to - 6/7/2002
“Never fly America’s Worst”
co-workers and acquaintances seemed to always be saying. “They
will find a way to ruin your entire vacation. You will sit on the
tarmac for hours. They will lose some of your luggage. You will be crammed
in seats of great tightness. Their first class is a standing joke. You will
miss your connections. You will get held over somewhere in back
Since we had never heard anything
good about America West Airlines in the past, there didn’t seem to be
any reason to fly with them now. So many people had regaled us with
harrowing and frustrating tales over the years about how crappy they
were that we had pretty much ruled out ever putting our fate in
their hands. But when researching and booking a trip to the
Northwest recently, we heard reports that they had turned over a new
leaf and were now number one ranked for on timeness and service.
That fact, coupled with flight times that exactly fit our schedule
and a price that was considerably cheaper than any other carrier,
made us decide to give them a try. How much different could they be?
The answer is, just different
enough to make the already dehumanizing experience of flying highly
unpleasant. Eight other Goliard staffers flew up for the same event
using four other airlines and six different flights to get there.
The fact that no one else had any problems seems to call to the fore
those time tested adages "You can't teach an old dog new
tricks" and "You get what you pay for.”
The first leg of the trip set the
stage. Having booked the trip weeks in advance over the internet, Piolline
took advantage of being able to choose our seats, positioning
ourselves near the front when we had to make connections, and in
adjacent seats so we might use the time to settle a long standing
dispute about who plays superior cribbage. After checking in and
giving our word that we weren’t carrying any luggage for strangers,
we headed for the plane only to find upon boarding that the
ticketing agent had separated us for some unexplained reason not to
mention had moved Piolline all the way to the back row. Since it
was only supposed to be a thirty minute flight we weren’t all that
irritated. That is until we got underway.
We took off on time from Tucson
headed for Phoenix, ascended shakily over the city, and seemed about
to reach cruising altitude somewhere over Casa Grande when the plane
suddenly banked sharply to the right and the pilot’s voice came
on. “Ladies and Gentlemen, due to mechanical problems with the
landing gear we are afraid we are forced to return to Tucson. It’s
nothing to worry about.”
Disconcerting. Not to mention that
we were over half way to our destination when we turned back and could
have assumedly landed just as easily in Phoenix with broken landing gear
as in Tucson from where we had just taken off. Then, us passengers
could have continued on our way and left the airline to worry about
fixing their broken plane. Instead, we returned to the same gate
from which we had departed just moments before and were greeted by
some ridiculously bubbly woman who came on board to say that we
needed to deplane and not to be surprised if we found that it was
chaotic in the terminal seeing as how three of their other planes
were also stuck on the ground. How many America’s West planes
could have been using the airport around that time? Four or so at
the most? 75 percent grounded? The terminal, as advertised, was
teeming with disgruntled passengers.
As the lines formed and the bubbly
woman bubbled over with platitudes and worthless information, our watches
soon showed that the plane we should have been on from Phoenix had
left for Portland without us. Our 100 dollars of tickets to a
baseball game that night and one chance for the year to see our
favorite team in action were assuredly going to waste. Strike One
for America West.
After waiting around in one wrong
line or another for a couple of infuriating hours, we finally came
face to face with the bubbly woman herself who gave us forms to fill out and
vouchers for a free lunch, assuring us that America West was very
sorry and we would be compensated for the inconvenience. The voucher
turned out to be good for a meal to be consumed on that day only, of
a value not to exceed six dollars, which isn’t much but is
something and may have helped ease the frustration had we had any
time to enjoy it. Instead we were informed, in a tone that let us
know we were extremely lucky, that we were booked aboard another
flight leaving immediately and we needed to be on our toes when we
arrived because we would have only ten minutes in Phoenix to make
another connection for Portland. To emphasize the point we were told
that if we missed this connection, which was something we had no
control over, we would probably be stuck in Phoenix for the night, a place, it’s worth noting, that we could
have driven to ourselves in half the time we had already spent
screwing around with America West. When we got on board we found
that our seats were again right at the back near the bathroom and
not together. We would be
the last ones off.
