville, head up to Knoxville and then home. So I had the university buy me a ticket from New York to Gainesville, and from there to Knoxville.

When it was time to leave Knoxville, I tried to get my boarding pass from the US Air agents. They said my ticket was canceled. Why? Because I did not show up for the flight down to Knoxville. I explained that this was true, that I had gone elsewhere, but here I am now; plus, I have given you nearly $400 for the ticket.

They insisted that the ticket was null. The agent was even angry with me for asking for my ticket. She (and a he) said, “When you buy a ticket with us, you are agreeing to a legally biding contract.” I said, OK, that must mean that you are agreeing to one, too, so what about the $400 I gave you? They said I “broke my contract” by not having them fly me—and thus costing them money in increased fuel usage and attention by flight staff. If anything, I said, I saved you money.

But they would not relent. I kept asking: “What do I get for giving you $400?” They never would answer. They next claimed that it was I that was cheating them! How? Because my buying a round-trip ticket two months in advance was a way to avoid paying a higher one-way fare on the day of travel.

They acknowledged that I did in fact live in New York and that that strategy made no sense, but they insisted that I was trying to cheat them. I again asked what was I getting for the $400 I had already given them. They responded in two ways. The first was to offer to sell me, for roughly $600, a new ticket to New York. When I said that that was idiotic, they then threatened to have me arrested for causing a disturbance. They even called over the airport police. The policeman stood listening to us go back and forth, and thank God, he never seemed interested in arresting me for trying to get my money back.

After about twenty minutes of this, I left, exasperated. I went to the Continental counter and bought a ticket there (about $600, too).

I understand that some airlines attempt to use various complex pricing models to squeeze more money out of certain classes of passengers, but excessive reliance of these models can end up costing them more money than they make. Other airlines, JetBlue for instance, does fine without these oddities.

In any case, US Air is obviously staffed by inflexible, uncaring, heard-hearted half wits. Which is why they can only offer “free” upgrades after one of their planes crash.

13 Comments

  1. I’m not a big fan of US Airways either but keep in mind the pricing model they follow was pioneered by American Airlines when their CEO decided he wanted to differentiate between discresionary travelers and business travelers. Having stayed over saturday nights several times only to find my Sun AM flight cancelled (US Air by the way) and not getting home until Sunday night I decided that I’d avoid the legacy carriers, who bought into this pricing model hook line and sinker. Fortunately, I live 10 minutes from a Southwest hub. I look at the pricing policy pioneered by AA as nothing more than the airline charging you for your own time. In the long run, it turns out the jokes on them. US Air filed for bankrupcy twice and in fact, US Air is now just a re-branded American West Airline.

    Sean Wise

    P.S. Remember when US Airways advertised they had more take offs and landing than any other airline? As it turns out, each one of the take-offs and landings cost them a lot of money. The “most” category they championed turned out to be nothing more than a fundamental business flaw.

  2. Matt,

    I understand your frustration but almost all big companies have this rule. I discovered it the hard way myself.

    The flight-ticket you buy (most of the time non-refundable) it does say that is valid for one year but any time you try to make a change to such ticket you incur into a variable $150 rescheduling fee PLUS the price difference.

    However this happens only if you want to make a change prior to the departure or after a portion of the ticket has been used (say for the return flight having already used the departure).

    In case you want to use only the return having not shown up for the first flight the carrier will consider your flight void so at the best you can claim a credit (minus $150 re-booking fee) for a future flight over which you’ll still have to pay the difference. And you understand that the cheaper the flight the less economically sound this will be for you.

    In your case they would have, as they did, considered “void” your previous ticket so the only option for you would have been to buy a new ticket paying it their new price minus (your ticket price – $150 fee).

    Not to mention that if you buy the very same flight tickets via expedia, travelocity, horbiz,… then you lose even the small refund since the cancellation fees are always equivalent to the full ticket price.

    So, if you can, always buy an open ticket, a refundable one or business.
    And this is really upsetting…

    Marco

  3. US Air can’t be happy with this post, but I share the perception that the airline industry has become far too difficult on both them and their customers. One more example: Armed with a round trip ticket, my wife and I recently flew from Colorado to Philadelphia. The experience was so terrible, we drove back!

  4. The Hudson River incident was not a “crash”.

    I have no truck with commercial air anymore, an do not fly commercial unless there simply is no alternative.

    But you are irrational.

  5. As far as I know every major airline does this. FYI, picking up your flight at a connection city follows the same rules. If you want to buy an Atlanta to Chicago to Cincinnati ticket because it i somehow cheaper than the Chicago to Cinncinati flight alone, you cannot just get on the connecting flight in Chicago if you skipped the ATL-CHI leg of the trip.

