Friday, January 22, 2010

USAir Hates Families

So, I went back east. The kids came too, since we go pretty much everywhere together.
I needed a(nother) root canal, and Supergirl had a cavity which needed to be filled. No dental insurance + a brother who is a dentist + three roundtrip tickets back east = less money than California dentistry.
Except it turned out that Supergirl actually had insurance. It's just that nobody tried to tell us that when it was relevant and she was covered. Under her father's job. Which he mysteriously lost just days after being ordered to pay child support (which he must have interpreted as one of those 'optional' court orders, as evidenced by my empty mailbox). Strange thing is, he only disclosed the information that the kids were insured when we were about to fly back east. Too bad it wasn't sooner, as in, when they were first covered, because then she probably would have avoided the extraction. Father of the year, I tell you.
When I arrived in the tundra known as Buffalo, NY, it was about -6 degrees. Yes, that is a minus sign before the 6. I would have cried about it, but it was cold enough to freeze saltwater, and tear-sicles are very uncomfortable.
I would like to announce that my children are star travelers. Seriously. People would get on the plane and stare me down when they realized they had been seated near children. But at the end of each flight, those same passengers would inevitably be the ones to praise my children and their good behavior.
In fact, they were better behaved than some of the adult passengers and USAir staff I encountered on my first attempts to fly across the country. When I purchased my tickets I saw that they had seated me rows away from each of my children, aged 8 and 4. I called right away and asked for a seat change but was told they could only help me when I arrived at the airport. I've heard that one before.
When I arrived at SFO, I headed for the nearest agent, even though I had already checked in online. She spent a good deal of time trying to get us seats together, so much time in fact, that I was starting to get nervous about getting through security. She finally said there was nothing she could do, but they would be able to help me at the gate. Again, heard that one before.
By the time we reached the gate, the plane was already boarding. I talked to the gate agent, showed him my tickets, and he replied, "Why did you come at the last minute if you wanted to switch seats?"
"Whhaaaaaat?" I stammered, explaining that I had been at the airport for over an hour! "Why didn't you seat me with my kids?" I fired back.
"I wasn't the one who did that." He snidely replied.
"Ummm.....okay?" I looked at him expectantly.
He shoved my tickets back at me, disgusted. "Those are all middle seats - nobody will want to switch with you and we can't legally force anyone to switch. Plus, there's another family trying to do what you are doing."
"Ummm....okay?" I repeated...."Trying to do what I'm doing? Like sit next to their kids? I can't let them sit 10 rows away from me!! What should I do?"
He waved me on to the jetway. "Good luck with that."
I made my way down the very crowded jetway and down to a flight attendant. She looked at my tickets and said, "There's another family ahead of you trying to do what you're doing."
"So I've heard," I muttered back at her. I felt as if I was being accused of trying to sell cookies and wrapping paper to strangers on the plane. Or worse, was being accused of trying to light my underwear on fire (a joke I could not make in the airport!) ....not just trying to secure seats next to my minor children.
The exasperated flight attendant disappeared and came back to the jetway moments later. "Nobody wants to move into middle seats, and we can't legally force anyone to move from their seat."
I laughed and said, "You have got to be kidding me, right? I mean, okay...I guess it would be fine...I mean I haven't had a six hour break in I don't know HOW long...I guess I can just hand his electronics to the complete strangers sitting next to my four year old and pick him up in Philadelphia (connecting city)." At this point I may or may not have cackled maniacally.
"That's really not that funny." She said, dryly.
"WHAT??" I exploded. I had used up all my patience and humor. "You wouldn't let me put this four year old on a plane without me unless I hired an escort for him but you don't think it's FUNNY that you want to seat him practically in the LAPS of complete STRANGERS?? I think it's fucking HILARIOUS!!"
She handed my tickets back to me.
"Not my policy. Just enforcing it. Sorry, but there's nothing I can tell you. Nobody wants to move."
"That's IT???"
"I'm afraid so." And she left me standing there among a throng of passengers who were relieved that THEY would not be asked to switch seats and therefore sympathetic.
I walked back up to the gate; two kids, three backpacks, one stroller.
"Now what?" I asked the anxiety-plagued gate agent, as I handed back my unused boarding passes.
"Well....we can get you through another city but I have to check and see if I am allowed to do that, since your bags are already on the other plane and it could be a security problem."
"Not MY policy...." I muttered.

