An open letter to US Airways (or, the Five People You Meet in Hell)

Dear US Airways Customer Service,

I'm writing this letter on my blog because there is apparently no other reasonable way to contact you to share my story and actually have it be heard. So, in addition to someone at US Airways that (hopefully) actually cares about finding this, I'm also posting it for my thousands of blog readers. It wouldn't typically be my style to bore my blog readers with this type of thing, but I feel compelled after what I experienced on my return trip to Italy.

I was in Philadelphia for only two days, filming an episode of popular cable television show. Fun right? What a neat reason to make a quick trip halfway across the world. When Monday (June 20th) arrived and it was time to turn back around and head to Italy, I arrived at the airport around 12:30 p.m. My flight schedule was: Philadelphia to Boston on US Airways and Boston to Rome on Alitalia.

As I waited at my gate and chatted to a nice guy nearby, the gate attendant came over the loud speaker, "Folks, bad news, the plane is broken and no replacement can be found. You'll need to go to customer service to reschedule your flight."

This announcement proved interesting for two reasons:

  1. People that had just disembarked the "broken" plane looked back in confusion/horror/oh-shit-I'm-glad-we-didn't-crash-euphoria.
  2. I preceded to be trampled by grown men (aka "business travelers") in their attempts to beat me to the line.

Once in line with 150 of my closest pals, my general-distrust-of-society-internal- alarm went off. I have generally found airport customer service people to be among the most useless on the planet (although the events that are to follow would defy even my low expectations). So, I called up my husband (international call #1) and asked him to dial up customer service for me while I waited.

Hubby called back. Great news! I had been automatically rebooked onto a US Airways flight direct from PHL to ROM. It didn't leave for 5 more hours, but at least I had a flight, right? At that point, I did what any reasonable person familiar with airline travel would do.

I stayed in line.

"I have a general distrust of anyone in a customer service position," I said to the nice older guy I had been chatting with at the gate. "So, I'm going to stay in line so I can hear it from someone else and get my ticket."

"That makes you smarter than most people I've met in my life," he said. I knew I liked this guy.

Nearly 45 minutes later I was finally at the desk. I happily showed the older lady behind the counter my original ticket, told her that I had been automatically rebooked and that if she could print my new ticket that would be great. Her response went something like this:

"Oh, I'm not dealing with this. Someone needs to call Alitalia to get you un-checked off your original flight. I can't print you a ticket until that happens."

Then, she preceded to stare at me for 10 seconds. I broke the silence.

"Well, I can't do that, so how does this work?"

"I'm not doing this. I'm leaving. I'm done work. Get back in line." Then, the lady just walked away. Honestly, US Airways, I encourage you to check security tapes -- this shit really happened.

The second person that "helped" me at least pretended to care, which I can appreciate. After spending a half hour on the phone with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, she declared that she couldn't figure out how to get me un-checked from the flight. She recommended that I should head toward Terminal A and hope someone could help me.

So, there I was…wandering around the airport with no ticket and no one even remotely interested in helping. The only thing keeping my spirits up was that I kept seeing the barefoot Russian lady that I had initially encountered at security. A sight for sore eyes, that one. Oh, and I use the word "lady" very, very lightly.

When I finally got to Terminal A, I walked past a US Airways customer service desk that was completely empty. Awesome. So, I found the closet gate desk with an agent behind it and asked for help. The response was:

"Ma'am, I can't help you. I have to make sure these people get on their flight to Charlotte."

There was nobody in line. Nobody asking for assistance. She told me to go to the customer service desk that I had just walked by that was empty.

So, I walked back down there and waited in line. Again. Thankfully, people had magically appeared behind the counter and I was happy there would be new people to pretend to care.

At this point I had already been on the phone with Rob two more times (International calls #2 and #3). Apparently, the US Airways phone customer service was proving just as unhelpful with getting me unchecked from the original flight. I hung up the phone with Rob when it was my turn at the counter.

I explained my situation: that I apparently needed to be unchecked from my original flight before I could get a ticket. The girl gave me a look like I had just completely surpassed her US Airways skill set. She made a few half-hearted calls, told me she couldn't help and suggest I try again in a half hour.

She assuaged my fears by stating: "Don't worry, you can work with me directly when you come back." Fantastic, I get to interact again with the person that couldn't help me the first time. Wow, what a relief. I feel so much better.

I'd like to pause to state that at no point in this terrible day did anyone try to make my experience even slightly more comfortable. No offer of the US Airways lounge, no offer of a food voucher, not even an apology for what I had endured. Also for the record: by this point, I had been at the airport for about 5 hours.

I called Rob in tears. People, I don't cry. It's not really my thing. But, I was jet-lagged and I had four different people tell me they couldn't solve my problem. He did what any awesome husband would do: he set about fixing the problem.

Meanwhile, I headed down to the McDonald's in the terminal to eat my feelings away.  How could four different US Airways employees not only tell me that they couldn't help, but not make any reasonable suggestions for how to fix the problem. They blamed it on another airline and that was that.

After about a half hour Rob called back. By talking with US Airways and Yahoo Travel simultaneously, he was able to make people stay on the phone until they fixed the problem. He assured me that if I went back to my gate (which by this point should have US Airways staff there since the flight was now just about 1.5 hours away) they could print a ticket.

Is there a comment card I can fill out for my husband so that he gets a bonus? Some way his supervisor can give him a badge or certificate or something? Because he was the only person that proved to be useful to me in the Philadelphia Airport - and he was in Italy.

After six hours of hopelessness at the airport, I was able to finally get my ticket.

Moral of the story
When the rapture comes on October 21 I'll be staying put if the only way off the planet and into the arms of God is on a US Airways flight.

So, in case you are wondering. The Five People You Meet in Hell are:

  1. The first customer service woman that walked away.
  2. The second one that pretended to care.
  3. The third one that refused to help because she was busy "assisting" other flyers.
  4. The fourth agent that also pretended to care.
  5. The Russian lady. Just because I find it fascinating that a person can legitimately travel around the world (she was on my flight!) without shoes or luggage. Updated 9:56 a.m.: The Russian lady was on par with this guy. No joke.

Almost made the cut:

  1. The Real Housewives of Crackville sitting in the row in front of me.
  2. The guy two rows up that FLIPPED OUT mid-flight because he had the only empty seat on the plane next to him and refused to let a guy sit there that had a broken chair. I'm no human resources expert, but given Crazy Guy's general attitude, verbal skills and "friendly" demeanor, he has "future US Airways Employee of the month" written all over him.