Great Letter from Top listening Tempe?


Sep 2, 2002
Freindly Fire: U. S. Airways Ignores Its Million Mile Flyers

US Airways CEO Doug Parker stated last week that "We have to run an airline [that] customers like, and we're not running as good an airline as we'd like to. The key to that is fixing Philadelphia."
That may be the first true and accurate statement people have heard out of US Airways in a long time. Unfortunately, the airline's problems continue to mount, as evidenced by the numerous television stories of US Airway's flights that sat on runways for over six hours during last Friday's inclement weather. An airline spokesman commented that they weren't prepared. Given the nature of the storm, but more pertinently, knowing the firestorm JetBlue experienced several weeks ago when its planes sat for up to 11 hours, the obvious question is: "How is this possible?" At least JetBlue learned from its mistake and canceled 215 flights this time. But US Airways apparently still doesn't get it, not by a long shot.
To emphatically illustrate that point, a reader submitted the following letter to US Airways weeks ago via certified mail and fax, but inexplicably, he has not heard a word from the airline, not even an acknowledgment that they are looking into the matters he raised. For the record, he is, and has been, a US Airway's Chairman's Preferred member, and a "Million Mile Flyer". This is the highest level a customer can attain.

The Letter

"Dear Sir or madam,
As my records will indicate, I have been a longtime customer of your airline, holding Chairman Preferred status for a number of years.
Over the years, I have experienced a number of irritations for which I vowed to write to you, but never did. I now feel absolutely compelled, however, to vigorously complain about the outrageous treatment that I received on November 30, 2006.
At any rate, I was flying from Philadelphia to Pensacola for a meeting, connecting in Charlotte with Flight #2263. Shortly before landing, the pilot announced that due to runway conditions in Pensacola, we would instead be landing in Mobile. Accordingly, when we landed, I did what a number of other passengers did, namely use my cell phone to make other arrangements. Fortunately, I was able to reach my colleague who would be attending the meeting with me. Since he was still in Mobile, I arranged to have him pick me up at the airport, from where we would drive to Pensacola, which is only about an hour's drive.
A few minutes after we landed, the flight attendant announced that we were to remain in our seats while the pilot was checking with the airport personnel. When the wait continued for a considerable period of time, I advised the flight attendant that I had made alternate arrangements and, as soon as was permitted, I would be leaving the plane. She said fine. When the wait continued for another long period - and there was a number of families with small children who were becoming extremely restless - I advised another flight attendant of my alternate plans. He advised that, because I had a checked bag, I might not be able to leave the plane. I stated that if it would be too difficult to get my bag, and the plane was ultimately going to Pensacola, I would return to the Pensacola airport after the meeting to retrieve my bag. He said that I might be required to remain with my bag, to which I replied that if I had a dollar for every time I missed a connection, but my bag didn't, or vice versa, I could have retired long ago.
Another wait occurred, then the captain came aboard and announced that he would be flying to Pensacola. He said that he was aware that people had made alternate plans, but that it would be too much trouble to unload the bags of those who wanted to leave. Because of this, everyone would have to remain on the plane.
At this point, I walked up to the pilot, who was standing outside the cockpit with two airport security guards, and then explained again my situation. The security guards, who were extremely polite, advised me that they understood, but that I would have to remain on the plane. I could have continued the discussion, stating that it was illegal to detain me against my will, but I didn't. Instead, I said that, while I didn't agree, I would comply. I then said to the pilot - and I should point out here that not once in any of my discussions did I raise my voice - that this could have been handled better. Specifically, I said that when he announced that we were landing in Mobile, if there were a possibility that we would be going on to Pensacola, he should have said that and instructed us, at that point, to not make any alternate plans. Without his stating this, since Mobile and Pensacola were only an hour drive apart, it would be logical to assume that people would be making alternate plans. The pilot then screamed, and I mean screamed, at me, "Get back in your seat!" I told him, again without raising my voice, not to scream at me. He then said to the guards, "Get him off the plane!" I was escorted off the plane, stood on the tarmac until they retrieved my bag, and then left. Yes, I made my meeting, but I am still incensed over how I was treated. That is no way to treat any passenger, let alone a longtime Chairman Preferred customer. Accordingly, I would appreciate hearing from you on this matter. My address, phone, fax and email are listed in the letterhead.
At the beginning of this letter, I mentioned a number of irritations that I have experienced with your airline, but over which I have never complained. I am going to mention them now, not as a complaint, but to make you aware and to also offer a number of suggestions. They are as follows:

Automatic Check-In Kiosks
I am assuming that you instituted automatic check-in both as a convenience for the traveler and as a cost saver to the airline. That makes sense. The problem is that at the Philadelphia Airport, on any given day, a distressingly high percentage of the machines are out of order. This is for both the B/C and F terminals. Last week, when I checked in at the First Class machines in the B/C terminal, more than half of the machines were not functioning. Obviously, this situation greatly diminishes traveler convenience and airline efficiency. I don't experience this problem at any other airport or with any other airline. You might want to look into this.

