Friday, November 7, 2008

A Letter I Once Wrote to US Airways

Dear US Airways:

I would like to start by saying that my luggage arrived complete and intact. Thank you.

I am a veteran airline passenger. I fly often. This year alone I have been to fifteen states and four countries. I realize that as soon as I check my luggage I am also effectively checking my human worth and dignity. I also realize that in exchange for rapidly transiting the nation from coast to coast I must pay hundreds of dollars and suffer several hours of being treated like cattle. I enter any airline travel situation in a Zen state, ready to accept all hardships, secure in the knowledge that hundreds of professionals are doing all they can to get me safely to my destination. I remain seated throughout the flight with my seatbelt fastened and faithfully follow the instructions of the captain and crew. I think I'm an exceptionally easy customer to deal with.

Wednesday the 11th of October I was on flight 1535S from Providence, Rhode Island to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania departing at 3:40 p.m. From Philadelphia I was continuing on to San Francisco. In accordance with airline suggestions I arrived over two hours early. We boarded on time and left the gate on time. At this point everything seemed like it was going to go smoothly. Little did I know I had just embarked on the most trying travel experience of my life.

Things began going wrong when it started to rain in Philadelphia. At first this didn't strike me as a problem, it rains all the time and planes still fly and land in it. When the announcement came that we were going to be delayed leaving Providence, I started to get the idea that things weren’t going to go so smoothly.

The flight from Providence to Philadelphia left Providence over three hours late. At one point we even taxied back to the terminal to on load all of the passengers from the next flight to Philadelphia. There was a brief glimmer of hope when I realized that a lot of other flights into Philadelphia were probably delayed and with a sprinkling of luck I might just maybe be able to catch a connection to San Francisco. I'm not usually so naïve, but I was trying to remain optimistic.

We arrived in Philadelphia quickly but we were still over three hours late. Per the captain’s instructions, I went straight to the gate agent to ask about connecting flights. I was supposed to be connecting via flight 189Y to San Francisco. This flight was booked through US Airways, the ticket read US Airways, but for reasons unclear to me I was apparently flying on United Airlines. I realize that this was a bad time to expect help from the gate agent, but she sent me to a different concourse to ask United about getting on a flight that had clearly left hours earlier. Still, following directions in the foolish hope that the airline employees had a better idea of what was going on than me, I went to the other concourse.

United Airlines’ representatives spent several confused minutes wondering why I was there before they sent me back to US Airways. US Airways sent me to their customer service desk. This was about twenty feet from the gate where I left my flight from Providence. With all of the running around, it took me forty-five minutes to get there. In that time, the line had grown from four customers to almost sixty. There was one solitary customer service agent there to help us all. No attempt was made to triage the more pressing connection issues and so we all had to stand in line holding our carry-on items.

I stood in this line for two hours before I was finally helped. After the first hour, the airline managed to muster three additional agents to help customers. While I realize that I don’t understand the complexities of these people’s jobs, it seems to me that the person who helped me must have been a janitor who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Said janitor was unable to find my name on my ticket, typed about two words per minute, and had to ask the other agents for help six separate times before he could print me a new ticket. I’d have been irritated if I didn’t feel so bad for him. There were still at least fifty more angry people in line behind me.

The new ticket the janitor gave me was for a US Airways flight bound from Philadelphia to San Francisco at 9:30 a.m. on the 12th. At this point, local time was about 8:45p.m. on the 11th. This meant that I was left in a strange city in a strange airport with no provision for lodging, meals, or security. The janitor actually had the audacity to tell me that I was welcome to sleep in the terminal! When I asked him where I could find something to eat, he mentioned that there might be one restaurant open in the airport, but he didn’t know which one or where it was.

So I spent the next almost thirteen hours trying to entertain myself by wandering around and looking at all of the closed shops in this ghost town of an international airport. Fortunately, a coffee shop opened in the terminal at 5:00 a.m. These good people were able to sell me a cup of coffee and a frozen bagel (some places need to be told to toast a bagel, these folks needed to be told to thaw it) for the bargain price of about eight dollars.

After sitting on my bagel long enough to soften the ice crystals and saw it in half, it was time to go and sit at my gate for another three and a half hours. Boarding began on time at 9:00 a.m. This is when I was introduced to the single most offensively rude flight attendant I have ever encountered. In my state of mental exhaustion, I didn’t catch her name. I wish I had. I also wish I had kept the bagel long enough to bludgeon her with it.

