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johnafa
08-01-2009, 08:49 PM
The Tale of Two Airlines
US Airways and Southwest Airlines

My faith in good old ‘American Style” customer service was recently restored in two related situations which were handled absolutely differently by two very different airlines. US Airways and Southwest Airlines are two very large airlines, but all similarities seem to end there. They could not be more different in their culture and, most importantly, in the way in which they deal with their customers. One still values the customer and knows from the customer comes everything, and one still has no clue.

About 60 days ago I flew on US Airways and experienced the worst customer service imaginable. We are talking customer service so bad - on so many levels - that it transcended anything I have ever experienced in the past. I could write a complete Thesis on the experience but the following is what took place in a nutshell:

I was returning to the US on an International flight from Ukraine, due to a 30-minute flight delay I only had an hour and a half to make my connecting US Air flight from JFK to Phoenix. Once I gathered the luggage and cleared customers I rushed to the US Air ticket counter and arrived exactly 30 minutes prior to departure. The ticket agent started to check me in until a supervisor stopped her saying the flight was closed. I thought she was joking at first, as did the ticket agent, but the supervisor just glared at me and said “you are one minute late, we cannot check your bags, you must be here 30 minutes prior to departure, this flight is closed!”

At this point I started to get a little nervous because I realized that she was not joking, she was not going to let me on the plane because I was one minute late….. The ticket agent that started to check me in just looked at me and rolled her eyes saying there was nothing she could do, the supervisor standing over her was in charge and it was her call, I could tell she was surprised the supervisor would not allow her to check me in on.. I tried one more time to plead my case. I just came off a 12-hour flight from the Ukraine and did my best to get to the gate on time. I then told her that my son had broken his arm and we had a very important appointment with an orthopedic surgeon the next day, which is when things went from bad to worse. She looked at me and laughed like I just made that up, and said, I am sorry the flight is closed, you were one minute late, it was your fault, there is nothing more we can do. I then asked, what now? Is there another flight? She replied, “you missed the flight you paid for, your ticket is no longer valid you will have to purchase a whole new flight”. Again I explained my international flight was delayed and that I was in fact at the ticket counter 31 minutes prior to departure according to my watch but she insisted I was one minute late and refused to honor my ticket in any way. I was forced to purchase another one-way ticket on a competing airline that cost me more than the original round trip ticket.

To add insult to injury, I wrote the “US Airways Customer Service” department a detailed letter of my experience and of course never even received an acknowledgment that they ever even received it. From that day on I vowed never to fly US AIRWAYS again.

I recently had a similar situation with another airline, Southwest, that restored my faith in Customer Service. I was again flying from outside the country, China this time, back to the US and my flight was actually delayed by 24 hours, and when I did get a flight the next day it was also late by an hour which resulted in me arriving at the Southwest check in counter with only 25 minutes left prior to departure. So in this case not only was I late for the flight, I missed the original flight I was suppose to be on the previous day, and this time it was not just me but also 3 family members traveling with me. I sheepishly approached the ticket agent and explained my situation and closed my eyes and waited for her to tell me that I would need to purchase 4 new tickets on some other airline when I heard the wonderful words, “how many bags would you like to check Mr. Adams”? How many bags? I couldn’t believe it! With the experience from hell still fresh in my mind from US Airlines I couldn’t believe how accommodating and kind this Southwest agent was being, I was in shock. Unfortunately, I think I was more surprised by the excellent customer service I received from Southwest Airlines than by the utterly terrible service received from US Air (this was not the first time I had a bad experience with them, but this was certainly the last straw), which I think is a sad commentary on the state of Customer Service in this country.

I felt compelled to write this story and share my experience with anyone willing to read this. If you have a choice, even if Southwest is a few more bucks they are well worth it (remember they don’t charge for luggage as most other airlines including US AIR does!). As we were boarding the captain of the plane stood in the door and warmly greeted every passenger, he even played with my eight-year-old daughter, that has never happened on any other airline.

I think my experience is indicative of the culture of the two airlines. One is all about the bottom line at any cost and always has been, even back in the days of America West (or America Worst as it was not so affectionately known), and one is all about the customer which in the end leads to a great bottom line and always has for Southwest.

John Adams
Phoenix, Arizona

PHXFlyer
08-01-2009, 11:38 PM
When you purchase two separate tickets you run this risk. It's not US Airways fault that your inbound flight was late and because you purchased your ticket separately they are only going to treat you the same way as any other person who arrived late to check in. Once the 30 minute check-in window closes the agent's computer won't allow a late check-in. I know this because I was checking in next to someone in Phoenix who arrived late for a flight. Only a supervisor can override the lockout and apparently the supervisor at JFK was unwilling to do this. Probably because they knew that less than 30 minutes is not enough time to clear security and be at the gate for the 15 minute cutoff time there. They did not want you to have the expectation that because the rules were bent for you at the check in counter that they wold then allow you to board the plane if you missed the boarding cutoff as well.

As for your ticket having no value, that statement was incorrect if it was indeed 30 minutes before departure. Your ticket, per the fare rules, has value as long as the scheduled departure time hasn't passed. Technically, they don't void the tickets until midnight. If you were, in fact, at the ticket counter with 30-31 minutes to spare this shouldn't have been an issue.

LII
09-23-2009, 12:31 PM
Recently used USAirways. Horrible experience: They canceled my flight, lost my luggage, charged an extra $50 compared with the receipt I got from them. Didn't tell me about the charge. This is stealing!!! During the ordeal, evry information I got from the company was a lie. It most certainly looks that cheating passangers is USAirways corporate policy.

jimworcs
09-23-2009, 12:51 PM
This tale illustrates perfectly the cultural differences. Many of the largest US airlines have a very anti-consumer attitude, particularly Delta and US Airways, and they get away with it. Their hostility is based on their monopoly positions. The exploitation of customers is absolutely outrageous and to suggest that customers who arrive a minute late (or even and hour for that matter, given the circumstances) merits penalties shows how low they go.

Many airline employees are ****** off with life... and it is apparant in their attitude. They may find their jobs a hassle and be upset at the way management treat them, but their nasty, spiteful attitudes towards customers as illustrated in this example is totally unjustified. It will continue until airlines are allowed to go bankrupt.

mrs.doublea
10-02-2009, 02:54 PM
Don't try to defend US Air!!! They treat their customers like crap and don't think twice about it! My husband and I have had more than one bad experience also with them and have vowed to never again fly with them. Another plus for Southwest if you have a baby...they have changing tables on their planes! Southwest is the absolute best airline we've flown with and we try to fly with them anytime anywhere even if it is a few dollars more...we'll save the money in baggage and other fees!

Gromit801
10-02-2009, 04:01 PM
You going to feel that way when Southworst finally starts charging for the first two bags? I promise you faithfully, it's coming. SWA is already posting lower earnings.

PHXFlyer
10-02-2009, 10:42 PM
You going to feel that way when Southworst finally starts charging for the first two bags? I promise you faithfully, it's coming. SWA is already posting lower earnings.

Southwest's CEO stated in the 2009 Q2 earnings conference that there would be no new bag fees through 2010. We all know how good CEOs are about keeping their promises! ;)

I like that he mentioned nothing about after 12/31/2010.