Can this trip be saved? A “disappointing and shocking” flight experience

By | July 4th, 2011

Norm Schoenfeld is no stranger to bad service, particularly bad airline service. As a retired CEO, he’s flown millions of miles, encountering the occasional missed connection, delay, and lost luggage.

But what happened to him and his wife when they flew from San Diego to Lisbon via Philadelphia on US Airways crosses the line, he says.

Schoenfeld describes it as a “disappointing and shocking” experience. After having read his version of events and US Airways’ response, I’m not sure what to do. Maybe you can help me figure something out.

The first leg of the cs flight was delayed for no apparent reason, and they arrived in Philadelphia almost an hour late. They sprinted across the terminal to make their connection to Portugal, but were told that even though the flight hadn’t left, the doors closed 10 minutes before departure, and no one could re-open them.

The gate agents icily announced that (1) we would have to wait for the next plane to Lisbon, which would be the same flight 24 hours later, (2) neither meal nor room vouchers would be offered, and (3) in any case there were no hotel rooms available anywhere in Philadelphia.

But the Schoenfelds had a cruise to catch, so they asked a US Airways representative to get an alternate routing. The ticket agents reluctantly found a US Airways flight to London Heathrow scheduled for 9:45 p.m. departure that could connect with a Lisbon flight. But it was oversold, and they found themselves stuck in Philadelphia overnight.

On the next day’s flight, two things happened that aggravated an already difficult situation.

The doors neither closed ten minutes before the scheduled departure time, nor at the scheduled departure time. We were told that they were holding the flight for connecting passengers from a delayed flight.

Next, we were told that a match of the passenger list with the checked baggage list indicated that two bags would have to be removed because the matching passengers had not boarded.

The flight finally departed about 25 minutes late at 9 p.m. No US Airways folks could explain why flight #738 could be held for delayed connecting passengers on May 17, but not on May 16.

It got worse. US Airways lost the couple’s luggage for 24 hours on the outbound flight, delivering it to their hotel in Lisbon just in time for the cruise. When they tried to complain, they were told given the cold shoulder.

I’ve never encountered the apathy, rudeness, and failure to accept any concern or responsibility.

I even tried phoning the Customer Relations 800 number in Phoenix that one agent gave me, but the lady there said I’d have to talk with Customer Services (or vice versa) since I was still enroute.

Everyone was anxious to blame the FAA, TSA, or “company policy” for everything.

Schoenfeld sent a brief, polite email to US Airways, outlining the troubles he’d had on his flight to Portugal and asking to be reimbursed for his expenses. In response, US Airways sent him a form letter explaining that the first leg of his flight had been delayed because of air traffic control issues — an event for which the airline isn’t responsible, and for which it couldn’t reimburse him.

It offered two $50 flight vouchers for the delays and misplaced luggage.

He turned down the offer.

“If we were ever foolish enough to fly again with US Airways,” he said, “we would have to have our heads examined.”

As I review Schoenfeld’s case, it looks as if US Airways is both right, and wrong. Right, in the sense that it did everything it had to under its own rules to compensate these passengers. But wrong in the sense that it failed to deliver good customer service.

All of which makes this exceptionally difficult to mediate. If I forward Schoenfeld’s file to US Airways and ask them to review it, I’m almost certain the best they could expect would be an additional apology and a few more vouchers. But the airline wouldn’t cover their expenses, including their hotel room in Lisbon for their missed night, or any other incidentals.

Most troubling to me is the attitude of US Airways staff along the way. Had they treated the Schoenfelds with a little more empathy, I’m not sure if this case would have ever come to my attention.

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