While we were waiting to leave, an elderly Asian couple boarded the plane who obviously had no understanding of the English language. They were unable to find their seats. This flight attendant’s solution was to yell at them. Rather than read their tickets and direct them to their seats, she just started looking for empty seats to put them in. Bear in mind that at this point people were still boarding the plane. At one point, just after seating this elderly couple, another passenger mentioned to this flight attendant, “Excuse me, ma’am, but I think that’s my seat.” This woman wheeled on her and snapped, “Honey, I’ll deal with you in a second!” Even from three rows back I could feel he heat of her scathing reprimand. Throughout the entire flight, she met every new question or problem with the courtesy and compassion of a Marine drill instructor.

This same stewardess also managed to dump a bunch of ice on my lap during the beverage service. Despite the fact that I am a rather small person and was well within the confines of my seat, somehow she still managed scowl at me as if it was my fault. Still, my favorite part of her customer service acumen was the part where she managed to knock her elbow into the back of my head twice while walking down the aisle. I paid attention and I was not the only person who received this treatment. I couldn’t help but get the idea that my very presence on her plane was something that required her to retaliate. All of this I endured without confrontation or complaint.

Shortly after departing Philadelphia, the pilot informed us that we were going to be stopping in Kansas City to refuel. These are planes that can fly from Texas to Tokyo without refueling, so I fail to understand why we couldn’t fly non-stop from Philadelphia to San Francisco. I know I’ve done it before. Apparently someone didn’t do all of the math before we left. This did little to instill confidence in the abilities of those involved in the maintenance and deployment of the aircraft.

In my row of seats, none of the headset jacks were working. At first I didn’t need any of the in-flight entertainment because I was fully intending to sleep through the flight. This was made impossible by the man seated to my left and the small child two rows ahead of me. They were both noisy enough that I desperately needed any kind of rhythmic sound distraction. Instead of music or the movie soundtrack, I was forced to listen to a man snoring with a volume that probably disrupted the migratory patterns of certain Canadian birds. This was interrupted only by the regular, periodic screaming of a rather androgynous ten-year-old child.

This child had to wail and cry every time it noticed something new. It’s particular version of crying was of a uniquely piercing tone that seemed to waver in and out of the high frequency threshold of human hearing perception. Dogs in the Midwest are likely still suffering long-term effects of our passage. When I mention this child, I use the term "it" because it was dressed and groomed in a manner that made gender determination impossible even after seven hours of glaring at it. I usually do pretty well with annoying people on planes, but I met this little hermaphrodite after being awake for 27 hours. Needless to say, I didn’t manage to sleep on the flight. This kid could’ve used a bagel bludgeoning too.

I arrived in San Francisco roughly sixteen hours late, famished, and thoroughly exhausted. Because I arrived in the early afternoon instead of early evening, I had to take a bus home at some expense since everyone I know in the San Francisco Bay Area was working.

Fortunately, my luggage arrived complete and intact. Thank you.

Apart from that, your airline seems to have kindly included every conceivable air travel problem into my itinerary. This whole trip seemed to be an exploratory voyage through the entire range of things that can go wrong on planes. In fact, the only things that were missing were lost luggage and a mid-air collision. Before you try to set me up with either of them, rest assured that I’m happy to have missed out on those particular inconveniences.

In the end what should’ve been a quick nine hours worth of relaxed air travel turned into a miserable twenty-five hour ordeal. I’m not sure if there’s anything you can do to fix these problems. Mostly I just wanted to let you know what you’ve done to me. Perhaps it goes without saying that I’ll hesitate to recommend your airline to my fellow travelers.

Thank you for taking the time to address my concerns.

Shawn M. Thorsson
Frustrated Frequent Flyer


  1. Ahahahahah, I stumbled upon your blog and found some of your projects interesting enough to browse around and found this letter; lol its pretty comical and remarkably well written, seems you're gifted with the skill of writing among many others. I'm interested in knowing if this letter received a response from the airline, and what that response might have been

  2. yah this is going on facebook lol. i have stumbled on your profile through projects as well been setting up stuff making airsoft parts. i have the luxury to occasionaly get acces to a 3d printer though.