Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lying Airlines

I thought this article on CNN was pretty funny, as I had a "weather" delay for a Jan 17th flight out of Montrose, Colorado. I received a phone call at 8:00 the night before telling me my scheduled early morning flight was canceled due to "weather." The sky was clear, lots of stars, not too cold. While the United agent was on the phone looking for alternates for me I pulled the weather for Montrose: Mostly clear overnight, sunny in the morning. OK, maybe high winds aloft? Nope, all good there. Ah, freezing rain? No. I told the agent that and she insisted it was a weather delay. OK, maybe United has some sort of super-secret weather forecasting info. While the nice agent tried to rebook me and my family I kept surfing the web--there was absolutely no weather event within 1,000 miles that would preclude even a paraglider flight--no fog, no snow, no freezing rain, no thunderstorms, nada. I believe that the small planes that fly Montrose-Denver and back do just that and perhaps other short local trips; weather elsewhere in the flight system (like Chicago) doesn't seem likely to have been the problem. I was due to meet five other people and drive three hours in a van after my flight, so I wasn't happy when the agent told me I was now going to arrive six hours later--arriving in Mexico city past midnight for a scheduled van that left six hours earlier isn't a great plan with a family. I kept working with the friendly agent, who finally allowed that United could book me on other carriers "if available." I read her the weather forecasts with some laughter and we talked about flying, her husband was a pilot and she got where I was coming from. Eventually we were booked on another airline.

I woke up at 6:00 a.m to crystal clear starry skies. At the airport I asked a few people what was going on, and a maintenance sorta guy said, "Oh, the runway lights are having problems, but we can't say that 'cause then the airport has to pay for diverted flights and the airlines have to deal with their passengers." Hmmm.... I asked a baggage guy what was up and got the same answer. At the United counter (still had to deal with the tickets for 45 minutes) I got, "Weather" until I repeated the stories I had just heard. She then said, "Yeah, it's the runway lights, but we can't say that or we have to pay for hotels and stuff. We hope the part shows up soon." So the real deal was that the lights at the airport weren't working, which meant they couldn't fly the plane in late at night or early in the morning.

And the airlines wonder why people hate 'em? When you get flat-out lied to repeatedly it sorta makes you less than trusting, know what I mean? If United had said, "The runway lights are broken and we can't fly your plane here in the dark, so we've got to schedule you on a different flight" I would have been a little annoyed, but OK, United doesn't fix the runway lights, fair enough. But to get a lame excuse about weather just makes United look like not only liars but idiots--it's pretty bold to invoke bad weather when the sky is clear, a sort of Jedi mind trick, "No, really the weather is bad, that is not the sun..." Right.

3 comments:

Alex said...

This kind of behviour is really annoying. Especially since it completely undermines their credibility when there really are weather problems. Frequently both airports and most of the route between are having good weather and "weather" delays are because one of the FAA-rules mandated alternate airports (anywhere within essentially 150 miles from where the entire flight plan). But who's going to believe them when they behave like this?

Jim said...

Yet another example of today's world of spin-doctoring and avoiding liability, rather than stepping up and doing the honorable thing. Don't know what else positive a customer can do except bite your tongue and work with the situation. Good on you for calling bullsh_t, but also for doing it so diplomatically.

Warren Macdonald said...

Mate; well said. My belief, or is it a hope, is that we're heading into a world where transparency rules; this kind of shite won't cut it; and we'll have the balls to vote with our wallets and simply not do business with companies that treat us like dipshits. Yep; hanging in there with that one, but for my money; the time will come...