Jetway Operation
Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more frustrating than when you're flying home after a long trip, especially if your flight has been delayed, and you finally land and dock at the gate, only to sit in the plane for fifteen or twenty minutes because no one is present to operate the jetway. Given the fact that all planes have radios and communicate when they're about to land, I cannot fathom why this occurs. Like the self-service machines cited above, this situation is unique to Philadelphia and to US Airways.

Lost Baggage
I've had my share of lost baggage, but I understand that runs with the territory. There have been a number of occasions, however, when my bags weren't lost. Instead, they were not put on the plane because of weight considerations. All of these instances occurred on commuter flights. First, if that occurs, then make an announcement, instead of having me wait forever at the arrival airport. Second, I thought that special consideration was given to bags with the priority tag, which I always have because of my Chairman Preferred status.

Commuter Flights
I would imagine that commuter flights, with the smaller jets, are more economical, which is probably why you built Terminal F in Philadelphia. As a result, I've taken hundreds of US Airways commuter flights, to cities such as Rochester, Syracuse, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, etc. Fine. I think, however, that [you] have to draw a distance limit on what should be a commuter flight and, in my opinion, three hour flights to places such as Houston and Minneapolis should be on larger aircraft. Let's face it. Flying all the time is no picnic. One of the benefits is acquiring a preferred status and flying First Class. I know you're in business and you want to make money, as opposed to doing it for a hobby. But one of the ways that you do that is by retaining your top customers, the ones who are in the air all the time. I have to be honest. When I now fly to Minneapolis, for example, I fly Northwest, where I'm Silver Elite and with whom I'm almost always upgraded to First Class. It's infinitely better than a cramped commuter flight.

First Class
One of the benefits of flying First Class, in addition to spacious seats and, hopefully, food, is getting on the plane first. You have a chance to get comfortable and to find a place for your baggage. Northwest, for example, first calls those needing extra assistance. Then its Elite members are called, then general boarding. Not so with your airline, where extra assistance is first called, then all frequent flyers. I do not exaggerate when I say that frequently, this is well more than half the plane. I suggest that you seriously consider emulating Northwest. With respect to First Class food, I can't remember the last time I had a meal on US Airways. By contrast, Northwest, on flights of any considerable distance, serves meals. Okay, while that's disappointing, if it's lunch time or dinner time I can live with the snack tray that your airline passes around First Class. I have to say, however, that at breakfast time, fare such as potato chips and peanuts doesn't make it. Why not consider cereal, or a muffin, or, at least a banana?

Change of Flight
Whenever I come to the airport and change my flight, whether at the self-service kiosk or with the help of an attendant, I'm charged a change fee, generally $25.00. Since I'm on expense account, that means nothing to me personally. I have to respectfully say, however, that in my opinion, that's really dumb. As stated above, one of the keys to the success of any airline is retaining its good customers. With, at the very least, a Chairman Preferred customer, you get a hell of a lot more than $25.00 worth of bad will.

In this regard, in my opinion, US Airways is no better or worse than any other airline. Since, however, the most basic things are often the most ignored, I just wanted to mention it. No airline should keep its passengers in suspense. If there is a delay, then state it, say why and provide updates. And tell the truth. Don't, for example, announce that my flight home from St. Louis has been canceled because of bad weather, when I can call home and find that the weather is perfect and the cancellation, or delay, has been caused by the continuing fact that Philly can't handle the traffic. Most people can accept anything if they're told the truth, which is always the best policy."

How does one follow a letter like that?
Quite frankly, if US Airways hasn't yet responded to a Chairman's Preferred member, how can anyone else possibly have faith in the airline's goodwill and their claims that they actually care what their customer's think?
Maybe if US Airway's executives were required to fly coach once a month, not just on their airline but also their competitors, things would change in a fraction of the time US Airway's planes sit on the runway.
Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected].

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