  6. OOH don’t start me on airports and airlines!
    They are fertile grounds for frayed tempers and officious officials with silly hats and meaningless badges…but I still love flying. Mmm, the smell of the aircraft fuel.

    The US pilot deserves a knighthood for landing the plane safely on the water. It would have been a crash landing on any other surface. The company could just have written to each of the passengers and offered an apology,enticements for future flights, that’s in poor taste, they put their business first.

    How’s this for irrational!
    In New Delhi, I had words with a soldier.
    “Sit down!” he barked, totally unprovoked. There was only he and I in the large departure lounge, it was odd, as everywhere else was heaving with people. a night flight, so probably quieter because of this. Thought I was in the wrong place because no one else was there. The army seems to be in charge in airports in India; they think the public is also in the army.
    “Don’t speak to me like that,” I said, “I haven’t had a cup of tea for nine hours! And I’m very tired, and THAT kiosk over there wouldn’t take my credit card or an English ten pound note for a sixty rupee cup of coffee!” He was surprisingly unmoved.
    It was only after I sat down that it dawned on me that one should not argue with a man with a gun,even if he’s a soldier and has learnt how and where to point it.

    I’ve been told but don’t know how true it is, that buying an airline ticket is one of the only contracts wherein you are not actually guaranteed a seat on the plane.

    Easyjet in the UK employs students and staff with attitude. Their ethos is, you get what you pay for.
    When flying to Newcastle from Stansted there unfolded a series of brief encounters that I can only say would make an unbelievable sketch.
    “Excuse me,” says I, to the only staff member who seemed to be doing nothing and had no other customers at her desk, “which one is the queue for Newcastle please?
    “Over there!” said the lady in a day-glow orange suit, looking down at her desk, pointing into oblivion,
    “Where? Sorry, I can’t see where you’re pointing,”
    “Over there, look!”
    Where’s there? My eyes are bad, I can’t see that far.”
    “Behind the pillar”
    “Which pillar? There’s about three, do you mean the middle one?”
    “Look over there! And you’ll see it.”
    “But I can’t see properly,” This lady’s desk was empty, there was a sea of people queuing at all the other desks, I had thought since she was doing nothing she might spare the time to simply say which queue. ”why can’t you see it?”
    “I’m blind!”
    “Well in that case I can’t help you then.”
    I laughed, this was the funniest thing I’d heard in ages, fabulous!
    I wasn’t asking her to restore my sight, I was asking which was the queue for Newcastle!
    A passenger that was nearby and couldn’t possibly have heard without lip reading our conversation came over, leaving her place in the queue and walked with me to the Newcastle queue (about 30 ft away.)
    I could just pay a man with a small plane to fly me up to Newcastle! Some people fly very tiny commercial planes from Stansted. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. No luck, I had to go with Easyjet. The afternoon’s series of nonsense culminated in my finally losing it with the stewardess after my being told to move from my seat because I would not be clever enough to work the emergency door handle! I refused to move from my seat. The girl said,
    “You’ll have to move, company policy states that you are not allowed to sit there.”
    “I am perfectly capable of working a door handle” I said, “they let me operate difficult door handles at work and at home.”
    “You’ll have to move, company policy.”
    “It’s okay, I’ll help her” said a cute guy next to me and that I hadn’t noticed until then, which only strengthened my resolve to stay put.
    “You’ve just told us you can’t see”
    “Yes, and now I’m telling you that I CAN see to work a door handle”
    “Well read that”, she said, pointing to a sign with about three words on it in large print that I couldn’t see!
    “No.” I said, “now you’re just being rude.”
    “I’m not moving…” ”
    (I moved, I needed to get to Newcastle more than I needed to make the point and so did the other passengers.

  7. It’s price discrimination (value capture). You ought to at least be able to arbitrage the ticket, imho. a reseller market would eliminate this silliness.

  8. We have had this issue in Australia too. I purchased a round-Australia ticket for my elderly mother so she could visit all her relatives but almost lost it when I decided to drive her on one of the legs. After a lot of talking and in view of her age the airline agreed to waive the cancellation of the ticket on this occasion.

  9. I’m with Larry (except for the “irrational” slur). I do not fly. I thereby avoid metal detectors, gropings, airport bathrooms, airline food, claustrophobia, terrorist-phobia, jet fuel, takeoffs, landings, airline movies, airline germs, airport parking, and all that stuff.

    I drive, or walk, or stay home. I love my little farm. I never want to go anywhere, except to the mailbox and hardly that. It is safe here, with solitude, greenery, comfort, beauty, dogs, cats, chickens, a doting wife, and everything I could ever want. Phooey on air travel.

