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On Why I Have No Love for Air Tran (or BWI either) - Karen's Musings
Random Rambling
estherchaya
estherchaya
On Why I Have No Love for Air Tran (or BWI either)
All airlines have their quirks, and I do try not to be TOO pissy when I'm at the airport. Sometimes it's easier than other times to avoid pissiness, but I know basically me giving anyone an attitude about the long wait or whatever isn't going to help matters, and may actually make things worse. Here are some highlights of our flights to and from Orlando that make me less than thrilled with Air Tran (and also less than thrilled with BWI Airport).
  • We arrived at the airport around 5:15am for our 6:50 flight. This is, admittedly, not enough time, and this is my own fault. I had gotten about 45 minutes of sleep and just couldn't move any faster. We were dropped off by the shuttle bus outside the entrance to the air tran ticketing area. There weren't a lot of people waiting at the curbside check in, so we decided to do that. We waited about... oh, ten minutes or so before we were helped only to find out we were at a United Airlines check-in stand, not an Air Tran stand. Note that there was no clear signage indicating what airline the curbside check-in was for. Also our faults, but still annoying.
  • We went inside and stood in an enormous queue for a ticketing agent. After making our way through the line to a ticket agent, we were told to input our confirmation number on the touch-screen in front of me. Except my itinerary listed no such confirmation number (had it listed the number, I would have checked in on their website). The ticketing agent sighed and briskly asked for our names and flight info. She spent several minutes standing there, during which time she occasionally tapped a key on her keyboard. Finally, she asked for a copy of my itinerary. All she did with the itinerary was write down my confirmation number and tell me again to key it into the touch screen in front of me. This is ridiculous, in my opinion.
  • I went through and checked in on the stupid touch screen despite the fact that a seemingly competent ticket agent was standing right behind the counter. When I finished, the agent asked how many bags we had to check, despite the fact that I had just inputted that information to the ridiculous touch screen. Then she walked away. For a good long while. Then some other gentleman came over and asked how many bags we were checking (2 - one suitcase and one carseat). He printed out the tags for the bags and told us the suitcase was 3.5 pounds over the limit. Not wanting to hold up the line while I tried to move things around in the bags, we just paid the $25 fee for weight. Then that man WALKED AWAY.
  • Eventually the original ticket agent game back and put the tags on the bag and gave us boarding passes and noted that we were not seated together because the only three seats available together were in the exit row, which Julian may not be seated in. The agent directed us to the appropriate concourse. Which is to say, when I asked which direction the concourse was she looked at me like I was a three-headed moron and pointed disgustingly to her left.
  • We proceeded to security. BWI is notorious for ridiculously long, stupid security lines and inefficient means of shuttling people through the security gates. Sunday was no exception. Once we got through the first checkpoint, we were directed to a line at the far end of the security area to go through xray and metal detectors. Except that line DID NOT MOVE ANYWHERE FOR TWENTY MINUTES. And you know why? Because flight crew used that line almost exclusively to cut through security. And since flight crew now also has to have their bags scanned going through security, it took a long time. We eventually switched lines and made it through. Most airports, you might have noticed, have a designated line for flight crew at the security checkpoints. BWI does not.
  • When we arrived at our gate, Seth asked the Air Tran staff members who were standing around whether it was possible to get our seats switched... perhaps, he suggested, they could make an overhead announcement to see if the passenger also seated in the row we had two seats in could switch with Seth. They stared at Seth blankly and said, "No." When asked if they do preboarding for families traveling with small children, they said, "No, you board with your zone. Period." Now, it's fine that they don't do preboarding, but there were certainly nicer, more professional, more courteous ways of conveying that message.
  • On the plane the flight crew pushed me around several times while maneuvering the drink cart around. Not a big deal except I was already pissy.

