America West Letter #2

Marc J. Zeitlin
P.O. Box 1103
Mojave, CA 93502
July 2, 2006

 Mr. W. Douglas Parker
Chairman, President and CEO
US Airways Group, Inc.
111 West Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281

Re:    America West Airlines Flights 6330/6320 - terrible (and I do mean terrible) airline performance on June 23rd /24th, 2006 and again on flight 879 on July 1st, 2006

Dear Mr. Parker:

I realize that you must be inundated by complaint letters from disappointed, discomfited and inconvenienced travelers who mistakenly booked flights on your airline, but you may remember me from my letter of January 3rd, 2006 – barely five months ago - in which I apprised you of the miserable performance of your airline on two flights.  Against my better judgment, which was screaming at me to never have anything to do with either AWA or US Airways again, I reluctantly accepted two $100 vouchers from AWA (in lieu of the $812.50 I had billed AWA) as compensation for wasting 6.5 hours of our time.  I’ve attached a copy of that letter to refresh your memory.

Apparently, things have gone from bad to worse at AWA. My family and I arrived at Bakersfield airport 1.5 hours prior to flight #6330’s scheduled departure time of 9:10 PM PDT on June 23rd, 2006. When we got to the ticket counter line to check our bags, we were soon informed that the aircraft was “delayed” until 11:15 PM due to mechanical problems.  Since we were scheduled to catch a 10:57 PM connection in Las Vegas to Boston, this delay would ensure that we would miss it.  The agents at the counter re-booked the four of us on two different flights – my son and nephew on a Delta flight, leaving Bakersfield at 6:10 AM the next morning, and my wife and I on an AWA flight, leaving at 6:35 AM the next morning (June 24th, 2006). They gave us hotel vouchers for the evening at a nearby hotel. Two flights were necessary, since no single flight had four seats open.

After waking up at 4:30 AM, we got to the airport at 5:00 AM to check in for the two flights.  Not surprisingly, Delta efficiently processed my son and nephew, getting them on the flight which left on time to Salt Lake City, connecting to Boston.

AWA, however, was another story, albeit one to which we were becoming accustomed (as were many of the other passengers we spoke to during the previous evening and the next morning).  Apparently, the aircraft with mechanical difficulties never got fixed, never made it to Bakersfield, or was held up by airport repairs (the excuses were running hot and heavy – giving the passengers the same story twice is clearly not something in which AWA agents are trained). We were informed that our 6:35 AM flight (#6320) was ALSO cancelled due to one or more of the aforementioned issues and that our only choice (since the Delta flight that my son/nephew were on was overbooked) was to take a 12:30 PM flight (#6225) through Phoenix to Boston.  Two for two – AWA was on a roll.

We rebooked on that flight (as there was no other choice), and were told that we would get into Boston at approximately 11:15 PM on the evening of June 24th – a full 16 hours after our original arrival time. We asked at the counter for hotel vouchers for the night of the 24th, since I was not going to begin a three hour drive to our vacation spot after having had only 4 hours of sleep in the previous 40 hours, and was told that they had “run out of vouchers” (meaning the actual pieces of paper – they weren’t refusing to put us up in a hotel – they were UNABLE to do so due to the lack of paper slips).

Anyway, we went back to our hotel room in Bakersfield to wait for the 12:30 PM flight. We ate breakfast and I then started making phone calls to your Customer Service department to attempt to get hotel vouchers for Boston. After waiting on hold for 45 minutes (being told every minute or so that “your call is important to us” – just not quite important enough to actually answer, since all of the insufficient number of representatives were busy), my call was dropped. I had to call back and wait another 45 minutes, hearing just how important my call was to you the whole time. The concept of “irony” is apparently lost on AWA.

After finally getting through to someone (supposedly a supervisor) at the 1-800-363-2542 Customer Service number who would only give her name as “Judy” (claiming that she was the only “Judy” there), I was told that she could not authorize hotel vouchers for us, but that she could give us a FAX number, to which we could send our hotel receipts for “consideration”. This was not an acceptable solution.

Since AWA was not helping us out, I made reservations at the Boston Logan Airport Hyatt Hotel for one room with two beds – be thankful that I was not out to screw AWA in the same manner AWA have been doing to us, by booking two $329/night rooms, only one. I took a room at the hotel closest to the airport, so that I would not have to stay up any later than necessary, and to ensure that my son and nephew (who, you might remember, Delta had ensured would arrive in Boston 6.5 hours before us) could easily get to the hotel.

