US Air, fly the tempestuous skies

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

3 June 2009

A terrifying story about US Air

With the risk of sounding like a looping recording, I cannot help but berate the airline industry again today and signal out US Airways specifically.

US Airways was in the news again this morning because ridership is off and dropping. According to the latest reports, US Air traffic fell 5.2% in May.  The article goes on to cite the loss in revenue to such bizarre coincidences like the swine flu scare last month.

“Does US Air have a brand promise? You bet they do. It is BEWARE.”

Here is what Belk Department Stores has to say about themselves:

Belk, Inc., a private department store company based in Charlotte, N.C., is the home of Modern. Southern. Style. with 293 Belk stores located in 16 Southern states and a growing digital presence.

Belk Department Stores are owned by Sycamore partnersBelk is a portfolio company of Sycamore Partners (So much for Southern Roots. Last I checked, Sycamore Partners are in NYC), a private equity firm based in New York. Belk and www.belk.com offer a wide assortment of national brands and private label fashion apparel, shoes and accessories for the entire family along with top name cosmetics, a wedding registry and a large selection of quality merchandise for the home.

Belk offers many ways to connect via digital and social media, including Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google Plus, …”

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US Air

Let’s face facts. US domestic carriers (like American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest, Delta, Continental and Northwest) bear much of the responsibility in the drop off and the seemingly impossible task of becoming profitable.  Simply put, they just don’t get it.

Case in point: Yesterday, I had another unexpected adventure with US Air. A week or so ago, many of you will remember the blog I wrote about the latest airline scam where they pre-pad the flight schedules for delays so that unsuspecting travelers think they arrived early or on time when they in fact arrived an hour later.

Well, true to form, I was flying back from Philadelphia to Greensboro and the direct flights were scheduled to arrive 45 minutes longer than the actual flight time. But that is old news. What is new is how badly US Airways seemed to mess up the mundane.

This story includes a fuel truck wreck straight out of the Keystone Kops and the milking of money to someone who should otherwise be in a hospital bed. And that’s just the start.

My flight was scheduled to leave Philadelphia at 3 PM.  Boarding time was at 2:28. At 2:45, the plane we were scheduled to board had not yet landed. Of course, the “On-Time” airline, as US Airways like to market itself these days, still listed the flight as being on time. And why not? After all, they had built 30 minute delays into the schedule already.

When we finally boarded, 30 minutes after we were scheduled to board, I opted to nap instead of affording myself the lavish hospitality bestowed on passengers. The pilot announcing that we were now delayed because of thunderstorms awakened me. I checked my watch. We had already been on the plane for 45 minutes.

US Air

Nearly 30 minutes later, the pilot said we were next to take off, then interrupted again to inform us of more bad news. “I’m afraid we have developed a maintenance issue and need to return to the gate.” Nearly 20 minutes later, we pulled back into the gate and back into the airport.

The flight attendant told us US Air was attempting to get a replacement aircraft to our gate and that our bags, even the gate checked bags, would not be made available to us.

Among the passengers was a very sickly gentleman. He looked skeletal, with gray skin, a baseball cap to cover his hairless scalp, in a wheelchair with hospital bracelets on both arms. Apparently, he was on his way to a hospital in North Carolina. His condition prohibited him from taking food or liquids and obviously required an IV. He had been at the airport and on this plane for already going on four hours.

Suddenly, the US Air representative, who met us at the gate when we deplaned, announced that another aircraft would be landing at 5:15 and it would be our new ride to North Carolina.  Sure enough, at 5:15 a plane pulled up to the gate and passengers disembarked. We watched our baggage get loaded on the new aircraft when one of the more observant passengers yelled, ”Hey folks, you wont believe what is going on here!”

keystonekopsweb1The fuel truck sent to refuel the jet had just crashed into the wing of the aircraft.

Luckily for us, the co-pilot, who had just begun shaving that very morning, was the one selected to make the visual inspection on the damage, leveraging his experience in ensuring our collective safety.

His acute vision was not enough for US Airways. An hour and a half later, the maintenance group finally arrived to check out the battered commuter jet.

The haggard US Airways rep then announced on the public address system that we were cleared to take off and that he was prepared to pre-board passengers needing extra time. With that, the wheelchair bound gentleman was being pushed down the jet way. Half way down, the captain halted the procession because maintenance had not yet brought in the “part” needed.

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We can only guess that he meant a “spare wing”

A hour later, we all boarded with trepidation and sent our loved ones a final text message. Just in case.

Here’s the kicker: the sickly gentleman – battered, and ill – requested a pillow and blanket. He got them both, but the airlines sold them to him because US Airways no longer provides them free.

Does US Air have a brand promise? You bet they do. It is BEWARE.

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