Monday, July 9, 2012

Saturday Night Return Voyage


Now normally I like flying US Airways. Now I know some of you will be shocked by this revelation. This airline doesn't always get good press. Perhaps with some reason. But at one point in time there was a single person at the check-in counter at TF Green Airport who made all the difference in my own perception of this airline.

However, on Saturday, the 7th of July (in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve, none of that "Common Era" crap for me, thank you very much) US Airways did NOT cover themselves with glory from a public relations standpoint.

Now I'm in a bit of a quandary here. Like I said above, I did have a very positive experience with US Airways once and Saturday's experience was awful. So which story do I tell first, the good one or the bad one? Before I make that decision I'll inflict a couple of "Old AF Sarge Observations" on you.

Observation 1: There are many a$$holes in the world. Far too many for my tastes. Most of them seem to be drawn to politics. Or positions in corporate management.

Observation 2: People who have no respect or consideration for others are, in general, a$$holes.

Observation 3: People who have to deal with customers all day long, many of whom are a$$holes, will eventually exhibit a$$hole-like behavior at some point in their lives. If not careful, they may drift into complete a$$hole-dom. Most will go home, relax, recover and return to work the next day and will strive to do their jobs to the utmost of their abilities. And then an a$$hole will come along, and ruin their day.

Now I've decided, I'll tell the nice US Airways story first.

The Missus and I were scheduled to fly down to Norfolk, for to see the WSO get "patched". (Translation: She was transitioning from a training squadron, VFA-106, to her very first operational squadron, VFA-32. When this occurs, one receives the patches of the new unit for one's flight suit. One also receives a new name patch for one's flight suit, it generally has the appropriate wings, one's rank, and the name "FNG". The "NG" stands for New Guy. The "F"? I'll leave that one to your fertile imaginations. For those who are guessing that it rhymes with "trucking", go to the head of the class. Oh yes, almost forgot, adult beverages are consumed, typically in large quantities.)

So there we were, at TF Green Airport attempting to check in using those fancy machines where you stick your credit card in and it prints out your boarding passes. Well, seems Mr. Fancy Machine didn't want to play nice and referred me to the check-in counter. Never a good sign.

We await our turn, stroll up to the very harried looking lady (VHLL) at the counter and present our dilemma. The conversation then went something like this:

Me: "I attempted to check in, the machine directed me here."

VHLL: "Yes, that flight has been cancelled."

Me: "And....?"

VHLL: "I can get you on a flight tomorrow morning."

Me: "No good, we need to be there tonight. We have an event tomorrow for which that flight would make us late."

VHLL: "Then I don't know what to tell you. Next!"

Now imagine, if you will, a look of extreme puzzlement and mounting annoyance beginning to build upon the Old AF Sarge's visage. Sort of like watching the thunderclouds building up o'er the plains on a hot summer day. The Missus, recognizing all the signs of an impending calamity, takes my arm and starts to pull me back.

But I hear something at the next station at the US Airways counter which gave me pause:

"I'm sorry Sir, let me see what I can do."

Hhhhmm, thinks I, someone who seems to understand customer service. At the appropriate time, I slide over to that lady's position. She informs me that I need to wait in line and would I....

Me: "No Ma'am. I waited in line, only to have your colleague there be completely unhelpful. You seem to know your job and are friendly as well. Please assist us?"

Well, she did assist us. Found us a flight that night. It was to Newport News, not Norfolk, but hey, close enough. The young lady was eager to help, knew how to use the computer system in front of her and knew the right people to call to make things happen. Unlike her colleague, whose sole goal, I felt, was to make the line move as fast as possible without regard to the quality of service being provided.

US Airways got an e-mail praising this young lady, this paragon of service, whose name I had written down. Their answer, "Thank you. Of course, we expect this type of behavior from all of our employees. Etc., etc."

Not pleased with that response, I sent another e-mail.

"While it's nice that you expect this sort of behavior from your employees, Ms. X is one of the very, very few who actually exhibit this behavior. As opposed to Ms. VHLL who was a total jerk and went out of her way to make me feel that even though I paid money to fly on your airline, I was not worth her precious time. How's about them apples, Mr. Corporate Canned Response?"

The next e-mail I received from US Airways actually appeared to be from a human. Thanking me for taking the time to recognize Ms. X and how sorry they were that I had to deal with Ms. VHLL. Ms. X would be lauded and feted, Ms. VHLL would be, ahem, counselled. Yes, I also wrote down Ms. YHLL's name as well. For to complain, of course.

So that's one of my GOOD US Airways stories.

Saturday night, well let's just say that Saturday night was most trying of my patience. What little I have.