After arriving at Bakersfield airport for the third (and we fervently hoped, last, time) I attempted once more to get the counter agent to give us hotel vouchers for Boston, but they had not managed to find any voucher slips in the previous five hours and were completely clueless as to what we should do next regarding housing for the evening of the 24th.

We then boarded AWA flight #6225 for Phoenix, which did manage to take off only 25 minutes late, putting us in minor jeopardy of missing our connection in Phoenix. I was not too worried though, since we were connecting to another AWA flight and it was extremely unlikely that it would depart on time, if at all. We did have the positive experience of having seats on the aircraft (a CRJ-900) which were marginally more comfortable than uncut granite, so it wasn’t a total loss. We did, finally, get into Phoenix only about 15 minutes late and connected with flight #824 without a major hassle. The coach seats that we were in on the A320 aircraft had a bit of padding left in them, so the threat of Deep Vein Thrombosis during the five hour flight was ameliorated somewhat.

We arrived safely in Boston around 11:10 PM, and promptly found that our luggage had not. Delta, handling my son and nephew, had managed not only to get them to Boston on time, but their luggage too!  Imagine that. We were told by the surly baggage service folks that the three pieces of luggage were most probably still in Phoenix, but there was really no way to know. The baggage service folks were not able to explain why they bother putting individually identifiable tags on each piece of luggage, with bar codes and identifying numbers, but don’t actually scan them when the bags are checked in or loaded on the plane so that AWA would actually be able to TRACK them. We were told to check back around 8 AM the next morning (so it turned out to be convenient that we were staying at the airport Hyatt – only 5 minutes away) to see if the bags had arrived on the morning flight from Phoenix to Boston.

Mr. Parker, after the aforementioned experiences, I’m not sure you’re going to be able to identify with exactly how pleased I was (nor how surprised I was at being pleased) at the small favor of the three checked bags actually being at the baggage service center at Logan Airport on the morning of the 25th at about 9 AM when my wife and I took the shuttle service from the Hyatt to the terminal to check for them. You should, at this point, be able to understand how I might have fully expected to be told that they were either still in Phoenix (a woman we met in the line in Bakersfield had been trying to have a bag shipped to her friend in Philadelphia for three days, without any luck, after being told that it was on it’s way each of the three days) or had erroneously been sent to Schenectady, NY, or possibly even were still sitting on the counter at Bakersfield.  Who could know?

Finally, 27 hours late, we were on our way – in Boston, with all of our luggage and most of our wits.

After a nice vacation my wife and I headed back to Boston for our flight to Bakersfield through Las Vegas (this time, my son and nephew were not traveling with us). Upon arriving at the airport after dropping off our rental car, we were told at the America West ticket counter that (wait for it – wait for it – savor the anticipation) our flight (#879) was going to be an hour late (crew problems, mechanical problems, etc. – the standard America West rash of excuses, some of which conflicted with the others) and that because of this we would miss our connection in Las Vegas to Bakersfield.

To use a sports metaphor, I suppose AWA had left the 10 pin standing last weekend (_I_ hadn’t thought so, but hey, apparently I’m not the official scorer), but had just picked up the spare (that’s a blue collar reference to bowling – I don’t know the appropriate golf analogy). We were told that we could not be put in a hotel in Las Vegas (apparently the World Series of Poker or some such had sucked up all the rooms), so we would have to stay in Boston for the night. The Boston ticket counter did, in fact, have an adequate supply of hotel vouchers, so we didn’t have an issue getting into the airport Hilton. We were rebooked on a flight through Phoenix (we were told) to Bakersfield, that left at 9:10 AM on the next morning (July 2nd, 2006).

The next morning arrived bright and early, but to our chagrin the airport Dunkin Donuts right across from the AWA counter was not willing to honor the breakfast voucher AWA had provided the previous evening – after contacting DD’s manager on the phone, he claimed to have been stiffed the last three days for non-payment due to AWA putting the wrong date on the vouchers.  Hey - what’s another $10 between friends?  The president of Dunkin Donuts will be getting a letter about that, but maybe the next time you’re on the golf course with him you could mention that you’ve heard there are issues that need addressing. And you might want to instruct your accounting department to pay the bills.

Not able to use the AWA meal voucher, we purchased some breakfast and headed off through security to the gate, at which we discovered that although there was a non-stop flight to Phoenix, we had been booked on a flight that stopped in Las Vegas before heading to Phoenix, where we would theoretically pick up our connection to Bakersfield. I suppose that since AWA was only going to have one (or at most two) more shots at screwing up our flight, having the maximum number of stops at which to accomplish it would make the task easier. At any rate, since a direct, non-stop flight to Phoenix was leaving Boston at 9:50 AM, we had the gate agent rebook us on that flight (#824) and pull our checked bags from the Vegas/Phoenix flight to the Phoenix direct flight.