That was the trip down. The trip home wasn't nearly as exciting, but did have three annoying points:
  • The flight was delayed. This happens and complaining about it won't make it any better, but travelling with a three year old makes it slightly more irksome.
  • Once on the plane, before the cabin doors were even closed, I asked a flight attendant if she could please locate a blanket for me. She responded dramatically that she hadn't seen a single blanket on the plane, but if she spotted one, I'd be the first to know. Later, as we were taxi-ing to the runway, she spotted a passenger who was holding on to a large framed photo and told her it needed to be placed in the overhead compartment. The passenger squawked about it, not wanting to risk having the glass break in the overhead compartment. The flight attendant (the same one I had spoken to) went up to the front of the plane, retrieved two blankets, wrapped the photo up in them and placed it in the overhead compartment. RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. But there's not a single blanket on the plane, right?
  • My reading light didn't work. Also not a big deal except that my light hadn't worked on the flight down either.

And that was the flight home. Oh! But the fun has just begun, my friends! That's right, there's more!

We arrived about half an hour late (not bad in the scheme of things) and went down to claim our baggage. We had checked four items coming home (I checked the bag I'd carried on going down, and my father lent us a small bag for the various and sundry toys Julian had accumulated while visiting Florida). The big suitcase came out. Then my black previously-carry-on bag.

And then we waited.
And waited.
And waited.
For about 40 minutes, which is when I realized our flight info wasn't even on the baggage carousel display anymore. So we proceeded to the Air Tran Baggage Office. We were still missing our car seat (NOT GOOD!) and the small bag my father lent us.

The woman helping us in the baggage office was pleasant and efficient, and very helpful. She provided us with a loaner car seat (a Britax Marathon, so that was good) and had us fill out the paperwork to have our carseat and bag retrieved and delivered. "Don't worry," she assured us, "It's probably on the next flight in and it's not a big deal. It happens every night."

Um.

I appreciate her efficiency. I appreciate her courtesy. I appreciate that we were taken care of and provided with a loaner car seat without any squawking about it. What I do not appreciate is being told "it's no big deal" and "it happens every night." This does not inspire confidence.

Our bag and car seat were delivered last night, around midnight. The baggage delivery guy was late, but had been given the incorrect phone number for us (he'd been given my work phone number, which he did indeed leave a message on) and couldn't contact us to tell us he would be late. I, of course, acted completely rationally and calmly when he woke us up to deliver the bags. If, by rational and calm, you mean I screamed at him. I'm so ashamed. I actually called the baggage delivery dispatcher this morning and begged her to tell the courier how very sorry I was for screaming at him. She took it in good humour and appreciated that I had called. The courier had acted professionally and courteously the entire time I was screaming at him. He never raised his voice or looked agitated. He apologized profusely. He was calm and kind and completely appropriate. I was a screaming lunatic and I'm happy that I had the opportunity to apologize, though sorry that I had any need to do so.

And that, my friends, is the end of my tale. Did you make it all the way to the end? There might be a pop quiz later.

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Comments
mabfan From: mabfan Date: February 22nd, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I made it to the end and am ready for the pop quiz.
estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: February 22nd, 2007 06:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
The reason I'm not a teacher (besides being disporportionately attached to my current salary) is because I'm too lazy to create meaningful exams. However, I am working on this particular quiz. You'd better brush up on all your obscure Karen-facts if you want to win the prize!
(Deleted comment)
gnomi From: gnomi Date: February 22nd, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read it all! Quiz me! :-)
estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: February 22nd, 2007 06:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm working on it. I'm thinking of working out a "how closely have you read the obscure details in my posts" kind of quiz. :)
allah_sulu From: allah_sulu Date: February 22nd, 2007 06:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

I've never had a problem with Southwest Airlines (although I must admit that I haven't flown in almost a year and a half). The reason I always liked flying with them was that there was no assigned seating – I used to treat them the same way I treated a bus ride. Get there early enough to have my choice of seats, grab one in the front (usually, the front seats which faced backwards were easy to get), travel with carry-ons only, and get up and leave the plane/airport once we arrived. Of course, none of that is possible anymore due to a combination of

  1. more restrictions placed on travel (particularly carry-ons) every year, and
  2. the fact that I'm no longer travelling alone (Q and Richard both require more luggage than I do).

You may recall that we chose to rent a car and drive all the way to Florida (with a two year old!) rather than deal with airlines.