Flight back to Rhody was scheduled for approximately 1830. The WSO, the Missus, Little Bit and Yours Truly piled into the WSO-mobile to head for the old aeroporto at an appropriate time which would get me to the airpatch on time for my flight with a little stop at the NEX on the way.

NEX mission completed we were on the road to head for Norfolk International Airport. That's when my cell phone rang. Hhhmm, seems my flight was delayed until 1940 (7:40 PM for you civilians, Mickey's little hand between the 7 and the 8, Mickey's big hand on the 8 for you gravel agitators).

I informed the WSO who asked me what I wanted to do. Just go to the airport, I'll grab some coffee and read my book. (Seal Team Six for those of you with a curious nature.)

Upon arrival I head for Mr. Fancy Machine to get my boarding passes. As I break formation, the WSO looks at the scheduled departures listing and notes something of interest.

"Hey Dad, your flight's been cancelled!"

Cancelled says I, cancelled. Wonderful. Perhaps I'll just stay in Virginia Beach for the remainder of my allotted time on this earth. Perhaps I'll become a wandering vagabond here in the Norfolk area, relying on the kindness of strangers. Perhaps I'll go to the check-in counter and ask, "WTF? My flight has been cancelled?"

I chose the latter option. Skipping the "WTF" portion. The Missus was present, as was the granddaughter. While the WSO would have found that to be very amusing, the Missus? Not so much. And of course, I must set the proper example for my granddaughter. Who finds great joy in announcing to the world at large that she has gone "poopie" and that she has "stinky butt". (Which she had done a few days previously in that fine dining establishment, Chili's. To my great amusement.)

The chap at the counter quickly got me another flight to Rhody. Which left at 2030, roughly 3 hours hence from the time it was, at the time.

This flight, rather than Norfolk - Philly - Providence went Norfolk - Charlotte - Providence. Instead of arriving upon the shore of Narragansett at approximately 2215 local, I should get there "around midnight".

"Midnight today?"

"Yes Sir, midnight today."

"Nothing else available?"

"No Sir. Nothing else available."

Sigh.

So I waited until the appointed time. Noted a rather attractive flight attendant waiting with all of us cargo. She seemed very annoyed with whoever she was speaking with on her cell phone. It also seemed that she was at the end of a very long day.

Turns out that she would be performing duties as a flight attendant on my flight. Seems that the flight attendant who had been scheduled for this flight was, shall we say, "unavailable". So this lady, who had planned on deadheading back to Charlotte, would now actually have to work the flight. After working all day already. Well, the lady sucked it up and soldiered on, so to speak. She performed admirably on the flight to Charlotte. And I'm not saying that just because she was attractive. I'm old, I have no shot, therefore I can look past the attractiveness of much younger females of the species and concentrate on how well they do their jobs. Sure I can, it says so in the Old Guy Dash One (that would be the Old Guy NATOPS for you Naval-types).

At any rate, I made it to Charlotte. Flight was pleasant, view was great. (The view out the window you naughty people. But yes, I was all the way at the front of the Canadair CL-65. And yes, the flight attendant's station is just forward of that, just astern of the cockpit door. But I was observing her duty performance, not her comely aspect. Really, no honest, I was!)

And what was it with that jet? No freaking air conditioning while on the ground? Is this a feature of the Canadair CL-65? (I know it's not the case, but that jet was most uncomfortable while awaiting the switch over to internal power!)

So I'm in Charlotte and my ticket directs me to gate C-14, which is approximately 7 parsecs from where my jet from Norfolk docked. Jumping through hyperspace, I arrive at C-14. Yup, it's a flight to Providence. But it's a DIFFERENT FLIGHT NUMBER.

Damn.

Time to check the monitor. Yes, there are two flights to Providence. The one I want will be docking at Gate C-2. Yes, the gate I passed a few moments before. So back I go.

In time to hear that the aircraft is running late. Instead of leaving at 2206, the gate guy announces that we will be leaving at 2216. While the board behind him changes over to read: "2235". Hhhmm, I sense a disturbance in the Force.

Seems that our aircraft was en route from Minnesota, in the land of COMJAM. And there was a line of thunder-boomers drawn across the land between where I was and where the jet was. Understandable. The weather will do what the weather does. I have no control over that, neither does US Airways.

Eventually our winged transport arrives, is serviced and we shuffle on board. First announcement from our pilot?

"Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. I'm Captain Garbled and I'll be flying you to Providence tonight. Seems the regular Captain was unavailable so they gave me this flight."

Regular captain unavailable? Say what? What was this person doing? Was he or she making time with that unavailable flight attendant back in Norfolk? So what was our pilot, some guy yanked from the mob, tossed a  blue shirt with four-striped epaulets and told to take us to Providence?