And so I was re-routed on another plane, through Charlotte, NC. Where it was a balmy 30 degrees.

So what happened? Anybody else ever experience this?
I have some ideas....
Now that USAir and most other airlines are nickel and diming us to stay in business (pay for bad snack food, pay to check baggage) they have to come up with new and creative ways to make more money than the tickets we already purchased. So some marketing WIZARD came up with the brilliant new plan of charging passengers $5 per flight to reserve a 'premium seat'. 'Premium seat' actually just translates into: A NON- MIDDLE SEAT. So basically, the message is that they hate families. There, I said it. USAir is anti-family. On top of the three full price tickets I purchased, they wanted an extra $5 per family member to ensure we would be able to sit together, instead of placing my children in the virtual laps of strangers.

They call it marketing.
I call it child endangerment.

13 comments:

Alexicographer said...

Geez, I'm so sorry. I went through this with Delta recently on international flights, but actually got the agent to give me and my son seats apart because, as I (correctly, in our case) commented, no passenger would be foolish enough to want to be left seated next to my 2-year old on an 11-hour flight.

It does amaze me how no one ... no one ... on the flight staff apparently has the "authority" to do ... anything. Huh?

Lunasea said...

Good freakin' lord. That's ridiculous. Did you have to take another flight? This happened to us on Southwest, which is a little different because it's open seating. I had my baby in a car seat and I said loudly, "Hey, if someone else wants to take care of him during the flight, I'm not arguing." They moved.

Headless Mom said...

That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Thanks for the tip. I won't be flying US Air anytime soon.

Sophie said...

That is just freaking ridiculous. There is no decent customer service anymore.

Ouch about the root canal (me too and I'm living on painkillers right now) and that sucks about the tooth. Your ex screwing around with the insurance is just idiocy. And he wants custody? Sounds like he can barely tie his shoelaces.

furiousBall said...

root canals are the opposite of what is awesome. actually the perm crown procedure was worse for me

Jennifer said...

I do not like to have to pay for checked baggage (just had to do it in December flying to and from SFO to visit my folks) and I totally hear you about trying to sit with your kids I have a 10 and five year old. I think the airlines can be a little bit more accomadating especally with familys with children. it would be in their best intrest i would think

Mama Deb said...

Flying has become a total nightmare. Sorry you had this experience. What do you want to be the CEO of US Airways is a member of Focus on the Family or some other conservative group like that? Sorry...that was probably uncalled for, but I am tired of hypocrisy.

plk said...

I totally agree that this is outrageous. Your should send your story to consumerist.com - they love stories like this, and you might get some good suggestions. Also, I think you should send your story to the airline (see consumerist.com again for suggestions on who to contact) and you might get some compensation.

Magpie said...

Bastards. And idiots.

Maureen said...

This happened to me on Continental. Except I didn't argue after the first 5 minutes of run around I got. I was traveling alone with my then not quite 3 year old and 10 month old. I always board last when I travel with kids, so I simply said "excuse me while I buckle in my son's car seat. His name is Ray. Continental felt no need to seat me by him so I'll be 4 rows back" to the lady in the aisle seat. The man who was in the window seat jumped up and said that my son would much prefer a window seat and he would move back to "my" seat. I figured that one of the 4 people that could move seats to allow us to sit together was not going to want to listen to my child howl for the 3.5 hour flight. That was the thought that went through my head when talking to the ticketing agent and getting now where. I count on there are decent people in this world (even if there are ludicrous rules)

Julia said...

Phooey, I missed this when you first wrote it.

