Wednesday, March 16, 2011

AirTran, You Suck.

Well, SXSW is over, and I am exhausted. The trip is always just long enough to wear me out, but not too long to make me regret taking the time and energy. Overall, I think I got a lot more out of this trip than I did last year because I was more focused in picking panels, and I also didn't kill myself trying to make it to everything. I would say things were chill, and I met a lot of really interesting people. This will probably be a muli-part post, because I have some kvetching and some kvelling to do. First, of course is the kvetching.

Tuvia dropped me at Laguardia at 5:45 am last Friday for a 7 am AirTran flight, and the day just fell apart from there. Why? It began with security. I was wearing a short sleeve shirt with a zip black hoodie/cardigan thing and a gray knit hat. The woman at security asked me to remove my "jacket" and hat. I told her I was an Orthodox Jew (I can't even count how many times I said this phrase during my trip) and that for modesty purposes, I couldn't remove them. She was zero tolerance and called for a full-body pat down. The woman who checked me out went quick, but moved my hat around, which upset me. I was upset that they even asked. It's New York. There are lots of Orthodox Jews. Did Dallas ask me to remove my hat on my way back? Nope!

I got to the AirTran gate with plenty of time to spare and grabbed a seat. As 7 neared and no plane was at our gate, people started to get antsy. Then, finally at 6:50, they decided to tell us that our plane was having difficulties and told us to go to a different gate. So evryone went to that gate, but there was no explanation of what was supposed to happen. Then, after people started asking, we found out that none of us would make our Atlanta connections, so we had to get into a line to rebook our connections. It being Friday, I was worried about making it to Dallas in time for Shabbat, so I went to the front of the line and explained to the conter guy my situation. Hs reaction? Tough luck, you have to wait in line like everyone else. I turned to the people in the front of the line and explained my situation, asking if I could hop in the front of the line to secure something ASAP (before any spare seats got eaten up). The girl in the front of the line looked at me and said, "Are you kidding? No way. Get in line like everyone else." The people behind her iterated something similar. The attitude, the snark, the scowls on the faces shocked me. No sympathy, no understanding, nothing. I wasn't asking for a hand-out, but I was in a serious bind. 

I went back about five or six people to a group of women and explained my situation and asked if I could cut them in line, and they were more than willing. They were incredibly sympathetic and felt really horribly for me. I got up to the counter, to the, pardon my French, jerk of an AirTran employee and, once again, explained the situation. "I have a 5 o'clock flight that will get you in at 6:30, but I can only put you on standby," he said, completely unsympathetic. I begged, I pleaded, I explained that my husband had looked online and found five open seats on a 3 something flight. "Nope," he said, as he printed me out a standby ticket for a flight that was completely worthless anyway. I was almost in tears. This guy didn't get it. I asked if they'd transfer my ticket to another airline if someone had a flight, and he said they could refund me if I found something. I asked him to check his computer for other airlines with flights, because they'd announced that a new plane was coming to take the 7 o'clock passengers, so I had minimal time to figure something out. "We don't have that information on our computers, you have to go check with each of them," he said. Stunned, I walked away, and then ran away, to the Southwest counter, where they were boarding a flight that would get me to Dallas -- however, it was $600, they wouldn't be able to transfer my luggage, and, oh, right, the door was closing. I asked the guy if he could access other flights with other airlines on his computer, and he did, meaning the jerk at AirTran was too much of a jack*** to help me out of my bind. 

I ran back to the AirTran gate, figuring that if I at least took the plane to Atlanta, I could find a place in Atlanta to stay for Shabbat and maybe find a flight that would get me to Dallas before Shabbat. And then? They started to prepare to board the 8 o'clock flight to Atlanta. I walked over, begging for a spot on board. The flight would get in in just enough time to give me to transfer to my 10:15 to Dallas. And then? The woman at the counter said that because my luggage was already set for the 7 o'clock flight, I couldn't get on board. Why? WHY!? Both planes were going to Atlanta! My bag had to be transferred anyway! So I waited. Angry. I waited. The plane didn't come until ... I don't even remember when. Everyone boarded, we took off, and on-board, with free Twitter access, I started crowd-sourcing Shabbat plans in Atlanta. I was still holding out for the plane to seriously gun-it and make it in for my 10:15 a.m. flight. While in-flight, someone let me know that the flight had been delayed to 10:30, I was still hopeful. 

The worst part of all of this was that they didn't communicate with us, it took forever to get a new plane, they didn't offer any kind of compensation for the CRAPTASTIC way they handled things, they were rude, and ... I mean ... you had an entire plane of people that you screwed over and you didn't follow-through with good customer service. AirTran, you followed-through with radio silence and rudeness. Way to #fail.

And then? We landed, I ran out of the aircraft, only to discover that the flight had just left. Half of the 10:15 flight was on my plane, so I guess there were a lot of people on standby who got really frakin' lucky. I walked to the gate attendant and told her I was having a serious emergency, so she sent me to a counter to rebook. The woman at the counter told me she had nothing, but to go to "The Specialist" Ben down at the main gate. I ran, I booked it, to this specialist guy. After all of my troubles, and explaining my story to five million people, most of which were unsympathetic and didn't give a crap, all it took was me telling Ben that I was an Orthodox Jew, that I needed to get to Dallas by 5 p.m., or else I was screwed. He tapped at his computer, printed out a pass, handed it to me, and said, "Don't go flaunting this around, there are a lot of people from your flight on standby for the 3 o'clock flight, but I squeezed you in, a window seat is okay?" I wanted to kiss the man. Like, fly over the counter and just hug him. It would be pushing it, but I was on the flight. Luckily, the seat was in a cushy space with lots of leg room and the flight was smooth. My luggage arrived (I was really worried about that), and I was picked up by @ravtex, schlepped off to his and @susqhb's place in Dallas, I hopped in the shower, hosed down, got dressed, and bam, it was Shabbos. 

Luckily, my trip back has been smoother. I know that I'll never fly AirTran ever again, because their customer service is horrible, save for the amazing Ben in Atlanta. When I checked my luggage this morning in Dallas, which I paid $20 to do online, and it was weighed, it was 9 pounds too heavy. I looked at the pricing chart, and it looked like an overweight item was $49. So, I assumed, I would only have to pay another $29. Nope, the lady says, it's $20 and an additional $49. What the hell? Seriously? $69 to check a bag? You've got to be kidding me. I paid it, because I didn't have a choice, but this means that AirTran is on my you-know-what list, and I will never, NEVER fly them ever again. 

Thank heavens Southwest Airlines is now flying out of Newark (well, starting late March). I hope that Southwest knows that they bought a dud when they bought AirTran. Maybe they'll rub off on AirTran and make them suck less and not rip their customers off so horribly. Oh, and maybe teach them some sensitivity training. 

I love travelling, I love flying, and most of the time, I don't have problems, as an Orthodox Jew, but man this time killed me. Next year? I'm flying direct to Austin like I did last year, and I'm going to make Shabbos there, too. Why? It'll make life so much easier.