Regular listeners of the podcast know that there is no love lost with US Airways. For any number of reasons there are valid reasons for it but against my better judgement I decided to give them a try for a mileage run this past weekend.
My run this weekend started in Chicago and the destination was Spokane. The routing I purchased was Chicago->Phoenix->Spokane->Phoenix->San Francisco->United. When I purchased the itinerary, the last two segments were on US Airways codeshare flights, operated by United.
The first part of the trip was uneventful, which is always a good thing when flying. Upon checking-in at Chicago, I was given boarding passes for my flights to Spokane and figured I would get the rest of the boarding passes in Spokane.
Being this was my first visit to Spokane, I decided to walk around the airport and explore, this lasted all of about ten minutes given the size of the airport. After my quick walk and a quick bite to eat, I ventured to the gate and asked the agent if she could reprint my boarding passes and voila. But, wait. I only had boarding passes to San Francisco and was missing my last boarding pass. No worries, I'll deal with it in Phoenix.
Upon arrival into PHX, I venture over to the customer service counter and ask them to print my boarding pass. They tell me that they can't because "United has control of the ticket". I found this strange as it's a US ticket and US flight number, hmmm. Let's try online check-in, nope, that's a big fail. I know, lets try the club, still no luck. At this point I start to worry a bit. You see, when US changed my flights around, they took my two hour connection to 39 minutes. While I've made connections in far less than 39 minutes in SFO, the challenge was that I needed to change terminals and reclear security thanks to the schedule changes.
I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to make the connection since I still needed to check-in and the last flight looked like it was oversold. So, I decided to call United and after spending a good 90 minutes with them, had no resolution. In the end, they said it's a US ticket and that is where the problem lies. Additionally, US forgot to update the ticket number with United when it was reissued. The United agents really did try and were helpful, but in the end it appeared it was a US problem.
After getting off the phone, I decided to try a different customer service counter hoping I could find someone helpful. The last agent I worked with was the most helpful, she genuinely tried and called support with no luck. (All the other agents just tried to print out the boarding pass and when it failed shrugged their shoulders, this one at least tried to figure out why).
By this point, it was time to board so I decided to chance it. By the time I got to the gate boarding was ending, but no worries, all the other FAs were holding bins for First class passengers. I get on the plane to find out there is no space and encounter quite the surly Flight attendant.
The FA tells me I absolutely need to check my bag so I explain my situation and he directs me to the back of the cabin. I again explain to him how his airline was the one that has caused my screwup, his airline is the one that can't print out a boarding pass for a ticket they sold me, that his airline is the reason I will misconnect in San Francisco and that I would really appreciate that he work with me.
He outright refused and at this point the gate agent boarded the aircraft. I explained to the gate agent that the only chance I had of making my connection was if i was one of the first off the plane and ran. I couldn't check luggage as my destination was Chicago and on to Newark and since I wasn't checked-in for my next flight, that wasn't an option. The FA, being as rude as he was, just insisted that there was nothing he could do and I just told the GA to take me off the flight and get me home.
At the counter, I explain to the agent that I'm going to Chicago and then on to Newark and that it is imperative I be in Newark by the morning for a meeting. The agent said the best he could do is get me to Chicago, 9 1/2 hours after I was supposed to get there. I asked that he have United endore my ticket over and fly me direct on Newark since the Continental flight still had seats and I could still make it. He refused and completely ignored the Star Alliance rule to honor fellow Star member's tickets. The agent said I would need to talk to customer service at this point as there was nothing he could do.
At this point, I gave up and just bought a ticket on Continental myself with the intention of dealing with this later. (And for the record, the Continental flight was great. The agents managed to get me a window seat and it was uneventful and staffed with people who actually know about customer service.)
A few days later I decided to call Customer Relations, as the gate agent had suggested. A quick call to reservations asking to be transferred to Customer Relations resulted in a "they have no phone numbers, you have to write or email them". I found this ludicrous and clearly it's indicative of how awful their customer service really is. After a bit of pressing, I was given a phone number that I called and ended up in a voice mail. The voice mail committed to returning phone calls on the same day if received during business hours. Great, it's within business hours and I will hear back. No dice. A few days later I decided to fill out their online form for a call, still no dice. Finally, four days after the initial contact I received a call.
I explained the situation to the agent, Fred, and while getting an apology, he stood by that US did no wrong. He insisted that US can not issue boarding passes for codeshare flights and when I challenged him why I was able to do that in the past, he had no response and went back to "we can't print out boarding passes for code share flights". Never mind the fact that the agents at the airport said they could, never mind the fact that they tried and were stumped that it wasn't working this time. Fred offered me a discount voucher which I turned down as I have no need for it.
So, now the fun begins. It's obvious to me that US has failed in their part of delivering me to my destination within a fair amount of time. During my investigation, I learned that US Airways forced an illegal connection when the ticket was rebooked, according to United the minimum connection time is 50 minutes and the 39 minute connection was clearly illegal. (I actually had to explain to Fred how 39 was less than 50. he insisted that I had more time. Seriously, no joke.)
At this point my next actions are:
- Dispute the charge with my credit card company and providing all the neccesary documentation
- File a Department of Transportation complaint
- Contacting Star Alliance about this expeirence, demonstrating how US Airways ignored Star Alliance policies and how it brings down the entire alliance. (For the record, I have Star Gold status from three different carriers)
- A trip to small claims court. For those keeping track, I expect them to refund part of my US Airways ticket given that they failed in delivering me to my destination and I also feel they need to cover the cost of the walk-up ticket.
I tried to settle this reasonably, but they told me to pound sand and clearly attempted to refuse to take any responsibility. So, clearly based on this experience, our collective opinion of US AIrways was valid and continues to be.
As this develops, I'll be sure to share about it here.