We returned yesterday from a Caribbean cruise vacation. We spent the last week visiting islands of indescribable beauty and having a great time vacationing with our friends. But, before I tell you all about the wonderful week in paradise, I have to explain our journey getting home.
We boarded US Airways flight 770 from San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU) to Philadelphia (PHL) on Saturday at about 1:15pm. We were supposed to take off at 1:50pm and arrive at 5:30pm. Everything was normal as we boarded the plane and got to our seats. Manina was very happy to be seated right next to our friends the Denneys for the flight.
We pulled away from the terminal and started taxiing to the runway. I put on my headphones, got a podcast ready and prepared for take off. Then, the captain came over the loudspeaker.
He explained that our plane needed to be towed to a remote part of the airport because someone had called in a bomb threat, someone who did not make the flight, yet his luggage was on board. We spent several hours on the runway, with very infrequent updates.
Manina and Kristy both started crying. Manina was very concerned with how our neighborhood would be affected losing four good families in a tragedy, and she told Kristy that at least they would die together. No mention was made of me, her loving husband. Her priorities seemed a little screwed up to me, but I guess stress affects some people in different ways.
They made us put away all our phones, turn them all the way off, not just in airplane mode. I had to help an older gentlemen sitting next to me turn his off, since both he and his wife were completely frazzled. Everybody was stressed out. We were told to remain seated with seat belts fastened, and comply with any officers who came aboard. It was not a comfortable situation as we sat there without any real information for just shy of four hours. Finally, the captain mentioned the FBI apprehended the guy, and it turned out to be a hoax.
The flight attendants had been great throughout the entire ordeal. They reassured people that we were going to be OK, that missed connection flights would be taken care of, that US Airways was going to bring on catering and feed us once we got on the way to Philly. Bravo to them, they were great.
Since the crisis was over, we taxied back to the terminal, where people were given the choice to remain aboard or stay in San Juan. However, the intercom warned, your luggage wouldn’t be staying with you. Then, they announced that there wasn’t enough time to bring catering aboard, so on the flight over they gave us cookies, pretzels, and a soda, and that was it. They briefly turned on the in-flight entertainment, and we thought a movie would be a great diversion from all the stress we’d been through. Then, it was shut off, and didn’t come back on. We finally touched down at 7:30 EST in Philadelphia and the cabin erupted in applause. We’d spent nearly 8 hours on that plane by the time we got out of there.
There was a US Airways customer service representative waiting at the gate who gave us our updated itineraries. When we got our new flights, we totally got the short end of the stick in more ways than one. US Airways only gave us each a food voucher for $10 and a little pink slip with a phone number where we could reserve a room and pay for it ourselves. Unacceptable. Then we found out that we had the worst flight available: The Denneys left at 7am, flew to Phoenix, then arrived in SLC around noon. Emily and Tony flew out to Chicago at 6am, finally arriving in SLC at 10:30am. The Bergerons had the same flight as the Denneys. Our flight left Philadelphia at 1:15pm to Phoenix, finally arriving to SLC at 7:55pm on Sunday. That was way too late, especially without lodging and only $1o in food.
So, we went to the US Airways customer service desk to see what could be done. The lady there was as unhelpful and rude as she looked. I think her name was Kathleen. She said, “I just got a phone call from my manager saying not to help any more of you people,” gesturing to the line of travelers heading through SLC who had missed their connections, “but I’ll see what I can do.” She said it like she was annoyed that we were there trying to get help.
She did manage to get us the flight out of Chicago. The Denneys saw who were dealing with got out of the line and just called the customer service line on the phone. They got the same flight through Chicago, no problem. Penny and Mike got switched to a later non-stop Delta flight which we had told them about from Abby’s research. They failed to mention we were trying to travel together as a group. Tony had to do a bunch of switching around, but managed to get a flight to Texas, where he was had to be for work Monday morning. He didn’t even get to go home and see his kids. Pretty sad.
There was a little discussion about getting a room, but the Denneys and we elected not to do that since we figured we would lose a couple hours just going back and forth, getting though security, etc. Both Mike and Penny and Tony and Emily got a room, but we decided to stay.
So, it was just us and the Denneys. We took a shuttle to the big food court. I got Chipotle and Manina got Smashburger with our vouchers, both of us having to pay extra since the voucher didn’t cover the entire cost. Then we treated ourselves to Red Mango frozen yogurt for dessert.
While we were sitting there eating, we noticed an abandoned bag. A cop came up and asked us if it was ours. Nope. He told us to hang tight while they brought in a bomb-sniffing dog. He was a very nice guy who told us it was probably nothing, but if the dog sits, run like crazy. Incredible, two bomb threats in 12 hours — where were we? Hyderabad?
It was nothing, just a lost bag, but we couldn’t help but chuckle at all of this chaos. We took the shuttle back and went to find a good place to sleep. Thankfully the airport staff were much more helpful than the US Airways folks. They hooked us up with water bottles, a pillow, emergency blanket, toiletries, and suggestions on the best places to get a few hours of shuteye. I grabbed a floor, Manina and the Denneys all found a suitable bench and we tried to get a couple hours of sleep.
We woke up, managed to check in (though not without more drama from US Airways staff), and got on the plane to Chicago. The flight was uneventful, thankfully. The flight from Chicago to SLC was bumpy and late apparently due to some weather issues. When we finally arrived at 11:45am on Sunday, I was dead tired, but also very happy to finally be home.
The moral of the story: stay away from US Airways at all costs. They couldn’t control the bomb threat, but, they certainly could have gained some loyal customers by handling it the right way. Feed the passengers who have been stuck on the plane for 8 hours. Turn on all of the in-flight entertainment, gratis. Don’t short-change us on meal vouchers, spring for a hotel, not just a booking service. Have your customer service folks ready and empowered to make each customer happy. Upgrade their next flights to first-class, give them a day at the frequent-flyer lounge. Do something, and odds are I wouldn’t be writing about how poorly managed this whole thing was. I know US Airways is merging with American Airlines soon, but I’ll take my chances with just about any other airline. That’s how bad this whole thing was.
Oh, and one other thing. We found out later through some news reports that the person making the bomb threat was a disgruntled employee who got bumped off the flight from San Juan. Also, apparently some some pop star was also traveling with us and had the same crappy experience.