Two years ago, I told the story of US Airways essentially holding my wife and children hostage in Georgia, demanding that we pay hundreds of dollars in change fees so that they could fly home a day later than originally planned. They couldn’t fly on the original date because my wife had a serious illness which (a) made it impossible for her to care adequately for all the kids on the airplane and (b) would have been contagious to all the other passengers.
The way we were treated was awful for two reasons: (1) US Airways policy no-exceptions policy about ticket change fees is offensive, insensitive, and unfriendly and uncaring to passengers; and (2) throughout our experience, it ranged between difficult and impossible to reach people at US Airways who could help us, and when we did, we were often treated with disdain.
As bad as our experience was, a story which was recently shared with me seems worse, so I wanted to share it with my readers.
This story comes from Andrew T. Draper, one of the pastors at the Urban Light Community Church in Muncie, Indiana. The following are his words, written in the form of a letter to the CEO of US Airways.
I am writing to notify you of unacceptable treatment that my family received from US Airways. My father purchased tickets for a round trip from Indianapolis to Orlando (March 29-April 3) for me, my wife, and our two sons, ages 5 and 4. We were able to take our kids to Disney World for a few days and had a wonderful time. Unfortunately, my maternal grandfather / my sons’ great-grandfather passed away in Maryland. The viewing and funeral were scheduled for Sunday, April 3 and Monday, April 4. This actually worked out well with our flights as our return flight was scheduled for Sunday, April 3 with a connection in Philadelphia. We realized that my family of four could rent a car in Philly and drive the three hours to the viewing, thereby arriving on time.
Our flight was scheduled to leave Orlando at 7:55am. We got up very early to be at the airport by 5:30am. Upon arriving, I explained the situation of the death in our family to the US Airways staff and requested that our bags, containing dress clothes and toiletries that we would need for the funeral, be checked only to Philadelphia. A woman named Victoria explained that they could not check the bags to Philly because they needed to be checked to our final destination. At that point, we requested that our final destination be changed to Philly. She responded that she needed to check for seats on the flight. I explained that it was the same flight upon which we already had four seats reserved. She told us that they had to check for new seats if we wanted our bags. She explained that it would be a $150 fee per person and $164 per person for the new tickets. The only way we could have our bags for the funeral would be if we paid an additional $1256 for a flight upon which we already had tickets reserved. I of course did not have the money to do this.
We requested to speak to a supervisor, at which point she explained that she was a supervisor and directed us to another supervisor, a man named Glenn. He stated that it was government regulations that our bags had to be checked through to Indy. We replied that we understood that, hence the necessity to change our final destination to Philly in order for us to have our bags. Government regulations do not require that US Airways charge us an additional $1200 in order to be able to help us in our bereavement by having our bags for seats that we have already paid for. The fact that neither of these people would do anything to make a very reasonable exception for bereavement is unacceptable. We were not asking for a new flight, exceptional accommodations, or a last minute cancellation. We simply did not want to be taken advantage of to the tune of $1200 because of a death in the family.
I explained that our only choice would be to stand in the middle of the airport with our preschooler and kindergartner and unpack all of our bags so that we could rearrange our dress clothes to fit in our carry-ons. They gave us no other choice. After all this time of trying to work out a solution, we were forced to ball our dress suits up to fit in carry-ons and leave our full-sized toiletries on the bags headed to Indianapolis. Our clothes were creased, we were not able to take our amenities, and we now were running perilously close to missing our flight as we were forced to rush our young boys through re-packing, security, and on to one of the furthest gates from the counter.
In Philly I tried to get our bags. There was a very kind steward who explained how we could go about asking for them, but the clerk at the counter did nothing to help either. The flight agent was rude and again we had no success. After renting a car and spending two days in Maryland, we then tried to find out if our bags had made it to Indy and could not get anyone at US Airways to connect us to the baggage department in Indy. We were driving from Maryland to Indy in a rented car and arriving late in the evening with our two young sons and were told by one of your national agents that we could only get our bags till 7:30 on Monday, April 4. Finally, on the fourth phone call I was connected to Indy and found out that we were able to get our bags up until around midnight. We arrived in Indy at 11:30 after driving for nine hours and were finally able to get our bags. However, by this point my wife had attended the viewing without being able to get ready with her toiletries before-hand and we had worn creased clothing as participants in the funeral, having not been allowed to take our garment bag.
Our entire experience with US Airways was nothing less than terrible. We have told the story dozens of times and every person we talk to is horrified and asks what airline could have acted this way. My father travels for his work around 150 days a year. My family travels for special events, both business and personal. We fly a variety of different airlines and have never been treated like this. At no point did anyone from US Airways express their sympathies or concern for our situation. In both states, we were treated like one more number in a completely impersonal and cold way. There was no bend, no warmth, no apology, and no attempt to work with us. If this is the kind of corporate culture that you have created at US Airways, I feel terrible for the people who work in your company and the customers who are unfortunate enough to have purchased their tickets from US Airways. If this is your DNA, it is parasitic and immoral. It needs to be radically reformed.
My father is president of an institution of higher education and heads an educational accreditation team that travels the country, licensed by the US Dept. of Education. I am a pastor and the director of a non-profit corporation and am connected to many people who are interested in our work. Unless something radical is done to alter this situation, please be aware that I will take every opportunity to communicate to our professional and personal contacts the rude and heartless way US Airways treated us. Each person we have spoken with so far has not needed any encouragement not to fly with your company because the story speaks for itself. I understand that in a globalized economy there are necessarily systems in place in order to increase efficiency, thereby making any system work properly and benefit the most people. However, when a system has lost its humanity and its ability to make exceptions for the tragedies and concerns of life, it is a system that should be drastically altered or should not exist. I believe that you as a company leader need to know this and need to search your heart to consider what course corrections you must take. In the days of a failing economy, CEO exposes, consumer pressure and corporate repentance, and the social networks with which to communicate unjust business practices, you will not long survive if this is the ethos you promote.
Andrew T. Draper