My latest trip on US Airways

As some of my friends and followers know, I have a sordid relationship with US Airways. It was my carrier of choice until after a disastrous year of air travel in 2007, where I earned around $1200 in vouchers due to countless incidences of mishandled irregular operations and poor customer service. I went from Chairman’s Preferred to Platinum Preferred to Silver Preferred to non-elite from 2007-2009. I still find it hard to give US Airways my money.

Recently I flew a four-segment, roundtrip award ticket to Providence, RI on US Airways by redeeming Continental OnePass miles. Overall, the travel was just OK. It was very basic transportation. The two longer, mainline segments between Charlotte and Providence were honestly quite boring. There is no in-flight entertainment, no power outlets for one’s own portable electronic devices, no Gogo inflight Internet, and no food at all (free or for sale). There is one pass of the beverage cart.

One incident I found bothersome is that US Airways, like other carriers, sells “Choice” and exit row seats. Before departing Charlotte, a flight attendant invited anyone to come sit in the exit row. There was a lady seated there who had paid an extra $27 for her exit row seat and she was upset that people were invited to sit there for free. In this case, I think the flight attendant was just trying to help people have more room, but what she did was contrary to company policy. The woman who purchased the seat had a right to be angry and she told the flight attendant she would be writing to complain. I don’t blame her. Either sell the seats or don’t sell the seats, but don’t give away paid seats in front of paying customers.

My trip ended with a delayed US Airways Express flight. First we had no aircraft, then no crew, and then we sat on the runway for at least 30 minutes waiting in line to take off. When I arrived at my home airport, my bag didn’t make it, and I had to stop and file a baggage claim. The end result was that I arrived late for an appointment and my bag was delivered five hours later.

My recommendation regarding US Airways is that if you want a no-frills, bare-bones method of air travel, then this is the airline for you. However, if you want more, select another carrier.

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LHR-IAH-XNA 30 Sep to 1 Oct 2011 on Continental by Bruce

At the end of 22 months of European adventures, this is the return of a trip purchased in August. At booking, I was immediately able to choose exit row seats. I checked the seat assignments and schedule a couple of times over the last few weeks – there was no issue.

CO flight 5 is scheduled for an 11:40 departure. That morning, I received Trip Alerts from Continental at midnight, 06:00, 08:30, 09:40 and 11:25 with notifications that the flight was running late due to a delayed inbound aircraft. Rather than sit in an empty apartment, I chose to stick to my schedule and arrived Heathrow at 09:30.

Quick interview to enter the line for a counter agent (“Did you pack these bags yourself?,” etc.). Check-in was normal and the counter agent helpfully assisted with checking my first three suitcases at no charge, thanks to my Gold status. The fourth and fifth suitcases were each $200. All were well under weight but quite full (almost all of it clothing), so an attempt to compress down and leave an empty suitcase would have been fruitless.

Continental’s presence in Terminal 4 dates back to the SkyTeam days and they have an agreement with the SkyTeam lounge (operated by Etihad Airlines). It’s a large lounge on two levels with a capacity for maybe 250 people. Nicely laid out, it’s usually rather quiet. The standard European features – self-service booze, beers, wine and sodas plus coffee machines. Free wi-fi. Hot and cold breakfast items include yogurt, cereal, scrambled eggs, pancakes, baked beans (yep, Brits eat these at breakfast), chicken sausages and bacon. I ate, caught up on some emails and even managed to snooze for an hour in one of the sleep rooms. At 11:30, the lunch items come out and it’s sliced ham and beef pastrami, slivers of cheese and bread rolls.

Boarding started at 13:00 with F. 50 F seats on this 777, so that took a bit. I did see two people turned away. Then elites. As the BP’s are scanned, a brief passport check. A currency interview and random screening (I was not selected) on the jet bridge. I learned that the reason for the delay was a thunderstorm in Houston the previous day – the 777 was diverted to MSY for two hours, starting a chain of lateness that would last for another day.

I took my seat, 16A on this 777-200. The first row in Y, there is a solid bulkhead and the tray tables/video monitors are in the armrests. After boarding completed, we sat in the plane for another 90 minutes while they cleared a mechanical issue: one of the Y toilets was broken. They were unable to fix it, so they sealed it off and we pushed back. Since it happened in the UK, this would be a ‘loo out of order.’

Service in the air was standard and boring – chicken or beef for dinner (served and cleared before we’d even left Ireland air space), no charge for the first drink (I had one of three Heinekens), a few water services, ice cream, pre-arrival sandwich and landing. We arrived at 19:05 (over three hours late) and so I missed my connection.

