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Rainy days on the East Coast... and a bit of a US Airways rant

01_09 rain in richmond  

It is a cool rainy day on the East Coast, as witnessed by looking out a  window at the Richmond, VA airport... 'course this is better than the cold sleet yesterday.

So now I am in Charlotte, NC waiting on a one- hour delayed flight back to Phoenix... and pondering how far a good airline has fallen. I should preface these comments by admitting a prejudice: I am a fan of Southwest Airlines, and their business model, but an open disparager of what US Airways has become. Once living a good mid-sized life as America West but fallen into the trap of "bigger and worser." This is not a rant about the how's and path's that led them here but rather a view from the eyes of a tired guy who flies a lot.

Starting with the biggest, I hate the $15. per bag baggage charge, but not because of the cost (although I find it hard to understand the charge when other airlines do not feel the need). No, my complaint is about what It has done to flying with US Airways. So many people choose not to check baggage that boarding has become a true hassle. Many more people haul on board big travel kits that just barely fit in the overheads. It has gotten so bad that gate attendants beg folks on full flights to gate check because there will be no room for everything. On the flight today from Richmond to Charlotte, overhead space was gone about halfway through the boarding process. 'Used to be you could fly a full flight and see open space in the overheads... not anymore.

Another side effect of the baggage charge: it has really slowed down the boarding and disembarking processes. Folks have to maneuver those over-sized bags on to the plane and then get them up into an overhead, often jamming them in. The reverse holds true upon arrival: rip the bag out of overhead and then sloooowly maneuver it down the aisle. This is evidenced by gate attendants once again begging people to gate check in order to "expedite" the boarding process. If you fly a lot you will have noticed the slowdown!

Here is another rant: how can Southwest offer neat little amenities in their terminals for travelers while US Airways just kind of leaves you on your own? To whit: most Southwest gates now sport counters equipped with stools and electrical outlets for us road warriors hauling electronics. At many of their gates they also have big comfortable padded brown chairs, also equipped with power and places to sit a notebook. A side-note word of caution: be careful of the big brown chairs if you are really tired: you may be in danger of sleeping through your departure. US Airways? Suffice it to say I am at one of their major hubs sitting on a floor, back against a wall, after hunting down one of the few electrical outlets on the walls of the terminal. Someone occasionally walks by shooting mean side glances because I claimed one of the few outlets. So, US Airways, if Southwest can do this, why can't you? 

When you arrive at your destination, what about getting that overcharged bag back? It really seems that US Airways is, in almost every airport I go to, the slowest baggage handling going. Wait and wait and wait (while other airlines hustle baggage to the pick up areas) for the bag to finally show up. If less people are checking luggage, why is unloading so much slower? Have you cut back too far on baggage handlers... or do they just not care anymore (a la the problems in Philadelphia a few years back).

And finally, how 'bout a bit of humor and grace under fire. Sure you need to be "professionals," but, hey, LIGHTEN UP a bit; particularly when things are screwed up, like tonight's weather delay. Two big suggestions: it surely seems that every time something gets whacked out, all the gate agents disappear... a US Airways agent is nowhere in site as I sit amongst my fellow travelers waiting for a delayed flight (now over an hour delayed). And secondly, how about a little personality injected into those dry professional announcements. Do you train your gate agents to speak in a bland monotone, or is it a defensive reaction on their parts? Either way, a bit of human interaction training in times of stress sure would help the old image and the moods of your customers. 

I won't even get started on the lack of legroom on flights and the silly charges on beverages. Both, I guess, make prudent business sense and I can live with them... just not like them!

Mr. US Airways, I can't blame you for the bad weather and even the occasional mechanical problems that screw up flights, but I sure can find fault in the little things you are doing to run your airline into the ground, so to speak, and neglect your customers.


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