Aug 062007

And ends with me, as far as I’m concerned. My trip down to Charleston was a comic travesty of airline mismanagement. I don’t mean to say that it was the worst flying experience ever, or even that it was my worst flying experience ever. It was just a classic example of the pathetic failures of modern airlines.

The trip began with a 5AM phone call telling me my flight out of Boston had been cancelled, but that I had been put on another flight an hour later. At the gate, it became clear that the 12:30 had also been cancelled, and that the (I imagine) sparse occupancy of three different planes had been crammed together to make one very full 11:30 flight to Philly. Of course, it was also worth noting that the plane looked like it was falling apart on the inside – a large number of the overhead panels (with the lights and air nozzles) were pushed out of line with each other, or tilted about 3 degrees relative to the luggage compartments.

The flight from there to Charleston was unremarkable (although my cousin Eleanor was not so lucky and her luggage disappeared when she took the same flight a day later). We all had a good time with the Warner clan, and most of the Lyons and Heinsohn branches were also represented (though cousin Frank couldn’t make it). Eleanor disappeared for an hour and a half and freaked out her parents, and I ate way too much of Aunt Peggy’s shrimp salad.

On my way back to Boston, my flight out of Charleston got cancelled, supposedly for a mechanical problem. The clerk said the usual spiel about how it was better that they stopped the flight than flew with a bad plane, but this misses the point. In a competent company, the plane doesn’t have a mechanical problem in the first place. Planes get serviced, and unservicable planes get removed from the fleet. At the very least, the company should have spares available regionally to pick up the slack. My own suspicion, however, is that the plane was fine except for not being full enough to make the flight profitable. Thus, people were shunted onto alternate routes. I ended up flying to LaGuardia rather than Charlotte and got home 3 hours late. My bags arrived on time, however; they took the 1 PM LGA-BOS flight while I had to wait till the 2 o’clock. This fact was announced only after the later flight’s bags had rolled around on the conveyor belt — a paltry 20 or so bags for a nearly-full flight. I found my bag sitting in front of the luggage office and ran while I still could.

Was anything really awful about this? No. But it’s not really awful experiences that convince me to stay away from something. Truly terrible experiences, like wonderful ones, tend to be statistical anomalies and shouldn’t be focused on unless they recur. It’s the grating, repetitive march of insensitive and unprofessional behavior that really puts me off air travel in general, and now US Airways in particular. I’ll probably have to fly with them in the future, but dang if I don’t hope to avoid it.