Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Pleasant Surprise When Things Go Right When They Oughtn't

Chance had not smiled upon me, I thought, when I looked at my calendar for this week and saw that a triple whammy lay in store. With a growing sense of dread, I stared at my itinerary for Tuesday. Was it really true that somehow I was booked on the worst airline in the United States through one of the country's most-delayed hub airports on one of the most God-awful days to fly of the entire year?

So it was that, like every year but one on September 11th since 9/11/01, I have found myself on an airplane going somewhere. This year it happened to be on US Airways to and from Philadelphia.

OK, I thought, I can fly on 9/11. Even though our government had this past weekend seen fit to taunt Osama Bin Laden's latest video threat by saying his vicious crew is all bark and no bite, I'm not worried. I've done it virtually every 9/11.

But to and from Philly? Philly, which routinely suffers massive meltdowns even on bluebird days? And on clueless US Airways?

Though my return flight was due back into RDU at 5:11 PM, I warned my family not to expect me home for dinner, and maybe not until the next day.

Steeled for long delays, prepped with meditative chants and deep breathing exercises, plus another great Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly (The Overlook), I left for the Raleigh-Durham Airport before 5:00 AM. My flight wasn't until 7:00 AM, but I figured on the 6th anniversary of 9/11 that security would be extra tight, and extra slow.

This was my first mistake. In fact security at RDU was normal (whatever that means any more). We didn't have any discernable delays or extra scrutiny, and despite thickening crowds of flyers, I breezed through the TSA gauntlet by 5:30 AM.

Well, I thought, US Airways can't get a flight out on time to save itself, even early mornings.

This was my second mistake. Our almost-full flight to Philly boarded up promptly and left early. And the very kind gate agent was even able to give me an exit aisle seat--despite my being a peon at US Airways with no status whatsoever.

On board the A319, I learned that US Airways, unlike Northwest (which also flies the planes), has removed the "A" and "F" seats in row 9 adjacent to the overwing emergency exit doors. Thus seats 9B and 9E have the odd distinction of being both window and aisle seats, and also middle seats. They are quite private and comfortable, too.

But if you are tall, the best seats in coach on US Airways' A319s are seats 10A and 10F. Because seats 9A or 9F have been taken out, there is nothing but air in front of 10A and 10F, with unlimited legroom.

Nice to know if you fly on their A319s, but I digress.

En route to PHL, I thought: Omigod! We are overflying Washington on the morning of 9/11, certainly a prime target for OBL's ilk.

Wrong again: Our flight was the best kind: uneventful.

I realized I was thirsty and needed a Diet Coke, but no way we would get anything back in coach on this short 65-minute flight.

Wrong yet once more: US Airways flight attendants came round and very efficiently served everyone a beverage of their choice. They were very nice about it. I was impressed.

As we descended into Philadelphia, it became apparent that the airport and city were socked in with steady rain and heavy overcast skies. Again, I thought: delay, delay, delay. We'll just tool around the skies and the taxiways for awhile, I thought, waiting for a landing slot and then an open gate. And I'll be late for my meeting.

Nope. Another error on my part. We went straight in, landed almost a half hour early, and after a short wait for an outbound plane to clear the alley, went right into our gate on the B concourse. I was out of the plane in no time and on my way.

Midafternoon saw me returning to PHL with an extra sense of forboding. Sure, things had gone great getting into Philly, but now, statistically, my luck had run out. I was due for the afternoon yang to counter the morning's ying. Besides which, it was still raining rather steadily. I expected the flight boards to be red with cancellations.

With trepidation I consulted the first departures board I came to and scanned it for RDU flights. Mine was showing on time from B14. No way! I thought. I just know that's bull. It must be late or cancelled. They just aren't showing it yet.

So I checked the arrivals board for B14 to match up the inbound flight and aircraft, figuring it would show something either late or nonexistent. And there was a Boston flight coming in 50 minutes before my RDU outbound--about the right amount of time for turning the airplane in order to leave on time.

I trekked the long distance to B14 (end of the concourse), and found some smiling, helpful, and knowledgeable US Airways gate agents (I am not kidding). They not only confirmed that my RDU flight was on time, but gave me another great exit row seat, this time 9B, the peculiar window/aisle/middle seat, so I could try it out.