We made the next flight by
sprinting from the near end of one terminal to the far end of another and
arrived sweating to find that our seats were again separated and both
seats in rows at the very back of the airbus.
It seemed almost fitting somehow that I had a crying baby on one
side of me and a drooling, snoring goliath on the other. No food was offered on the flight. Being crammed into a
plane is unpleasant enough but by taking the time to plan in advance
for a trip, pick your seats so you either have an aisle to stretch
out a bit or a window to enjoy the view, bring a cribbage board, and,
provided you are suitably nourished and hydrated, the experience can sometimes
be bearable. Instead we found ourselves stuffed in the middle seats
of a row between large people we didn’t know some of whom were holding
little people we didn’t know in their laps, breathing the stench
of soiled diapers and wafting chemicals of the nearby lavatory, and
all the while suffering low blood sugar because we didn't have the
option of eating for seven or eight hours. No views of the landscape
below, no room to move, no food, no conversation, no cribbage, no
baseball game to look forward to, and a wadded up worthless voucher
for a less then six dollar meal we would never get the chance to
consume, crinkling in our pockets. Nine hours of travel instead of
four. Strike Two.
After spending a pleasant vacation
in the Northwest and forgetting for the time about near bankrupt airlines
and all things related, we returned to the America West ticket
counter in the Portland airport to find Yvonne smiling at us
sweetly. Piolline had sacrificed his wallet to the river gods and gone to great
lengths to have a passport Fed Exed (which is no easy thing when
camping) so that he might have ID for the flight home. Yvonne never
bothered to check his ID but did say that her computer showed that
we had an unpleasant experience on the flight up. When we assured
her that was the case she said she could bump us up to first class.
Excellent. We had an hour to kill and headed to the bar for a couple
of relaxing beers. Knowing that we had seats in front of the plane,
and none to eager to return to America West’s clutches even in
first class, we took our time, planning to head to the gate to board
about fifteen minutes before departure. As we were settling our tab
we heard our mispronounced names blaring over the loudspeaker. So
and So and so and so. This is your last call to board.”
Yvonne had come down from the
ticket counter and was waiting at the gate for us looking personally
insulted by something.
“Where were you?” She demanded, arms
“Uh we were having a couple drinks. Why?” I asked,
thinking her behavior highly unorthodox.
“How many drinks?” She
wanted to know, eyeing me closely.
“I think I had two beers.”
“Oh” she said. “Because if you have too many we won’t let
What? She had just talked to me a half an hour ago. How
drunk could I have gotten? It wasn't like I was going to end up
crapping atop the meal cart anyway since there wasn't one.
“And where’s your little friend.”
She asked, looking around the terminal suspiciously.
“I believe he's in the
bathroom urinating but thanks for your concern.” I looked at my
watch to see that it was still 15 minutes before the flight was
scheduled to leave. “What’s the big deal. I asked.
pilot wants to leave early.” she said.
First class on America West is like
coach with most other carriers. No hot washcloths to freshen up, no
entree choices, no heated ramekins of cashews, or for that matter,
decent food of any kind. Just a free Heineken and a little bag of
peanuts. At least we had room to play some cribbage.
A week later, a letter arrived in
the mail from America West, again apologizing for the inconvenience
of the cancelled flight and containing a coupon, which at first
glance appeared almost worthwhile but under closer inspection only
added insult to injury. The coupon offers 25 dollars off on flights
costing between $199 and $299 but stipulates that the ticket has to be
purchased at full price and cannot be booked over the internet or be
in conjunction with any other discounts. It also says that it can
only be obtained at the ticket counter at the airport.
So let us
review. To cash in on this generous offer supposedly made to compensate us for
an infuriating day of travel and a missed baseball game, we would have to drive to
the airport and book a full price ticket (during a time when online
discounts abound) just to save ten percent off full price which
nobody pays anymore and amounts to less than what it would cost in gas, parking, and
inconvenience just to get to the counter to make the purchase. Thanks for nothing
America's Worst. Strike Three. You're Out.
letters concerning America West