An open letter to US Airways

I just got back from spending a week visiting a friend in Puerto Rico. Considering I am tan, well-rested and had perfect weather, I guess it was a successful trip. But it was almost derailed from the very beginning when US Airways lost my luggage.

You see, I was forced to check my luggage because the overhead compartments were full. When I asked the US Airways representative why people in our seating “zone” had to check our bags and not others who boarded first, he simply said, “next time book a seat in the back of the plane.” Now seems to be the right time to point out that I was seated in row 22 of a 30 row plan yet was in Zone 6 out of 7. Logic, thy name is not US Airways.

Well, the attendant quickly scribbled my flight info on the luggage ticket. And by quickly I mean sloppily. How sloppy? His SJU (San Juan, Puerto Rico) ended up looking like SJO (Juan Santamaría International, Costa Rica). Woops! Of course, no one knew where my bag was for days. Which meant that I spent New Year’s Eve in clothes purchased in San Juan and several days in a pretty ornery mood. Ultimately, my bag was found and returned and I am happy to report that I encountered several wonderfully helpful US Airways staff members along the way.

What follows is an open letter to US Airways (rest assured it has also been emailed, faxed and mailed to their Customer Relations department). I made sure to praise those who helped me. It’s only fair.

US Airways Customer Relations,

I am writing to express my great frustration and disappointment. On December 30, 2008, I departed LaGuardia airport en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico with a stop in Charlotte, NC (Flight 899 with a transfer to Flight 1568).

I attempted to board the plane at LaGuardia when my zone was called (Zone 6). At this time, I was told that the overhead compartments were full and that I would need to check my carry-on bag. When I asked the US Airways representative why people in our zone were essentially being penalized, he simply told me, “next time book a seat in the back of the plane.” However, I was in row 22 of a 30 row plane. Yet, I was in Zone 6 out of 7. Why was a seat in the last third of the plane included in Zone 6? And such a dismissive and smug response from a member of your staff is disrespectful.

I reluctantly gave up my carry-on bag to the attendant. However, because of his sloppy handwriting, my bag was sent to Costa Rica (SJO) instead of San Juan (SJU). I did not learn this for several days. In that time, I was in Puerto Rico for New Year’s with absolutely no clothing and no idea where my luggage was and if it would ever be recovered.

I made several calls to your toll-free number and found your customer service representatives to be uninformed and dismissive. My bag could not be tracked or accounted for.

Thankfully, I can say that your on-site luggage services staff in Charlotte and San Juan are professional, courteous and honest. David in Charlotte searched diligently for my bag and had the idea to check Costa Rica. He went so far as to call me back twice to assure me that he was still working on my case. Sheila in San Juan was fantastic. She called me repeatedly and even had the delivery service bring my bag to me before their scheduled deliveries. She later called me again to confirm that I had received the bag. I wish that your corporate office staff were as friendly and helpful as your airport staff.

It is absolutely unacceptable that A) my seat was in Zone 6 for boarding since it was in the back third of the plane, B) a member of your staff would give me such a dismissive explanation as to why I had to check my luggage, C) the haste and sloppiness of one of your employees would result in my luggage going to an entirely different country for several days, and D) your corporate staff is as ineffective as they are.

You should be ashamed of a situation like this. I certainly have no intention of utilizing your airline in the future. My disappointment is tempered only by the kindness of your airport staff, who showed that a little patience and humanity can go a long way.

Overall, however, your airline’s service was an embarrassment.

Michael Barish