Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thumb Up for TSA & Thumb Down for US Airways

Any long distance traveling with a little one can be an adventure, air travel especially so!  There are so many points that are hard on a toddler--waiting is not their specialty and that's pretty much all that happens when flying on a plane!

Source: Tim Beach
From: www.freedigitalphotos.net
Waiting in line to check the carseat.

Waiting in line at security.

Waiting in line for trams to outlying terminals.

Waiting to board the plane.

Waiting to taxi.

Waiting to take off.

Waiting to depart the plane.

Waiting for valet bag.

Waiting for checked bag (carseat).

Catherine's previous flying experience was excellent--and Delta and the TSA played a pivotal part in that.  This trip was so-so.

Once again I scored a cheap deal on Orbitz.  However, this time we had a connecting flight instead of a direct flight; we were traveling from Baltimore (BWI) to Philadelphia (PHL) and then to Cincinnati (CVG). 

The security line was relatively short, and although we were in line briefly it moved quickly.  Our TSA screener at BWI was excellent.  He was both courteous and helpful.   Catherine was very hesitant to walk through the metal detector alone so we were able to walk through together.  He was also helpful in assisting me in getting my stuff out of the way of other travelers to keep the line running smoothly.  (It takes so much more time and effort to put on shoes, a coat, and throw a diaper bag over your shoulder with a toddler alternately hanging on for dear life and curiously peeking behind desks, screens, and other equipment!)

Source: Suphakit73
From: www.freedigitalphotos.net 
Our gate was way back in an almost deserted terminal.  Which was perfect for us!  Catherine and I could wander around without bothering anyone.   We passed time by going up one escalator and down another.  It was like a miniature amusement park ride!  I think only one or two people saw us doing this, and while they might have thought I was crazy I was very pleased to have such cheap and easy entertainment.

The gate agent made sure I had my yellow valet tag for my carry on before actually boarding.  I thought that was nice because it would have been a pain to get it while actively boarding.  There really are only so many things a mom can juggle at a time!  (I do love that the smaller commuter planes have this system of leaving a bag by the side of the plane--it is nice to not have to check something but also not have to worry about stuffing it under a seat or in an overhead bin.)

The flight to Philly was super short, so short that they don't even offer you a beverage.

When Catherine and I arrived in Philadelphia we found our gate and had some lunch.  We were only supposed to have about an hour before boarding our next plane.  I thought that would be perfect--we could have some food, I could change Catherine's diaper in the much larger airport bathrooms, and we would be able to stretch our legs for the flight to Cincinnati.  Everything was going very well, Catherine even made some friends with the other passengers waiting in the gate area.

Then it was past our original boarding time.

Then it was past our original departure time.

Finally, the gate agent came over to the podium (she didn't really stay near the gate) and said that she thinks the plane needed maintenance, but did not offer any definitive explanation or an indication of how long we would need to wait.

A short while later I got a flight update text from Orbitz with a new departure time--only an hour past the original time.  Then I got another text with a later time.  I received a third text with yet another time.  All of the texts came before the gate agent announced anything other than her one extremely vague statement. 

Finally the agent came back to the gate and announced that the plane had indeed needed maintenance, but that there was paperwork that still needed to be signed off on, and that even though we had a pilot we didn't have a flight attendant.  She gave a departure time that matched the first text I received.

That time came.

That time went.

We weren't on the plane.

We kept waiting.  People were becoming more and more disgruntled.  Catherine continued smiling and waving to everyone.  But she was starting to get a little cranky too.    

A new gate agent showed up.  Travelers were trying to switch to other flights.  People were starting to become unfriendly.

Then out of the blue they started boarding!

It took Catherine about twenty minutes to wind down once we were on the plane.  Eventually she fell asleep and slept until we landed.  I finally was able to relax and read my Kindle.  We walked towards the baggage area and met my parents and then picked up the carseat.

*********

Now, in no way is this a horror story.  We made it to our final destination only a little less than three hours late. Our carseat and all baggage arrived with us in the condition we checked it.  Everything was fine. Obviously, If the plane needed maintenance I certainly wanted it to be done well and was willing to wait for things to be thoroughly checked out and documented.  I am willing to endure some inconveniences for safety's sake.

However.

The was a stark difference between the two trips that Catherine and I made and it really boils down to customer care and service.

US Airways failed to communicate with its passengers.  We were left in the dark as to what was happening.  There were very few announcements.  (I got most of my information from the Orbitz texts.)  People didn't know if they needed to stay in the immediate area or if they could go to one of the restaurants and order a meal (or a drink).  The first gate agent was barely around.  Everything seemed unorganized and rather haphazard.  The gate agent didn't change the sign (with flight number, boarding time, and departure time) until just minutes before we boarded--and it ended up having the incorrect time anyways!  The pilot was the first and only person to mention and apologize for any inconvenience.

While it wasn't a terrible experience, it certainly was enough to make me give preference to non-US Airways flights in the future.




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