Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Would you rather fly or ride the bus?

I just returned from a trip to Columbus Ohio with my eldest daughter.  Most, if not all of the air travel experience was a complete disappointment.  Anyone who has flown much in the past 5 years is guaranteed to have a set of travel horror stories.  I am no different.  As I was stuck in Chicago on this last trip it hit me that if all things were equal time wise, I’d rather sit on a bus for 8 hours than a be on a plane.

A few years back my family had to cancel a vacation due to some rather unfortunate but serious health situations. After months of negotiation with American Airlines, they finally agreed to “refund” my ticket costs, with some fess of course, in the form of vouchers.  At the same time I had to cancel some tickets on USAir .  USAir was who was totally cool.  I provided a doctors note and they cut me a check.  AA ended up being a hassle and really didn’t want to do anything for me.  I even offered ridiculous compromises like, just refund me half and you keep half.  We had over 6 months before we were to travel so it wasn’t like they didn’t have time to resell my seats.  Long story short I got these travel vouchers, these cursed travel vouchers.  Every trip I’ve booked using these vouchers has had at least one rather serious mishap.  There was the time they canceled my connecting flight and the time my car seat didn't show up for days.  The list goes on.
The big disaster on this trip was that the plane ran out of gas.  Thunderstorms diverted the plane over Kansas and we didn't have enough fuel to make it to Chicago.  So we got to land in Minneapolis to fillerup.  That caused my daughter and I to miss our connection.  So we spent the night in Chicago at the airport hotel and we lost a day of our vacation.  Then AA couldn't get us to Columbus until 6pm the following day which was almost another disaster until a smart gate agents figured out that he could get me to Dayton by 10am, which we did.

Back to vouchers.  I’ve learned just about everything there is to know about vouchers in the past two years.  The thing AA doesn’t tell you about vouchers is they are basically a scheme for AA to charge fees.  Now before you think I’m just another airline hater I’m not.  I get that it’s a business and I completely support the ala cart direction things are headed.  Go ahead and charge me for a pillow, drink, tv etc.  I like the idea that I pay for a base ticket and then I can choose to add amenities.  That makes sense.  What doesn’t make much sense to me is pointless fees.

It all starts when you call in to book a ticket.  Yes, you have to call, you can’t use vouchers on  When you call in guess what, it costs fees to talk to a real person.  So now you are talking to a real person and your trying to find that sweet fair you saw on  Oh, that’s a Internet fare, you can get on that flight but its 25% more than what your seeing online.  Once you have finished negotiating a flight you get to mail the voucher in.  That’s right there’s not way to do this over the phone or Internet.  You have to mail the thing in like its 1982.  That is unless you are travelling in less than 2 weeks, then you can take the voucher to the airport.  Of course that results in a “convenience fee” because you get to talk to a person.  It's ridiculous.
On this last trip I discovered a new fee.  I noticed that there were two early flights for my second leg home.  I went to the ticket desk in Chicago and asked if my daughter and I could get on the standby list.  The gate agent said it would be $50 a piece!  After I picked my jaw back off the floor I asked her if she would take vouchers :)  Of course the don't.