Eventually the original ticket agent game back and put the tags on the bag and gave us boarding passes and noted that we were not seated together because the only three seats available together were in the exit row, which Julian may not be seated in. … When we arrived at our gate, Seth asked the Air Tran staff members who were standing around whether it was possible to get our seats switched…

As soon as I saw the first sentence, I thought "I hope they were able to switch once they got on the plane." I see that happen all the time. In fact, I've been moved (and not voluntarily) before by the flight crew in response to a family that wanted to stay together. ("Sir, you need to move to seat 36B." "Why? My ticket says 27C." "Because that family needs your seat." "Did they pay for it?") So asking someone to switch with Seth should not have been a big deal at all.

She provided us with a loaner car seat (a Britax Marathon, so that was good) and had us fill out the paperwork to have our carseat and bag retrieved and delivered. "Don't worry," she assured us, "It's probably on the next flight in and it's not a big deal. It happens every night."

My luggage has never been on a different plane than I've been on. Then again, there are reasons why I hate to check in luggage in the first place. I don't trust my stuff out of my sight when it comes to airlines. Also, one of the reasons for driving to Florida over flying was that we didn't want to have to worry about car seats. When you rent a car, at least in Vegas, you can request a car seat but they can't guarantee that you'll get one. Fortunately, we had brought one with us just in case, because apparently they were all out. We were able to get a car with a child seat in DC; but if we hadn't been able to, we could have just switched over ours.

estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: February 22nd, 2007 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
We usually fly Southwest to Orlando. I didn't this time because flights were mysteriously booked up (I figured out later it was because it was Daytona 500 weekend... who know?) and I couldn't get the schedule I wanted (flying early Sunday coming home early evening on Tuesday) with Southwest. Air Tran offered the best schedule to suit our needs, at pretty much the same price as anyone else (slightly less, but not significantly so). I had never flown air tran before. I'm not saying I'll NEVER do it again, but I'm certainly not eager to do it any time soon. I am grateful that for the wedding we're going to near Boston we are flying Southwest into Providence instead of Air Tran to Boston.

As for switching seats, we probably could have asked once we got on the plane, but it really wasn't worth it. Julian and I were in a two-seat row, and so Seth would have had to switch with the person across the aise from me to sit with us. It wasn't worth the hassle, and anyway, Julian was an ANGEL, and I mean ANGEL on the plane (both up and down). I had downloaded the Aristocats onto my iPod and he was happy as pie, completely immersed.

Generally speaking, I don't care to check baggage. However, when travelling with a three year old, even just for three days, checking baggage is essential. I've never had a problem with my baggage arriving on a different plane, either, actually, but I know it happens a lot. Driving down to Florida could have been an option, except that the reason we were taking such a short trip in the first place was that I simply didn't have the leave available to spare for this trip. As it is, I have to make up the hours from missing Tuesday. Bleh. We wouldn't have brought the car seat if we'd been renting a car, because Hertz is very good about having loaner car seats. But we didn't need to rent a car... my folks have two cars, but my step mother almost never drives, so we had the use of the car any time we wanted it.

Honestly, the flight could have been worse, and there was nothing terribly egregious about any one of the things that bugged me. It was the entirety of the experience that I found so aggravating. The other aggravating thing was that the cookies on the flight down and the pretzels on the way up were not kosher. While I don't think they need to be responsible for kosher customers entirely, I have to say that almost every airline I have flown makes an effort to have kosher snacks. Pretzels are unbelievably easy to find in kosher varieties and they aren't any more expensive that way.
allah_sulu From: allah_sulu Date: February 22nd, 2007 06:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Did I pass the quiz?

We usually fly Southwest to Orlando. I didn't this time because flights were mysteriously booked up (I figured out later it was because it was Daytona 500 weekend... who know?)

I'm sorry that the Daytona 500 didn't thin out the crowds for you as much as the Superbowl did for us.

I am grateful that for the wedding we're going to near Boston we are flying Southwest into Providence instead of Air Tran to Boston.

