Customer service: epic fail

US AirwaysSure, we’ve all experienced poor customer service. But sometimes, when the service approaches reprehensible, you swear you will never do business with that company again.

You also make it a point to tell your friends, family, co-workers and anyone else who will listen about your lousy experience.

Considering how much money most companies spend on advertising, public relations and brand management, you would think they would go out of their way to avoid angry consumers.

Not U.S. Airways.

Apparently, this commercial airliner is so caught up with its pending merger with American Airlines, it has completely forgotten one of the primary rules of business: customer satisfaction.

It’s not just me complaining. Take a gander at Twitter or Facebook and you easily find all kinds of horror stories about the horrendous customer service that is dished out daily to passengers across the globe by U.S. Airways (@USAirways).

Unfortunately, here in Portland, Maine, we are limited in our choice of airline carriers. From here on out, I will happily drive to Boston or Manchester simply to avoid ever again flying on U.S. Airways.

What happened

A few days ago, I had to fly to West Palm Beach, Florida for a business meeting. It would be a short trip with an early morning return the next day. My reservation was made a week in advance, so I paid dearly for my ticket.

The flight to West Palm was uneventful, including a brief layover for a connecting flight in Charlotte.

It was the return trip home, when my nightmare began to unfold.

When I attempted to get my boarding pass at the kiosk, I got a message to “see an agent.” Despite the crowds, I was able to get the attention of an agent who printed out my boarding pass. Strangely, my connecting flight in Philadelphia showed no seat number.

I asked the gate agent to explain or investigate why my connecting boarding pass had no assigned seat number. His response?

“I’m too busy. You’ll have to check with the folks in Philadelphia.”

I was able to board the first leg of my trip from West Palm to Philadelphia, and upon landing set upon a quest t find a US Airways customer service agent. (I had a two-hour layover, so I figured I had plenty of time to sort this out) I was wrong. Very wrong.

I did find a US Airways “customer service” desk. There was one person in front of me, and I waited 25 minutes to get to the desk.

Her response to my query? “I can’t help you, you need to see the gate agent to get this sorted out.” There’s 30 minutes of my life that I can never get back.

So, I proceed to the gate for my connecting flight. The gate agents were wrapping up their work on another flight, and when I approached the desk, they told me to “have a seat.” They said they would look into my problem once the other flight was finished at the ramp.

I took a seat, watching as the plane was being pushed across the tarmac and observing the two gate agents joking with one another.

Now, they must be ready to help me, I thought. So I approached the gate agents and they told me to take a seat and wait for the boarding of my flight.

So, I waited at the gate, now pacing and watching the minutes tick away.

Finally, it was time for the boarding of my connecting flight. Again, I approached the gate agents, and again I was told to “take a seat.” and wait.

In the end, there were nine of us who were unable to board that flight to Portland, Maine. Nine of us with reserved tickets who were told the flight was oversold. Nine of us waiting at the gate, watching as our flight was pushed across the ramp.

I approached the gate agents again. I was told a “customer service manager” would be there “shortly.”

Our group started losing its collective patience about 30 minutes later. The gate agents had left. We were left alone to speculate about what our next steps should be.

From bad to worse

I decided to stop waiting for the customer service manager and began trolling the concourse, looking for a US Airways “customer service” center. I found the “customer service” center and recognized one of the “customer service” representatives. He was the same gate agent who kept telling me to take my seat.

There was one passenger in line ahead of me. The other bumped passengers quickly lined up behind me.

Again, there was only one passenger ahead of me and two representatives “working” at the desk.

It took nearly 40 minutes for me to get to the desk.

While I was waiting in line, I watched in disbelief as the two airline representatives squabbled with each other and kept incessantly talking amongst themselves without ever making eye contact with the man standing right in front of them.

Finally, it was my turn. It took 15 minutes for these two “customer service professionals” to get me a boarding pass for a new flight ( in another concourse) and to receive a compensation check. They wrote out a check for $172.74.

While waiting in line, I read the US Airways policy regarding compensation for overbooked flights. My new flight was going to arrive in Portland more than fours after my original flight landed, meaning I should have received 400 percent of my ticket price from Philadelphia to Portland. You can read the policy here.

According to the US Airways web site: If the passenger’s arrival at their final destination is two hours or more past their original scheduled arrival, involuntary compensation is 400 percent of the sum of the values of the remaining flight coupons of the ticket to the next stopover, but not to exceed $1,300.

At this point, I was too fatigued and grumpy to do the calculation in my head. But how on Earth is $172.74 even close to 400 percent of an airline ticket from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine? Do they expect you to belive you can purchase such a ticket for less than $50?

I just want to get on a plane. I’ve had my share of standing in line. I’m not going to bicker. They beat me down and wore me out. I wanted a drink and a sandwich. I had time to kill before my next flight, so I found the nearest airport bar.

But wait, there’s more

By now I have had a beer and a Philly cheese steak sandwich (cost: $25.04). I have found the gate for my new flight. And the gate agent arrives with a grim face. US Airways “downsized” the flight. The gate agent was looking for volunteers who would like a $320 flight voucher and accommodations at the “newly remodeled Clarion Hotel” at the airport.

So, if you voluntarily give up your seat, you get $320 worth of services. If you get involuntarily bumped, you get $172.74.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Luckily, I was able to board the smaller aircraft. But not everyone was so lucky.

I arrived home more than fours late, but the $7 I spent for that gin and tonic in the air was worth every penny. That drink should have been comped. Maybe $7 would be enough for me not to launch a public relations nightmare toward US Airways.

Maybe not.

In closing, I have two words to describe customer service at US Airways: Epic. Fail.