I'm perhaps one of the easier air travellers for airlines to deal with. Delays don't phase me much, I'm relentlessly pleasant to airline staff, crack jokes, volunteer to be 'bumped' off flights and work on being the model passenger.
However, although I've flown on everything from Lloyd Aereo Boliviano to Air Vanuatu, from London City Airways to Air Sahara, I've finally found an airline that has reduced me to the normal exasperated state of American air travellers. Stand up and take a bow, US Airways.
My journey to the US last Wednesday was irritating in numerous small ways. The priority baggage tags that my Star Alliance Gold status entitles me to weren't added, the seats on the Airbus A330 were cramped, they charge you for headsets, but I did get to Philadelphia on time.
At Philadelphia, my golf umbrella, which they had insisted I check in the hold, was missing, and I was initially refused access to their frequent flyer lounge in New York because I wasn't flying Envoy Class. Alright, so their own guidance says that Star Alliance Gold passengers with a same day international ticket are wholly entitled to use their lounges, but this is clearly beyond their staff's comprehension.
At least they let me in eventually to kill the extra hour awarded to me by the cancellation of my flight to Washington due to operational difficulties, a fact that was only vouchsafed to me when I arrived in New York, despite the fact that I had been in their hands for the past ten hours. It is interesting to note that the subsequent flight had plenty of empty seats, leading me to presume that they really couldn't be bothered to run the earlier one. My umbrella did reach me eventually, somewhat the worse for wear, but it did reach me.
Washington to New York went without incident, although I once again didn't get priority luggage tags...
The fun really started on the journey home. I arrived at La Guardia to be told that my connecting flight from Washington to Philadelphia had been cancelled for weather related reasons, and that US Airways would find a way of getting me home. Unfortunately, they assigned this task to Abelardo, who suffers from the misfortune of having English as a second language (or maybe third, it was hard to tell). I woud ask questions or make suggestions, and in return he would either ignore them, or answer questions that I hadn't asked.
At one point, he offered to try and put me on a British Airways flight. I pointed out that I needed the qualifying miles to maintain my Gold status and he said that I would get miles on British Airways. On being advised by me that British Airways is in One World, a completely different alliance, he seemed genuinely surprised. However, it was eventually decided that I would need to stay in New York overnight, fly down to Charlotte the next afternoon, and fly home on the evening flight from there.
My only problem was a hotel room, and being aware that airlines have arrangements with local hotels for stranded passengers, I asked for information, to be given a piece of paper explaining to any hotel what they should do. I wasn't initially told which hotel(s) to call, but eventually obtained three telephone numbers of hotels that all turned out to be full.
I therefore returned to the desk, and spoke to Kyle, who was remarkably friendly and helpful. We eventually agreed that I would fly to Charlotte that evening, and find a hotel room there. Still no priority luggage tags though... I caught the flight, but then spent more than three hours sitting on the tarmac, waiting for an electrical storm to clear. I won't blame US Airways for this, tempting though it might be... and eventually arrived in Charlotte at 1.15 a.m.
The next day, I guessed that the flight would be pretty full, and sought to offer my services for voluntary disembarkation. However, the queues were enormous and slow-moving, and there was no separate desk for customer services, so I gave up and tried to ring reservations instead, having been unable to reach the US Airways website (although even when you do, it doesn't seem to work...). I held the line for fifteen minutes but eventually gave up.
Hours later, I formally checked in and sought once again to volunteer to be bumped off the flight (the reward is usually $600 in vouchers and an upgrade, so it's well worth it if you're not in a hurry), to be told that I had to go to the gate and be placed on the list (I also had a gentle moan at the check-in clerk and eventually persuaded her to give my luggage a priority tag). However, the flight was overbooked so I thought that I had a chance, and headed for the gate. Nobody there, so I went to the lounge to be told that I couldn't deal with this there, and would have to return to the gate in about thirty minutes, which I did.
Unfortunately, due to more weather problems, not everyone made their connections, and my seat wasn't required. This meant that I got to fly in another cramped aircraft, with poor service. My intended request for coffee was completely ignored by the flight attendent, and it took five attempts to use the 'call flight attendant' button to get someone's attention. Curiously, the light kept switching itself off, and I guess that they just didn't fancy coming to see what I wanted.
Breakfast consisted of a cup of coffee and a doughnut...
I swear now that I will never fly US Airways by choice, and retain the fond hope that the airline goes broke, the management lose their jobs and never work again, and that someone makes the ground staff learn English. In the meantime, I apologise to United Airlines because, no matter how bad occasional experiences have been, their performance has never plumbed such low levels so consistently.