Hello from Kennebunkport, Maine. I finally made it up last night after getting caught in the weather/atc issues that were affecting most of the Northeast yesterday. Lady Astrojets and I were traveling separately and planned to meet in Portland, Maine (PWM) around 5pm yesterday, alas, it was not to be.
She’s here for a work function, and I’m tagging along because…well…I could. Since I was paying for my ticket, and I had Friday off, I took an earlier flight Reagan National (DCA) with a connection to PWM in La Guardia (LGA) yesterday. Hey.. in retrospect, it wasn’t worth the $70 bucks I saved…but still…. $70 bucks is $70 bucks, right?
Things started harmlessly enough yesterday morning. I checked in just over an hour ahead of the 10am shuttle to LGA. We decided that I would bring our checked bag with the special non-explosive shaving cream. Flight departed right on time at 10am. No announcements were made in the gate area regarding the existing ATC delays in and out of La Guardia, but I was prepared. One, I booked on Orbitz, and received an e-mail advising me that there was a ground delay program for LGA in effect, and two, I checked the Federal Aviation Administration’s very handy website: http://www.fly.faa.gov/ at the airport which shows current air traffic control conditions for several major airports around the country. Check it out, and add that url to your “Favorites” list, because you will use it if you travel any at all.
Well, we pushed back from the gate and started taxiing towards the north end of the airfield. That indicates a problem since all the airplanes that are actually taking off doing so from the south end of the field. We parked beside what was probably the 9:30am Delta Shuttle and shut down the engines. Captain came on and said there would be an update at 10:30am. Five minutes later, engines start and the Captain came back on and said that sometimes good things do happen and we’d been released for takeoff. We scurried down the other end of the airport and we were off.
Weather was rainy in New York, but we only landed about 20 minutes late. Airplanes were lined up on every taxiway. Not good. In any event, I was half way to Portland finally, so I headed for the US Airways Club to camp out for a few minutes prior to my flight. The display monitors all indicated an on-time departure. I checked usairways.com, which also indicated an on-time departure. It also showed that the first leg of the flight that I was connecting to originated in Richmond, and had departed a few minutes late, and would arrive 7 minutes late. Looking good so far.
At the gate, the agent is looking for 6 volunteers as the flight is now oversold. I thought about it, but the only option they had for Portland wasn’t until 6pm, and there was no way I intended to spend that much time in La Guardia on purpose. The agent also announced that we had an airplane, but no crew as they were inbound from Richmond..the originating point of our flight. Well, here’s where things got fuzzy because it started out with the crew will be here in 10 minutes and we will depart on-time and deteriorated rapidly to the crew is still in Richmond where they are waiting to take off, and we have a new estimated time of departure of 2pm! This wouldn’t be so funny if there were 4 pilots standing there waiting to deadhead to Portland, 2 of which were supposed to fly the very airplane were flying on back from Portland that afternoon. Now…. there’s all kinds of not so obvious variables with crew scheduling that might make this look a little goofy, but that I understand, so I will refrain from complaining about why the airline, US Airways Express operated by Chautauqua Airlines didn’t do the obviously smart thing. But still frustrating nonetheless.
Oh well…it’s raining, and it’s La Guardia. I don’t need to say anything else. I trekked back up to the US Airways Club for a Diet Coke and some pretzels. Within 5 minutes of sitting down, the front desk paged any passengers on 3068 to Portland to come up to the desk. I knew this wasn’t going to be good. Sure enough, the flight had cancelled. That they would cancel an oversold flight on Friday afternoon at the drop of a hat is surprising to me….and not. Oh well. Anyways… the front desk started working on my reservation, and asked if I had a checked bag, unfortunately I did. There were no flights to Portland with any seats until 8:30pm. Time now, 1:15pm!! That wasn’t going to cut it. The agent asked if there were any alternative cities I’d consider, so I suggested Boston. Sure enough, there were seats on the 3pm shuttle, so I said grab them. The agent dutifully processed a baggage change order to re-route my bag to Boston. Anyone see the irony there? 🙂 I suggested that my bag was probably on the 11:50am flight to Portland (it would’ve had time to make that flight), but was met with a puzzled look. In any event, I was rebooked, had an aisle seat to Boston and was # 1 on the upgrade list. Things weren’t so bad, but I knew there was not a snowball’s chance in hell that my bag would meet me in Boston.
The 3pm shuttle arrived late, but boarded early and we pushed back 5 minutes ahead of schedule so we could acquire the 40th position in line for takeoff. (I posted from my PDA when we hit # 30 (see below)). It took 1 hour and 20 minutes, but we eventually made it to the takeoff position and launched. My upgrade had cleared so at least I was sitting in a big seat for all of this. Unfortunately, the flight attendants didn’t appear in the aisle for the entire flight as the Captain had asked that they remain seated due to the choppy weather. It was choppy but certainly not that choppy. But I digress. In any event, this particular Boston based US Airways crew wasn’t that great. But they did manage a pre-departure beverage service for the whole cabin even during the rushed boarding. (AA, are you listening?)
