Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The trip from hell

I spoke at the New York Press Association convention in Albany this past weekend -- fine group of people who also know how to put on a great party.

But I'd especially like to thank Mesa Airlines/Mesa Air Group, which is about as clueless an operation as I've ever encountered. Thanks to its screw-ups, what was supposed to be a Thursday evening flight from Columbia turned into a red-eye and an overnight adventure at the Philly airport. It's also an abject lesson in how not to treat your customers.

Mesa operates flights as US Airways express. We were late leaving Columbia. The storms and wind in the Northeast had limited operations to one runway at Philly, we were told. OK, things happen. I've flown a lot, and it's happened before. I had about an hour between flights. Of course, we didn't get off the ground until almost an hour late, but, the stewardess assured us, everything else at Philly was delayed, so connections wouldn't be a problem.

Yeah, right. Somehow, the USAir flight (operated not by Mesa but by the bankrupt US Air itself) to Albany managed to take off on time. (Oh, and try and find a helpful Mesa gate agent. They were as scarce as snow in July in Columbia.)

OK, I'd taken the precaution of having the Columbia gate agent backstop me on a 10:45 p.m. flight, this one operated by Mesa, again under the US Airways Express banner. But, of course, around about 10:15 the cancelled sign went up. Mechanical problems, they said. Let's just note for the record that the flight was loaded with people who didn't make their previous connections -- not a lot of additional revenue, if you know what I mean.

So the ticket agent briskly prints out vouchers -- for dinner, for hotel, for breakfast. Except all but one restaurant was closed in the terminal, and it had almost nothing left. The hotel was an even more interesting story. A Quality Inn van will come by regularly, the gate agent said, and just hop aboard. Well, not quite. I did flag down a van for the hotel, and it was by sheer luck. The driver said, no, there was no regular service. You were supposed to call. (Of course, several people who had tried the courtesy phone said no one picked up.) We get to the hotel, a man with a reservation and a woman and me who are refugees, and are told there is only one room. So two of us basically threaten to sleep in the lobby. The desk clerk then decides to call another co-owned hotel and finally gets us a room -- at the Microtel at about midnight, just in time for a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call so that we can make the 4:30 van to make sure we get to the airport to go through ticketing and security hell for a 7:10 flight.

Come to find out that several people who bypassed the courtesy phone and called the hotel directly were told no van would be sent because the hotel was full. So they got to spend the night sleeping at the Philly airport.

And about those breakfast vouchers? Useless. No one open at that time of the morning will take them because US Air is in bankruptcy. So thank you, Mesa and US Air, for a wonderful time -- and for the flight attendant on the way to Albany at 7:30 in the morning who told us (jokingly of course), she would "go ghetto" on us if we got out of line. Get her a week at the Comedy House, will ya ...

Finally got into Albany at 9a, to the hotel at almost 10a for a 2:15p presentation. I know the hotel thought I was weird when I asked for a 1p wakeup call.
Having said all that, two nice words:

-- To the luggage agent who went out of her way to retrieve my bag from the luggage room despite surley backtalk from a male co-worker over the radio. Anyone ever thought of elevating her to be in charge of customer service. The Rent-a-clue van obviously has been in her neighborhood.
-- To the USAir steward on the flight back. He and I got to talking about the Thursday woes and he later gave me a couple of packets of nuts from first class. A small gesture and unexpected, but another case of someone who gets it.


At 4/13/05, 1:13 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

I feel for you, Doug!

My weekend horror story isn't nearly as bad, but it also involves Us Airways. I had a layover in Charlotte, but everything went just fine ... until I arrived in Tampa and started looking for my bag. With all my stuff in it. Including the dress I needed to wear to the wedding the next day.

There was another flight coming in from Tampa, so they said my bag would be on it. If it arrived before midnight, they'd deliver it that night. Otherwise, they'd head out at 8 the next morning.

I waited till 9 the next morning. My bag was still in Charlotte. I raised hell. The next flight would land at 10:15.

At 10:45, though, my bag was still in Charlotte. I raised more hell. The next flight would take off at 12:30, land at 2 o'clock.

At 12:45, we call to see if my bag made it onto the flight. Instead, they say that it is already in Tampa, that they had sent it back on a Continental flight.

I make the trip to the airport to pick it up and can see on the tag on my bag that, indeed, my bag had not been just hanging out in Charlotte. It had been misrouted to Miami.

Of course, no one told me that.


At 4/13/05, 5:55 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Sigh. USAir strikes again.


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