Immigration was somewhat slow. I don’t understand why people can’t wait in the roped lines and then direct just two or three people in front of each desk. Instead, they line up 8 people deep at each of the desks, which is the most inefficient method possible. The officer, however, was friendly and pleasant. Since my last arrival in the US, I’ve been to England, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands which earned a couple of extra (harmless) questions.

All five of my checked bags were waiting on the carousel with priority tags. I loaded up a trolley and was amazed to clear Customs with this massive stack of stuff and got barely an acknowledgement from the CBP officer as she glanced at my entry form.

At the counter for rebooking, I was first in the elite line where there were 10 people waiting in the economy line. I tried to ignore their evil looks as the counter agent printed out hotel (Hilton Garden Inn) and meal vouchers ($12 dinner, $6 breakfast) because there was a portion of the delay caused by the mechanical. I had missed the last flight of the day, so I was booked on the 10:00 AM and even managed to get 12A. I was thoroughly pleasant and had the agent laughing a couple of times. She said that there had been a couple of very upset people earlier. Before giving over my suitcases, I pulled an outfit for the next day and my dopp kit.

Rather than go straight to the hotel, I used the boarding pass from my missed connection to enter the secure zone (quick security) and went to the Terminal E President’s Club for a beer, some wifi and a short rest.

The hotel was not noteworthy and I was back at the airport at 08:30. At security, I took an opt-out that was professional and 85% thorough. The TSO managed to discover my cheap flip-phone I had forgotten in my pocket that the magnetometer had missed! Up to the Terminal B President’s Club which is now the United Club. All new signage had been replaced overnight. They’d even renamed the wi-fi access point. Same breakfast food items as usual (mini-yogurts, small muffins, bagels and cream cheese).

The flight to XNA was unremarkable – it boarded on time (military personnel called first, then elites). I sat in 12A on this ERJ-145, we pushed back on time, there was a full can drink service, we landed on time, and my five suitcases were almost the only stuff to come on to the carousel. It filled the trunk and back seat of my daughter’s car.

Summary: Irregular operations were handled smoothly and I have no complaints. In flight service was good with a power socket at my seat (that fit both US and UK plugs, maybe others too). The IFE was flawless (Hanna, Fast Five, Source Code and A Fish Called Wanda). It was consistently consistent and completely boring, which is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. Despite sitting in coach, Continental for this trip deserves an A+. The only thing that would have improved my experience would have been an op-up.

Total Trip Cost: $617.05
Actual Airfare: $344.50
Actual Miles Flown: 5272
Yield: $ 0.065 per mile
Taxes & Fees: $272.55, 44.17% of ticket price
Generated by the VanMetric Airfare Info Generator, version 0.11.

Day 11: Dear Delta

Dear Delta,

I am a frequent flyer of 14 years and I love to travel, but travel days like August 15 are exhausting, stressful, and exasperating. May I say that I am glad to have a month off from air travel?

On a positive note, I would like to offer my praise to the pilots and flight attendants of the flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta. They performed above and beyond under conditions beyond their control. I especially appreciated the lead flight attendant who came to each first class row and thanked us for our loyalty, business, and patience. Sincere appreciation can do a world of good.

However, that being said, my travel day with you was very frustrating.  Our inbound plane at LaGuardia arrived late, so we boarded and pushed back late. The weather in the area was not good, so we spent an hour or so on the tarmac waiting to depart. Just as we had been given clearance to depart, the pilots discovered an electrical problem with the navigation system, so we lost our place in line and had to return the gate. We spent almost two hours on the plane waiting for maintenance to determine the problem, locate the part, and replace the part. We pushed back again and spent another hour waiting to depart due to weather and air traffic control. In total, we spent almost four hours aboard the plane and never got anywhere. That was followed by a two-hour flight with the usual inflight service: beverages, lunch (well, it was almost dinnertime!), on-demand inflight entertainment, and optional Gogo Inflight Internet.

During the mechanical delay, we were told that agents were working on rebooking us. I must advise that your personnel should only say that if it is true. I always proceed with caution and check for myself. I discovered that my itinerary hadn’t been touched, so I contacted my boyfriend prior to departure and asked him to have Delta back me up on my connecting flight. By the time we reached Atlanta, I had missed two possible connections, was on standby for another, and was confirmed on the last flight of the day. I must request from you to never subject me to a six-hour LGA-ATL flight again, OK?

Our plane arrived at concourse E and it was a sign to spend time at One Flew South, where I enjoyed their amazing chicken noodle soup and a glass of 2010 Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc.

I headed to the gate of the standby flight and luckily, I was cleared to board. Amazingly, this flight went off without a hitch, nor a wait on the runway, and we arrived at Tri-Cities (TRI) early. Even my bag made it.

In closing, I’d like to say thank you for the crew on the first flight and the good connecting flight. I am still exhausted, but perhaps a bit less exasperated today.

Sincerely,
Beth