After all the issues getting off the ground, to think that we only landed 45 minutes late is a minor miracle I think, but that’s exactly what happened. Rather than head to baggage claim, I elected to remain inside security and camp out at the US Airways Club to wait for Lady Astrojets. You see…during all my drama, her nonstop from DCA to Portland wound up oversold. She volunteered to be bumped and was rebooked to Boston so we could drive up to Kennebunkport together. Her 5pm US Airways Shuttle from DCA landed only 2 hours late!
I had proceeded outside security to baggage claim when I was sure her airplane was actually on it’s way so I could begin dealing with bags. Upon arriving there, the results of the day were obvious. There was a fairly large selection of unclaimed luggage to choose from. Unfortunately, none of those bags were mine. I went to the desk and was assisted by a gentleman who was helpful enough and not as snarly as a lot of baggage agents are. Perhaps because I was not snarly to him, but more than likely his natural demeanor. He took one look at my claim check and told me that the bag was probably in Portland (which had been my guess). Unfortunately, no one had bothered to update the computer with the whereabouts of my bag, so it was officially missing in action. He processed my claim quickly enough and said that Portland would ship the bag straight to our hotel. I have no doubt that if this gentleman were running things, that would probably happen. But unfortunately, he wasn’t running things, and I knew better.
We picked up the rental car and headed north. While she drove, I got on the phone with the US Airways Chairman’s Preferred Desk. Something told me that I might need their help on this trip so I elected to credit this flight to my US Airways account, and not my United Mileage Plus account. Turns out that I was right. You see, one little benefit of top tier elite status on US Airways is you have access to what I think may be the very best cadre of reservations agents on the planet who answer only calls from US Airways Chairman’s Preferred members. Not only can they handle standard reservations calls…they can also look at baggage tracer information. The helpful agent I got put me on hold and called the baggage service offices in Boston and in Portland. No bag in Boston, we knew that, but she checked again anyway. But Portland? Well..trouble is, they didn’t answer the phone. She was apologetic, but I knew she’d done all she could. I would spend the night with only the clothes I had on.
I’m not what most folks would consider rich, but suffice it to say that I can afford a new tooth brush. That is…if there is a store open where one can be purchased. Rule # 1 of traveling to Kennebunkport, be aware that it shuts down at 9pm. No toothbrush.
We set the alarm for 7am so I could get up and start calling. Of course, my baggage file still had not been updated. Translation: “we are uncertain where your bag is.” Lady Astrojets and I talked about driving to the Portland airport last night, but were just too tired to deal with it. Not now. Off we went. It’s about a 30 mile drive from Kennebunkport, and we were there in short order. Of course, no one was at the baggage service office, but there sure was a pile of bags locked up in there, but alas, I couldn’t see mine. We went down to the ticket counter, where the very nice lady who appeared to be on a second retirement job seemed surprised that no one was in the office. She went back behind the ticket counter to find the agent that was supposed to be working baggage. While she was there, another customer came in and immediately recongnized the piece of paper I had in my hand. She said…oh..looking for your bag too, huh? Ha! Our agent friend returned and said that the baggage agent would be down there shortly, so we headed back to the baggage office.
After 10 minutes, a gentleman showed up and unlocked the door. The other customer’s bag was waiting for her, so now it was my turn. I walked in, looked around, and immediately spotted my bag burried under two others. It had been untouched since its arrival (I suspect sometime yesterday afternoon). It’s bright red “Star Alliance Priority” bag tag that was placed on it by US Airways at check-in the day before immediately distinguishable from the others. No one had taken the time to update the “on hand” list that it was just sitting there unclaimed. The agent verified my name on the bag, and I left with it. He didn’t bother to collect anything else from me. I really don’t think he was the normal baggage person. As of now, I have my bag, but US Airways still has an open tracer on it and the little computer voice they make you speak to for baggage service still says that they have not determined the whereabouts of my bag. Nice….
Fortunately, I have the benefit of a few years of airline experience, half of which was in airport operations and Customer service. I’ve seen this before. And I knew that if a bag is tagged to a destination, that’s probably where it is going to eventually wind up, baggage change orders, involuntary re-routes, etc. aside. If I had waited for US Airways to do its job on this, I’d probably still be in yesterday’s clothes, and I am not pleased. Yes, they will hear this story.
You’ll note that I’ve not once complained about a cancellation or delay. I am complaining about a lack of attention to detail when it comes to treating your Customers right. I might have gotten the best service in the air one can get yesterday, but in the end, it won’t matter. All I will remember is not brushing my teeth for 24 hours. And not once did anyone bother to say I’m sorry. It is someone’s job to process unclaimed bags. I know they are busier than they used to be with all the additional bags that are being checked, and I know that there are far fewer employees to deal with these kinds of issues. But come on! That bag had been there a while as evidenced by its unceremonial burial under all the other bags. There is no excuse for its not being delivered to me last night. US Airways could’ve done a better job, and I will be sharing this story with them with the expectation of some form of an apology for the time they have stolen from Lady Astrojets and myself this weekend.
Update (10/5/2006): I did fax a letter to US Airways regarding my experience on this trip. Today, I received a response along with what I feel to be adequate compensation for our troubles on 9/15/2006. This was a pretty fast response, and I do appreciate that. So kudos to US Airways for turning my complaint around in a timely manner.