Technically, T.F. Green airport is in Warwick, RI; not Providence. That's one of those things only people from RI argue care about; but I recall the mayor of Warwick was upset at one point about a huge "Welcome to Providence" sign in the airport with the mayor of Providence on it.

Julian was an ANGEL, and I mean ANGEL on the plane (both up and down).

So was Richard, for the most part (in fact, I think he slept most of the time on the plane). Of course, he's older now, and likes to move around a lot more…

I had downloaded the Aristocats onto my iPod and he was happy as pie, completely immersed.

I read that as "The Aristocrats", and had to look again.

Driving down to Florida could have been an option, except that the reason we were taking such a short trip in the first place was that I simply didn't have the leave available to spare for this trip.

I know; it's only an option if you're taking a longer trip (like we did). When we were first trying to plan our trip, we were thinking of a shorter trip, and flying there and back. We ended up extending the vacation, in part because Q wanted to spend more than two days at DisneyWorld (look how well that turned out) and in part because we wanted to visit her relatives as well as mine (that didn't happen either, because they were also sick).

Honestly, the flight could have been worse, and there was nothing terribly egregious about any one of the things that bugged me. It was the entirety of the experience that I found so aggravating.

Little things can add up awfully fast. Like the old saying, "A million dollars here, a million dollars there, pretty soon you're talking real money."

The other aggravating thing was that the cookies on the flight down and the pretzels on the way up were not kosher. While I don't think they need to be responsible for kosher customers entirely, I have to say that almost every airline I have flown makes an effort to have kosher snacks. Pretzels are unbelievably easy to find in kosher varieties and they aren't any more expensive that way.

I miss airline peanuts (the pretzels are always too dry); but I understand the worries about food allergies.

(Deleted comment)
estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: February 22nd, 2007 06:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Honestly, there was nothing so bad about any one of the problems. It was just the experience in its entirety that I found aggravating. I am not eager to give Air Tran an immediate second-chance, that's for sure.
bookworm1212 From: bookworm1212 Date: February 22nd, 2007 07:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I made it to the end and am ready for the pop quiz.
I read it all! Quiz me! :-)

Me too! Me too!!

Seriously though, I have had difficulties with Airtran, but recently not to that degree. In the past though, boy do I have stories!

The best things Airtran has going for it these days are XM radio and "cheap" upgrades to business class. But their customer service has been and continues to be lousy.
zsero From: zsero Date: February 22nd, 2007 07:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
What I do not appreciate is being told "it's no big deal" and "it happens every night." This does not inspire confidence.
Would you rather not be told?

AirTran is the former ValuJet. It changed its name after the old one became a liability. You may recall a certain incident in Florida with expired oxygen masks...

I've never had the opportunity to fly SouthWest. My favourite airline is JetBlue, and all in all I think it remains so even after it screwed up so badly last week. The test isn't so much how badly they screwed up as whether they will learn the appropriate lessons, and based on my experiences with them so far, I think they will. I doubt that last week will happen to them again, while I've no doubt that American's similar (though slightly less bad) screwup in January will keep happening. And from what I hear JetBlue is making a sincere effort to mollify the passengers it screwed over, and I hope it does manage to keep enough of them as future customers that this doesn't become a long term liability.
debsters1101 From: debsters1101 Date: February 22nd, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
mollify? heck they gave them free tickets! I almost wish I had been stuck for 12 hours!!
estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: February 22nd, 2007 09:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Would you rather not be told?

If they were giving me the warning up front, I might agree with your sentiment. Telling me after the fact is not only not helpful, it wasn't making my frustration any better either. As I said, she was efficient, calm, and helpful in all other ways. I really don't have a complaint about how the issue was handled. It just seemed like she was saying "it happens every night" as if that should make me feel better. What made me feel better was that they had a loaner car seat that matched my expectations for safety, ease of installation, and rated for a 40lb kid.

I am aware that Air Tran is the former Value Jet. I am also aware of the Florida Everglades incident. If memory serves, that incident occurred over 10 years ago. Even I, as jaded as I am, believe that every company is capable of redeeming itself. This is the first time I've flown Air Tran. I am in no rush to try them again, but I am not eliminating the possibility that I may be willing to do so in the distant future under the right circumstances.

