US Airways + personal stupidity = breaking Shabbos *sigh*

By | July 23, 2006

US Airways
Attention: Customer Relations
4000 East Sky Harbor Boulevard
Phoenix, AZ 85034

To whom it may concern:

I had a reserved seat on Friday, July 21 on US Airways Shuttle flight 2042 from Washington, DC to Boston, scheduled to depart at 4:45pm.

My flight’s departure was delayed until 5:50pm so that the plane originally allocated to that flight could instead be used for a prior, delayed shuttle flight.

When the announcement of my flight’s delay was made, I immediately went to the gate agent and explained my special circumstances. “As an observant Jew, I am unable to travel by plane or car once the Sabbath starts at sundown tonight. I know that everyone here wants to get home, and I would not ask for any special treatment if I felt that I was doing so unfairly, but I must tell you that if my plane doesn’t take off by 5:30pm, I will be stranded here until tomorrow night, whereas the other passengers who are not observant Jews could simply take a later flight. Is there anything you can do to help me get on an earlier flight?” She flat-out refused to provide me with any assistance, stating that there was nothing she could do.

Then, when the flight which bumped mine was boarding at 4:30pm, I watched her call a list of people from the stand-by list, none of whom originally had seats on that plane. I know that gate agents have the authority to change the order of passengers on the stand-by list due to special circumstances, so I know that the gate agent could have put me on that list and gotten me onto that plane if she had been sincerely interested in helping me solve my problem.

Against my better judgment, I then boarded the 5:50pm flight, rationalizing that since it was departing the airport on time, I would just barely have enough time upon arrival in Boston to make it home before the start of the Sabbath.

Once on board, I saw that for some reason, the flight crew did not seem in any particular hurry to get everyone seated so the plane could depart. In fact, we didn’t pull away from the gate until over a half hour after the scheduled departure time. Then, instead of getting in line for take-off, we instead parked on the tarmac, at which point the pilot made an announcement that he was not allowed to take off due to weather conditions and would have another update for us at 7:00pm. In fact, we sat on the tarmac for almost three hours and did not take off until well after 9:00pm!

The gate agents clearly knew (or should have known) when boarding that plane that it was not going to take off on time. They could have announced that fact to the terminal and allowed each passenger to make an informed decision about whether s/he wished to sit on the tarmac for hours or instead relinquish his/her seat to another passenger hoping to make it home to Boston. At the very least, the gate agent with whom I had previously discussed my predicament could have taken the trouble to let me, personally, now that if I got on that plane, there was no way I was going to make it home before sundown.

I sat on the plane, trying to choose between demanding that the plane return to the gate so that I could disembark; flying to Boston and sleeping in the airport until after the Sabbath; or flying to Boston and taking a cab home even though both riding in a car and spending money are prohibited on the Sabbath.

While debating in my mind the best course of action, I overheard a flight attendant inform another passenger that the we were staying on the tarmac because if the pilot returned to the gate, they would probably cancel the flight. It hardly seemed fair that if I demanded to be let off the plane, all of my fellow passengers might not make it home that night. Furthermore, given that I wear a traditional Jewish head-covering, it would be obvious to some passengers that a Jew had caused them to be stranded in Washington, and I felt it inappropriate to do something which would reflect poorly upon my religion.

I therefore ended up quietly staying on the plane, and I took a cab home when we arrived in Boston after 11:00pm.

I was forced into a situation where I was compelled to violate my religious beliefs, a situation which could have been easily avoided if your gate agents had actually tried to solve my problem or had communicated honestly with your passengers.

I have a long-standing personal rule never to fly on Friday. I broke this rule in this case because my employer urgently needed me to travel and because I thought that flight delays were unlikely during the summer. In retrospect, it is clear that I should have followed my rule, and I will do so with renewed vigor in the future. Because of your gate agents’ behavior, I now have a new rule to follow as well: never fly on US Airways if I can possibly avoid it.


Jonathan I. Kamens

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6 thoughts on “US Airways + personal stupidity = breaking Shabbos *sigh*

  1. Michael Rinsem

    I used to love US Airways and flew with them exclusively. Over the past two years they have degraded as a company and no longer provide any level of quality customer service. My recent experience is outlined extensively on my website and I have yet to be satisfied by anyone from US Airways.


  2. jik Post author

    I find it hard to believe, but I think the letter I wrote to US Airways may have actually made a difference.

    I have a friend who flies on the US Airways shuttle all the time. She tells me that until recently, they never told people before boarding a plane that the plane was going to have to sit on the tarmac for a while before taking off. However, on a shuttle flight she took recently, after I sent my letter and US Airways responded to it, they did make an announcement that the plane was going to have to sit on the tarmac for at least an hour. She said all the passengers boarded the plane anyway, and they were a lot calmer than in similar situations she’s seen in the past when no such announcement was made.

    Perhaps it’s coincidence. Or perhaps US Airways really did read my letter, decide that my suggestion was a good one, and implement it. Amazing.

    I may just use that travel voucher they sent :-).

  3. rick

    I don’t understand. Why can’t jews travel on sabbath?

  4. jik Post author

    Here’s the answer I got back from US Airways today:

    August 2, 2006

    Dear Mr. Kamens:

    Thank you for taking the time to contact Customer Relations at US Airways. Your feedback is important to us and we welcome the opportunity to address your concerns.

    Please accept our sincere apology for the travel difficulties you experienced. The concerns you described are no more our idea of acceptable service than they are yours. It is disappointing to learn of service failures, and they do not reflect our commitment to providing stellar customer care and reliable transportation. Your concerns have been thoroughly documented, and copies of your letter have been directed to the appropriate management personnel. We appreciate the opportunity you have given us to learn how we can improve our service.

    I have enclosed one $300 Transportation Voucher to encourage future travel with us. Although the document reflects the America West name, it can be applied torward travel on the new US Airways.

    Once again, thank you for giving us the opportunity to address your concerns. We look forward to serving you on a future US Airways flight.

    On the one hand, it’s sort of funny that they sent me a travel voucher after I told them in my letter that I had no intention of flying on US Airways again if I could avoid it. On the other hand, the letter they sent is very nice; sending me a travel voucher does put some weight behind what they wrote; and there really isn’t much else they could have done without some way out-of-the-box thinking, which I can’t say I really expect from a company this large. So overall, I’d say that their response was quite acceptable, certainly better than most other responses I’ve gotten to my consumer complaints.

    Who knows, maybe even I’ll use the voucher. Just not on a Friday.

  5. Elka

    What a terrible position to be in – I’m glad you got home safely!


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