  10. Hmmm…

    ooO (insert a cartoon speech bubble here.) “I consulted the oracle; it told me that the pilot drank two glasses of wine for dinner one week before and didn’t sleep a full 9 hours the night before the flight. It’s the pilot’s fault, and I shall sue for more compensation.”

    The cold air outside is quite refreshing. Hey, I am still alive. Ooh, darn, I am not one of the passengers aboard the “splashed” jet.

  11. I might also point out that coupons for a flight upgrade is a particularly cheap recompense as it is unlikely that most of those people will never again venture upon a commercial airplane again, and certainly not make a habit of it.

  12. Reminds me of a joke that did the email circuit a while ago:

    Paint Buying Airline Style

    First, a summary of how ordinary hardware stores sell their paint…

    Customer: Hi. How much is your paint?

    Clerk: We have regular quality paint for $18 a gallon and premium paint for $25. How many gallons would you like?

    Customer: Five gallons of regular paint please.

    Clerk: Great. That will be $90 plus tax.

    Now, imagine you are buying paint from any full-fare airline in the world.

    First you spend days trying to reach them by phone to ask if they have paint. Nobody answers. So you drive to their store, and the conversation goes something like this…

    Customer: Hi. How much is your paint?

    Clerk: Well, sir, that depends on quite a lot of things.

    Customer: Can you give me a guess? Is there an average price?

    Clerk: Our lowest price is $12 a gallon, and we have 60 different prices up to $200 a gallon.

    Customer: What’s the difference in the paint?

    Clerk: Oh, there isn’t any difference; it’s all the same paint.

    Customer: Well, then I’d like some of that $12 paint.

    Clerk: When do you intend to use the paint?

    Customer: I want to paint tomorrow. It’s my day off.

    Clerk: Sir, the paint for tomorrow is the $200 paint.

    Customer: When would I have to paint to get the $12 paint?

    Clerk: You would have to start very late at night in about 3 weeks. But you will have to agree to start painting before Friday of that week and continue painting until at least Sunday.

    Customer: You’ve got to be kidding!

    Clerk: I’ll check and see if we have any paint available.

    Customer: You have shelves FULL of paint! I can see it!

    Clerk: But it doesn’t mean that we have paint available. We sell only a certain number of gallons on any given weekend. Oh, and by the way, the price per gallon just went to $16. We don’t have any more $12 paint.

    Customer: The price went up as we were talking?

    Clerk: Yes, sir. We change the prices and rules hundreds of times a day, and since you haven’t actually walked out of the store with your paint yet, we just decided to change. I suggest you purchase your paint as soon as possible. How many gallons do you want?

    Customer: Well, maybe five gallons. Make that six, so I’ll have enough.

    Clerk: Oh no, sir, you can’t do that. If you buy paint and don’t use it, there are penalties and possible confiscation of the paint you already have.

    Customer: WHAT?

    Clerk: We can sell enough paint to do your kitchen, bathroom, hall and north bedroom, but if you stop painting before you do the bedroom, you will lose your remaining gallons of paint.

    Customer: What does it matter whether I use all the paint? I already paid you for it!

    Clerk: We make plans based upon the idea that all our paint is used, every drop. If you don’t, it causes us all sorts of problems.

    Customer: This is crazy!! I suppose something terrible happens if I don’t keep painting until after Saturday night!

    Clerk: Oh yes! Every gallon you bought automatically becomes the $200 paint.

    Customer: But what are all these “Paint on sale from $10 a gallon” signs?

    Clerk: Well, that’s for our budget paint. It only comes in half-gallons.

    One $5 half-gallon will do half a room. The second half-gallon to complete the room is $20. None of the cans have labels, some are empty and there are no refunds, even on the empty cans.

    Customer: To hell with this! I’ll buy what I need somewhere else!

    Clerk: I don’t think so, sir. You may be able to buy paint for your bathroom and bedrooms and your kitchen and dining room from someone else, but you won’t be able to paint your connecting hall and stairway from anyone but us. And I should point out sir, that if you paint in only one direction, it will be $300 a gallon.

    Customer: I thought your most expensive paint was $200!

    Clerk: That’s if you paint around the room to the point at which you started. A hallway is different.

    Customer: And if I buy $200 paint for the hall, but only paint in one direction, you’ll confiscate the remaining paint?

    Clerk: No, we’ll charge you an extra use fee plus the difference On your next gallon of paint. But I believe you’re getting it now, sir.

    Customer: You’re insane!

    Clerk: Thanks for painting with us … next person in the line, please.

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