Probably not. I'm pretty sure (well, fairly sure) that US Airways has higher standards than that. Right?

The flight itself was exquisite. The irregular captain got us in the air, did not fly the aircraft into terrain and landed very smoothly in Rhody. Also the moon was just past full, there was low broken cloud and the view out the window was awesome. Well, it was awesome as long as my seat-mate kept his rather LARGE cranium away from the window so I could see.

Old AF Sarge First Rule of Seats: If you have a decent seat on a flight, which then gets cancelled, you will have a crappy seat on the replacement flight.


Old AF Sarge Second Rule of Seats: If you are occupying one of the last two seats on an aircraft and two people get on the aircraft after you, you will get the person least desirable as a seat-mate. The hot chick (hot guy for you ladies in the audience) will sit somewhere else.


Old AF Sarge Corollary to the Second Rule of Seats: If you are wearing nice clothes, then that least desirable person will also be an absolute slob. Be prepared to get drenched with whatever that person is drinking at some point in the flight.


Thus endeth the science lesson. Like I said, I made it home in one piece. Number of controlled landings equaled number of take-offs. Jet was still usable. Unfortunately, rather than arriving at Chez Sarge at the fairly reasonable hour of 2230, I rolled through the palace gates at approximately 0045 local. You know, in the wee dark hours of the night.

But it was a good trip down Dixie way. Had fun, now it's back at work.

Sigh...

7 comments:

  1. Sure I can, it says so in the Old Guy Dash One...

    I'm reminded of "When all else fails, read the TO" thang. Except in this case the TO is absolutely NO help at ALL.

    I made a vow several years ago that I would NEVER FLY AGAIN. Most of that has to do with the TSA Circus of Inanity and Insults, but a lot has to do with the piss-poor experience flying has become, in general. I'm of an age when flying was a genteel experience, or perhaps I've lapsed into senility. But I remember the experience as one to look forward to, not one to dread. T'ain't like that no more.

    I've held to my vow, btw. So far.

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    1. No, you've not lapsed into senility Buck. I too remember when the whole airline experience was rather pleasant. But, in line with Tuna's comment below, it's all about the bottom line now. I guess the MBA-types never learned that if you take care of your customers, the business will be fine. Provided that you're providing a good product/service, you're gonna make money.

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  2. I've been flying long legs to DC and Bahrain on United recently, which only has one or two direct flights a day to Dulles, and only one to Bahrain, so these flights are packed to the gills. Yours I expect are being cancelled out from under you because they're not quite as full. So the airlines, being the nasty business of trying to make money, tend to just cancel a flight when it isn't full, not truly caring about passengers who tend to be captive audiences- they've already got your money after all- so they'll inconvenience you in order to convenience their bottom lines. Dreadfully difficult to maintain high customer service ratings when they actually don't care about their customers, mainly because they have to care about margins first and foremost. I'm not sure how the airlines aren't raking in the cash now with every flight I've been on in the past 10 years being jam packed though. They must be undercutting their competitors on some legs just to gain an advantage or something, and they've cut the pensions for all down to nothing or less than nothing. But I've digressed- we were talking about customer service and flying... Try United next time, I've had good luck recently.

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    1. I brought my laptop with me to BAH this time by the way- decent bandwidth at the hotel, and no more thumb typing on the smartphone.

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    2. I'll look into United. Seems I haven't flown them in quite a while.

      Agree with you about the business aspect of things. Seems everyone has forgotten (or never learned) that happy customers make for a profitable business. Provided you have enough customers of course.

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  3. It always amazes me when people seem to go the extra mile to be total arsepipes, I mean why waste that additional energy? My dear old mother always used to chide me when I griped about anyone who was a `Berkshire` (bit of cockney rhyming slang for you there - I may explain sometime)and with her amazing generosity would say, "Now don't be like that about him, he may be suffering from some awful illness". Over the years I've always tried to start off nice, as its easier to turn nasty afterwards, but so hard to do it the other way round. I also like to give credit where its due as I believe we hoomans like it. What a trip Sarge!
    PS; excellent book, by the way.

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    1. Ah yes, the Berkeley Hunt I believe? Had a good buddy from Manchester back in the day, he introduced me to a number of charming British expressions, "berk" being just one of many. Not to mention that I am a HUGE Python fan, so, if pressed, I can actually speak "the Queen's English". (Although how anyone can understand a Yorkshire accent is quite beyond me.)

      The Old AF Sarge likes to start nice, I am a jovial fellow by nature. But if someone would like to play the nasty card, they tend to discover that I am quite capable of "bringing the heat".

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)