To my astonishment, my flight boarded and left dead on time, took off in the rain after very little taxi wait time, and we arrived RDU early. The flight was again full, yet my seat (9B) was extremely comfortable and private, and every passenger was again (as on the morning flight) served by competent and very friendly flight attendants.

Go figure. An all-round good experience on an airline with a terrible rep, where I don't even have a frequent flyer account any more (and thus no status), to and from one of the tardiest of the infamously bad East Coast hub airports, and on September 11th to boot.

I was consistently wrong in all my assumptions about how bad things would go for me Tuesday. Could it possibly be that it wasn't all just dumb luck? That maybe US Airways is actually trying harder and succeeding to improve itself in many small but important ways that, taken as a whole, are leading to a better integrated operation?

I'd like to give US Airways some credit here. By contrast, I wish Delta (where I am a five million miler), American (Exec Platinum), Continental (Platinum), and Northwest (Platinum) would treat me so well.

6 Comments:

Blogger Joshua Katt said...

Even a blind squirrel will find an acorn once in a while.

Sad when the should be normal and routine becomes the exception.

I too had plesantly surprizing one stop cross country flight on Southwest yesterday. 1/2 full flight, great seat and only 1/2 hour late. Then I recalled it was a jewish holiday.

9/14/2007 10:08 AM  
Blogger hulananni said...

Alas....US Airways doesn't operate in Hawai'i....so I'll never know if it could happen to me.

9/14/2007 12:44 PM  
Blogger hulananni said...

Alas....US Airways doesn't operate in Hawai'i so I won't have the chance to see if lightning really does strike twice.

9/14/2007 12:45 PM  
Blogger ZMAN said...

US AIR AND PHL ARE A ROUGH COMBO...DONT PRESS YOUR LUCK

9/16/2007 10:33 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

I'm a million-miler on US Airways, and a Chairman's Preferred member of their program (and have been every year since the program started). I've been flying regularly for a very long time (I started on DC-3's). I have to say that your experiences (despite what you've heard) aren't all that uncommon.

In my experience, US Airways still has some of the very best people(and, alas, some of the most boneheaded and rapacious upper management) of any airline in the US.

Sure, Philadelphia is a big problem for them (PHL is the "red-headed stepchild" of New York Center, and a few raindrops in New York can and do cause horrible delays in Philadelphia with the sun shining), so I admit to trying to schedule around PHL (and leaving PLENTY of connecting time if I actually have to connect there).

This summer, on US Airways every week, even with connections via PHL, I've only been (knock wood) significantly delayed twice, and have never yet missed my connection (though, admittedly, a couple of times I should have).

And somehow the vast majority of their people (at least the US Airways folk from the old US Airways) seem to have retained their "can do" attitudes and their smiles. I don't know why, but they have.

Yes, indeed, many of them are angry about how the merger is being handled (that upper management stuff again), but very few of them indeed seem to be letting that affect the way they interact with their passengers.

I've flown on lots of airlines, and could have equivalent status on several other airlines, but (at least to this point) I still prefer flying on US Airways.

9/28/2007 8:17 AM  
Blogger hulananni said...

January 1, 2007.....Aloha Airlines first engineer on a flight out of Oakland to depart at 0900...we arrived at Oakland airport at 0630 to find the flight canceled. The first engineer called in sick...from Las Vegas where flight originated. Yeah...believe that! With a number of mixups and 1 1/2 hours of stress running (literally) between Aloha counter and ATA (who had a flight leaving at 0915) we made it onboard ATA to Honolulu. Great flight, good service. Plane 1/4 empty (not surprising on New Years Day morn.) We'll fly ATA again. Liked the service and the counter staff at ATA were the only ones who saw us through the paperwork mess created by Aloha so that we could actually get home on January 1. After a letter to Aloha detailing the horros of the morning (no call to the hotel to tell us of the cancellation though I had specifically called them on arrival in California and gave them the room number)....we were each given 50% off coupons for a future flight. When I tried to use them I was told the 50% off is on published rate...thus making the fares higher than any we could find on the web. Aloha doesn't seem to have much aloha anymore. ATA gets us there.

9/28/2007 2:11 PM  

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