The same thing happened to me. I called every day two weeks in advance to have either my husband or myself sit next to my 4 year old. I called 24 hours in advance when they usually open up their spare seats. I called 4 hours before the flight. I tried when arriving at the airport. (The second leg of the trip was the problem). I tried at the gate agent. Again with the next gate agent who screwed me by chatting with someone while the only aisle seat got taken "Oops, sorry!"

Random people on the plane switched with us as all the employees told us they were sorry and airline policy was not to ask people to change seats.

I wrote to American Airlines and they said "Yes that is our policy, but please fly with us again, we are sure you will have a better experience next time!"

I'd like to get a group of people together to petition the FAA.

Really, all I wanted was the gate agent to do a broadcast saying "If anyone in rows 13, 17, or 24 A-C- would be willing to change their seats so a 4 year old can sit next to their parent, please come to the desk."

Instead, apparently this makes the employees feel TOO UNCOMFORTABLE, so instead I AM REQUIRED TO DO EMBARASSING THINGS FOR THEM.

God, I hate airlines.

Next time I am going to get delibarately arrested to CNN can interview me.

Another Suburban Mom said...

I hate when the airlines do stupid crap like that. I was traveling with my two year old years ago and despite choosing the seats together, the airline moved us.

When the agent wouldn't help I said loudly, "Fabulous, I never get a minute to myself. Just let the person sitting next to him know that he gets motion sick and vomits. Thanks."

They moved us.

Anonymous said...

This is what I’m currently dealing with now!!! Please read below!!!!

Dear Mr. Doug Parker:

On January 26, 2010 I purchased 2 tickets; one for me and one for my 3 year old son. Upon checking in on our flight from Dallas to Phoenix I noticed that our seats were apart. Immediately I informed the US Airways representative of this and was told that I would have to go to the gate because she could not accommodate me. Once I arrived to the gate again, I immediately approached the representative and informed him of my request; to have me and my toddler son sit together. He informed me again that he could not accommodate my request. Once we boarded the plane I asked the flight attendant if she could accommodate me and she told me that she could not. My seat was 5D and my toddler’s was 8D. I had to hold him in my lap for the entire flight. I contacted US Airways customer relations department because I paid for 2 seats and because of US Airways inability to accommodate a toddler seating with his parent I felt that I should be compensated. On February 4, 2010 I received a phone call from Justin Dannels, he stated; “US Airways has no intention of compensating me for anything because it was my responsibility to ensure that my son and I were seated together and it was my choice to have him sit on my lap”. I asked him what other option I had when I was traveling with a 3 year old. He again repeated that it was my choice for my son to sit on my lap and it was my responsibility to make sure the seats I purchased were together. I then asked to speak with a supervisor and he informed me that “I could not speak to one because they’re all “trained to handle these situations” and he had the final say which was they would not compensate me. He also informed me that I should have planned in advance as the other passengers did. I informed him that I could not see in to the future to predict the death of a family member for me to be able to book my ticket in advance. Again I asked if I could speak to someone above him and he simply told me “that’s not going to happen”.
In your policy regarding traveling with children you state “Children under 5 may not travel without parent or legal guardian” via your website. Placing my toddler 3 rows away from me classifies him as an unaccompanied minor which by your policy, US Airways does not allow. I think the proper resolution since I was unable to use my second seat would be to refund or credit me for my son’s ticket from Dallas to Phoenix when your policy states “On domestic flights, one lap child will be accepted without charge when traveling with a paying ticketed passenger age 18 or older”. Also your policy states “US Airways will refund fully-refundable unused tickets purchased by credit card within seven business days of receipt of the refund application. Refundable unused tickets purchased with cash or check will be refunded within 20 business days of receipt of the refund application. Eligible tickets include fully-refundable unused tickets with proper documentation”.

This was my first time flying with US Airways but, because of the lack of customer service from Justin and the inability to accommodate my “special needs requests” this is definitely my last.

Best Regards,

Alexis Tyson