Just to let you know, the only really knowledgeable and helpful AWA employee we came into contact with over the course of our 10 day adventure was that particular gate agent, who just gave her name as “Julie in Boston”. Please, make her executive VP in charge of operations, and take the rest of your so-called management staff out back and beat them senseless (senseless, in respect to “having some sense”, as opposed to “one or more of the five senses”, although that assumes some innate sentience, none of which has been demonstrated as of yet, so I suppose the “senseless” part of the beating would have to be purely on faith).

We then waited at the gate in Boston for the next surprise failure of an AWA system, aircraft, procedure, or employee, but were rewarded with an uneventful flight to Phoenix. Although we were told when re-booking the previous evening that we would have a “couple” of hours layover in Phoenix, actually we had a 4.5 hour layover. More time wasted – the previous night’s layover was supposed to be 41 minutes.

While waiting for flight #6332 to leave Phoenix for Bakersfield we were informed that this flight was overbooked and that AWA would be looking for two passengers to volunteer to stay behind for a later flight. We passed on that particular opportunity to correct another AWA systems error. We finally arrived in Bakersfield after a 17 hour delay, disruption of our plans and schedule, and inconvenience.

I will say, though, that the operant conditioning program that AWA has implemented for it’s customers is working reasonably well – we were not at all surprised by the second set of inconveniences and delays, nor did it hurt quite as much as the first time.

So, explain something to me, if you will. Are you guys freaking joking? Do you actually believe that this kind of service will allow you to avoid bankruptcy? Mr. Parker, I realize that you personally will get your “golden parachute” severance package no matter what happens to the airline (unlike the workers who will merely lose their jobs and whatever measly pensions you might have, at one time, promised them) and that you never have to experience these types of massive inconveniences that screw up people’s vacations, business, travel and lives, but assuming that you do - in some small way - care just the tiniest bit about the customers that your company purports to serve, how can you allow this type of incompetent management to continue?

Mr. Parker, I know that AWA’s normal mode of reimbursing their innumerable inconvenienced passengers is to give them discounted travel vouchers, as you did for us the last time AWA screwed us over (see the previous letter). However, on this occasion I have substantial out of pocket expenses. I expect to be reimbursed in cash for those expenses, which were solely and wholly due to AWA’s incompetence and mismanagement. AWA must write us a check for every cent of our out of pocket expenses (hotel, parking, extra meals, etc.), as well as for the missed day of Cape Cod motel room rental, the missed day of Alamo car rental (since I paid for these but did not use them) and $4,260 for our time and aggravation ($30/hr. for each of 4 people for the first 27 lost hours, and another $30/hr. for each of 2 people for the second 17 hour delay). The itemized list of expenses follows:

Lost Time: $4,260.00
Cape Cod Motel day: $171.43
Alamo Car Rental Day: $44.35
Hotel (Hyatt): $502.24
Parking (BFL): $8.00
Breakfast (DD replacement): $5.43
Total: $4,991.45

While $30/hr. might sound like a lot, it is only ~1/30th of your 2005 hourly salary compensation, and only ~1/86th of your 2005 hourly total compensation. Hardly seems out of line, when viewed in that light.

Although my current desire is to never interact with either AWA or US Airways in any capacity whatsoever ever again, I believe that everyone deserves a chance to make good. Along those lines, I will also accept five each (for my wife and myself) round trip tickets, first class, good for five years (One for each of us for each of the next five years). This will give AWA/US Airways the opportunity to prove to us that they actually do have the capacity to operate similarly to real airlines, and convince us that we should, in fact, use your services in the future. Although better still would be five each round trip tickets on another airline.

More important than the money, Mr. Parker, is the fact that I lost almost two out of the fourteen vacation days that I get in a year – days that I was expecting to spend with my extended family, or relaxing at home – but instead, spent it in a hotel room in Bakersfield or waiting on line to rebook cancelled flights, or in a hotel room in Boston, or waiting around airports. This, you can never make up. But since money is the only currency that we seem to have in common (competence, caring, customer service clearly NOT being held in common), it is the only thing for which I can ask to attempt to make up for the inconvenience, time loss, and exceptional aggravation accrued in having to deal with your sad excuse for an airline.

I await my reimbursement check and first class travel vouchers.

Thank you.


Marc J. Zeitlin

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Last Updated: July 03, 2006