Sunday, August 09, 2009

Traveling via US Air - an experience to be avoided

Probably I should stop devoting space and energy to kvetching about bad airline customer service. But contrasts between the service I experienced last week on six Southwest Air segments and this morning, checking in with US Air, are so great that I cannot restrain myself. On Southwest the web reservations and on line check in systems worked flawlessly. Baggage check in lines were short, baggage checking was included in the price of the ticket. In four different cities, was were an abundance of cheerful, high energy customer service staff. Their commitment to making things work was obvious. From beginning to end, every encounter with Southwest made travel a positive experience.

One gropes for an appropriate metaphor to contrast my three days of Southwest Flying with this morning’s experience on US Air. Perhaps being suddenly plucked from Singapore’s International Airport and deposited at a New York Metropolitan Transit Station, deep in the South Bronx, at midnight, will capture the differences. The check in line at a single station was long. It grew longer as passengers struggled with a confusing online check in procedure while the staff member, an overwhelmed young woman offered only the most minimal assistance. I think she was doing her best. Was there anything positive? Only how passengers pitched in to help one another keep up their spirits and overcome adversity.

Sadly, Southwest Airlines does not yet fly from Washington National Airport. Service to East Coast destinations is limited. While it is certainly worth the long and expensive trip to Dulles or Baltimore Washington International, to escape the clutches of US Air and other ‘legacy’ airlines, sometimes that is not possible. The problem is not with front-line staff who, I believe, often struggle to do their best in difficult circumstances. The problem is bad management. One wonders if US Air senior managers have ever flown on Southwest Airlines.

One can only pray that US Air may soon go the way of Bear Sterns, Lehmann Brothers, Chrysler Corporation and General Motors, that the bonuses for failed senior managers will be modest and that there will be no government bailout. Is it too much to hope for that Southwest Airlines might take over the routes that US Air is now serving so badly?

PS: To be fair, I must note that once I boarded the plane, things improved. The plane was clean. The cabin crew were neatly dressed, pleasant and efficient. However they were not employed by US Air, but by Republic Airlines, under contract.

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