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 aa.com.  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 aa.com.  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.

7 comments:

  1. Next time you are stuck in Chicago let me know. I will take you guys out for some Pizza.

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  2. Not a very good option for travel in and around Ohio, but train travel is awesome if you can do it. Large, comfy seats with plenty of legroom, no in-flight electronics restrictions, on-board food service that's usually a touch better than the airlines (though you do have to pay for it), no 3-1-1 rule for those evil bottles of soda or shampoo...

    Not to mention that Amtrak is positively amazing on their customer service and cancellation policies. Generally, most tickets are fully refundable until they're used in the form of vouchers, or in the form of cash less a 10% service fee.

    I always travel between southern and northern California by train. It takes slightly longer than driving, and is usually more expensive, but the quality of the trip is vastly improved.

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  3. Before my wife and I had kids we actually did take the train from Seattle to Ohio. We had to get off in Toledo which is still a couple hour drive to Columbus but the trip was really fun. We had a sleeper car most of the way which included meals. The food was fantastic and we had a great time meeting other folks. The pace was much more relaxed than airline travel. I want to do this again some day but it's a 3 day commitment one way. Sadly it doesn't work well for a one week trip home. :(

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  4. I always ride in a bus during my college year. But now, since I have my Honda big bike, I always ride on it everyday especially when I'm going into my work.

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