I need to make clear that I have pretty low criteria for air travel: Did the plane take off and land without incident? Did the plane land in my destination city within a reasonable window of expectation per the schedule? (for varying definitions of "reasonable"... a blizzard closing down an airport is not the fault of an airline carrier) In both of my flights this week (to and from Orlando), my expectations were met. I took off and landed without incident (well, actually, landing in Orlando, we bounced, which was a bit unnerving, but I landed in one piece and my child was unharmed and that's what really matters). While I may have been venting a bit disproportionately in this particular blog entry, I am fully aware that the important things happened. I lived to tell the tale and did so more or less on time.

As for Jet Blue, I have never flown them in part because I haven't found their flights convenient for my schedules, in part because I don't travel terribly often, and in part because I haven't found their fares better than Southwest, which is the airline I almost always use. At a time that I was doing more travelling, JetBlue didn't exist. I have, however, never heard anything but GOOD things about JetBlue and I'm eager to fly with them when the circumstances allow it. More importantly, though, I live under a rock apparently, and I have no idea what incident of last week you're talking about. Since I'm too lazy to google it right now, can you give me the cliffs notes version?
zsero From: zsero Date: February 22nd, 2007 10:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Last Wednesday we had an ice storm here in NYC, which was not followed by the predicted rain (which would have helped melt the ice and snow). Airlines with more experience and less concern for passengers just canceled their flights. JetBlue boarded their planes and tried to get them out, waiting on the tarmac for a break in the weather and a chance to take off. But eventually they came to accept that this just wasn't going to happen, and they had a problem - planes full of people out on the tarmac, that aren't going anywhere, but there are no gates to unload them at. And they panicked and froze, and left them sitting there for up to 12 hours, with overflowing toilets, little or no food and drink, no air conditioning, at risk for DVT, etc.

This is not good. In my opinion it's not acceptable to keep people sitting on the tarmac for more than 2 hours; if a plane is out for more than an hour, then every hour people should be given the opportunity to get off and go back to the terminal. If there's no gate available, bring stairs to the plane and let them walk. And once you know that the plane isn't going anywhere, unload the people immediately - again, even if they have to walk a short distance. Security regulations? Screw them. They're not more important than passengers physical and mental well-being.

So JetBlue seriously screwed up. What's more, for some reason it took them a whole week to handle the backlog. Flights were being canceled as late as yesterday. Again, this is Not Good. But unlike American, to whom much the same thing happened a month ago, JetBlue does seem to care, and has tried its best to make passengers feel that it cares and is sorry, and to make it up to them. I'm fairly confident that this particular mistake won't happen again, that next time they'll know what to do. They'll still screw up in other ways, that's inevitable, but not this way. American, on the other hand, will continue to do the same thing, because they don't care.
zsero From: zsero Date: February 23rd, 2007 08:48 am (UTC) (Link)
See here.
sethcohen From: sethcohen Date: February 25th, 2007 02:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! I had no idea!
cellio From: cellio Date: February 23rd, 2007 04:51 am (UTC) (Link)
I read it all too.

I hate flying, and I hate hate hate having to check bags. The trip to Israel a couple months ago was the first time I checked bags since I was a teenager. Naturally, they managed to lose one of them (not for too long, fortunately). But it's pretty hard to go on a two-week trip, or any trip with a kid, and not check bags, so there you go. :-(
From: cecerose Date: February 25th, 2007 02:42 am (UTC) (Link)

Uh...

Are we suffering from a touch of "stick" anxiety...?

Hey. Hang in there. I'm sending positive thoughts your way...
estherchaya From: estherchaya Date: February 25th, 2007 02:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Uh...

yeah, uh, that wasn't meant to be a public post. Grr. I'm so stupid sometimes.
From: cecerose Date: February 25th, 2007 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Uh...

You're not stupid. I've done that a coupla times myself...

I'm just glad you're OK. =0)
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