Can an airline really be this inept?

U.S. Airways logoEvery couple of months, U.S. Airways sends out an email describing the progress on their computer systems. As with most large-scale systems projects, they’re behind. The self-effacing emails try to reassure customers that the airline really cares. Here’s an excerpt from June:

Welcome again to the latest edition of the Merger Update, where we provide the plain English scoop on issues important to you, our frequent travelers. No corporate double speak; just a rundown of details on the most pressing questions of the day.

So, first things first. You may be weary of us apologizing for the tough times we had this spring due to the migration of our reservations system, but here it is: We sincerely apologize for the numerous failures. After a pretty nice start to the merger we’ve learned some tough lessons through all this and received some very helpful advice from many of you, some of which we’re applying already and some of which is unprintable. So thank you for sticking with us as we climb back on the horse.

OK, enough groveling, here’s what we’ve got…

I hadn’t really paid much attention to the emails. But they stuck in my head last night. As I mentioned earlier, I spent seven hours at National Airport on Sunday, partly because of U.S. Airways ill-considered policy of not allowing phone agents to help with day-of-flight issues. Last night I called U.S. Airways to rebook my trip.

When I explained what I wanted to do, the agent replied “You were a no show.” This despite the fact that I twice had my boarding pass scanned and actually sat on the plane. While she offered to waive the $100 change fee, she wanted to charge an extra $100 for the difference in fare. When I said that I wanted a refund because my flight was canceled, she put me on hold while she contacted a supervisor. (Airlines try to hide the fact that you are entitled to a refund if they cancel your flight.)

Her supervisor comes on the line and tells me that she can’t find any record of my flight being canceled and that my record said that I was a no show. So she couldn’t do anything for me.

How does an airline not know that they didn’t operate a flight? That the plane sat on the tarmac for 6 hours? That they canceled a good portion of their schedule that day? Fortunately I had thought ahead about the possibility and printed the Web flight status showing the cancellation when I got home on Sunday. I faxed that to her while still on the phone.

A few minutes later she comes back on the line slurping her drink and grumpily proceeds to rebook my flight for free. No apologies.

Next week, I’ll be taking pictures every time I sit on one of their planes.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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3 Responses to Can an airline really be this inept?

  1. Will says:

    That is a miserable experience and all I can say is that it is not specific to US Airways. I have had similar experiences with United. The fact that the airlines are allowed to get away with this is disgraceful. We all should revolt!


  2. Will,

    I’ve definitely had my share of miserable experiences on other airlines. I’m sure have had at least one bad experience on all the major U.S. carriers.

    Still, it strikes me that knowing whether you operated a flight is a really basic thing. If you don’t know that how can you even begin to address other issues?

    Someone has to know that. (They’re required to file the data with the DOT.) It’s unbelievable that CSRs don’t have access to that data.

  3. mukesh says:

    It’s incredible that your experience with US Air just gets worse. I hate to think of the passengers who aren’t as well informed about the airlines’ obligations, who may have paid the money that USAir demanded.

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