Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pink Gloves Are Cool!

I know I promised another part to my series about good/bad airlines, but I think a nice little reminder of the more "human" side of the medical field is in order. AA sent me this link to a YouTube video and I say HATS OFF to the organizers at Providence St. Vincent Hospital in Oregon for volunteering to do the "Pink Glove Dance". Don't know what that is? Neither did I until I watched the video, which I have included below. It is awesome to see a hospital where the staff can come together to raise awareness in a way that makes us all laugh a little bit and smile a lot. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Tale of Two Airlines - Part 2

This is part 2 in a series about how US Airways was not nice to me, whereas Delta Airlines was a very pleasant flying experience. Enjoy!

Part 2 - How Many US Airways Agents Does It Take...

When last we spoke, our story's hero had finally made arrangements with US Airways to book a trip with rewards points in January. Since that phone call, he went online and purchased 4,000 miles for $80 in order to have a total of 37,500 miles in his account with which to book the flight that was on hold for him until December 3, 2009. That is where we pick-up the story.

Thursday, December 3, 2009:
Assuming this would be a quick deal - just call, give the confirmation code, pay with miles, and call it a confirmed trip - I called US Airways about one and a half hours before I had to be in class. I figured the first agent wouldn't quite understand English and would be confused, but I figured all s/he had to do was finalize the booking.

Agent #1 (Agent #3 overall since I started the booking on Monday): I gave her my confirmation code and, of course, was put on hold. About 5 minutes later she returned to inform me that she could not find the booking, that it had, in fact, "expired" yesterday, and she needed my point of departure. OH NO NO NO NO - this is not happening. After some back and forth, she made it quite clear that my old confirmation code was no longer functional and that we would have to rebuild the itinerary. I grumbled, but finally gave in. I told her all the flights were the same, just use the itinerary already on your computer from the "expired" confirmation code. She assured me she could not do this. OK, FINE! I'm leaving from Fresno going to Newark through Las Vegas on Flight xxx. Hold please.
Agent: "Hmm, I can't find that flight number from Fresno to Newark."
Me: "Because the flight goes through Vegas."
Agent: "But you said you wanted to go to Newark. Now you want Vegas?"
Me: "Is this a joke? Like really, am I being recorded somewhere?"
Agent: "Mmm, pardon sir? I don't understand."
Me: "Exactly, you don't understand and I can't deal with this anymore. Please kindly transfer me to a Supervisor who does understand. Please."

Hold Please (story of my US Airways flight booking life).

Agent #2 (Agent #4 overall): Hello, how may I help you. I explain everything and tell him he should be able to find the flights from the booking code that should NOT be expired, but is. Hold Please. Oh by the way, we are now about 35 minutes into this lovely encounter. He finally returns about 10 minutes later (hence, 45 minutes into this lovely encounter) to say he has rebuilt the flights and that the total will be 50,000 miles.
Me: "Excuse me??? Umm, ya no, that is a mistake. The agent on Monday informed me the total was 37,500 - I specifically asked her to confirm that, because I went and purchased 4,000 miles for $80."
Agent: "No, she was wrong. It has to be 50,000 miles because your outbound flight ticket is 25,000 miles and since you are flying on airlines other than US Airways, even though in the same alliance, we must book the whole ticket on the higher mile round-trip; hence, 50,000 miles."
Me: Umm, no. On the Continental Airlines website I can book this exact flight for 37,500. AND, your agent told me I could book this ticket for 37,500 on Monday. Why else would I go purchase 4,000 miles?? Does it make sense that I would spend $80 for 4,000 miles if I had been told it was actually 50,000 miles total instead of 37,500??
Agent: Sorry. It is 50,000 miles.
Me: That is unacceptable.
Agent: Would you like this ticket or not?
Me: Yes I want it, for the 37,500 that was promised me on Monday!!!
Agent: That is not possible.
Me: Kindly transfer me to another agent. NOW!

Hold Please.

Agent #3 (overall, Agent #5 for those keeping a running tally): This agent actually was sans identifiable accent! Dare I say, an agent in the Americas? Could it be?? I again explained the whole situation to him. His response? A lecture on policies and how I should have learned the policy about purchasing miles before I purchased them. Umm, excuse me - please kindly stop lecturing me. I know what the policy is, but I also know what was promised to me. Why is the policy so firm, but the promises your agents make and the information they share is so wobbly and shaky and unreliable?
Agent: The policy is firm.
Me: The only policy you should follow is HONESTY - something your agents do NOT follow.
Agent: Would you like this ticket?
Me (incredulous at this point): NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! I don't HAVE 50,000 miles. I have 37,500 miles in my account because that's what was promised to me! I'm beyond frustrated with you people at this point!!!

And here is where the story can be quickly brought to an end. Realizing I was getting no where with any of these agents, I decided to cut my losses. We were able to find another flight that was available at the 12,500 point level; the only reason I hadn't chosen this flight in the first place is that it is the last flight of the night and goes through San Francisco late at night, and I was very worried about the possibility of weather problems. But, when you have no other choice and you are trying to save money, you do what you gotta do and hope for the best.

US Airways - I know that at least ONE person who works for you has to have a conscience and will realize that I was wronged here and will AT LEAST return my $80 (you can take back the 4,000 miles - I don't need them!). Take this opportunity to do the right thing and I promise I will bring you positive publicity (believe me, all my friends - 100s of them - call me for airline advice because I'm such an airline dork!).

Well, I never like to end on a sour note, so in my next installment of "A Tale of Two Airlines" we will talk about my POSITIVE flying experience on Delta Airlines - the "New" Delta Airlines as they call themselves. I flew them from LAX to NYC in late October and returned last week from NYC to Fresno (flying Delta from JFK to LAX then American Eagle to FAT). Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Tale of Two Airlines - Part 1

Sit down children, this is a good one. This is a tale that involves happy journeys on one airline as well as some scary, frustrating pre-journey ticketing experiences on another. This promises to pique your interest!

Part 1 - "The Hold"

Monday, November 30, 2009:
8 or 9pm, Eastern Standard Time
'Twas the week before my departure from NYC, whilst sitting in the living room, that I realized I had some free moments to purchase my ticket for my residency interviews in January in NYC. I needed a round trip ticket from FAT to NYC, returning from BUF. I have airline miles for a free ticket so I started exploring what options were available. Continental Airlines, an airline I like very much, just joined the Star Alliance, so I looked on their website for award tickets because the US Airways website, where my points actually are, doesn't support the type of search I was trying to do. I found the perfect flights, with one exception - the trip to NYC was a 25,000 point ticket whilst the return trip was 12,500 point ticket. No big deal - I had 34,500 miles total, so I figured I could just buy the 4,000 more miles and still be cheaper than buying the whole ticket.

I called US Airways for the first time ever (the only reason I have points with them at all is because I used to have points with America West - when they joined US Airways, my points transferred, then when I have flown United I transfer the points to my US Airways account (I will give a little hint to the end of the story here: I USED to transfer my other points to the US Airways account - probably not ever again after this experience!)

The phone was answered pretty quickly and the lady sounded like she knew what she was talking about, so I got excited that this would be a good experience! Ha! I was upfront and said that what I needed to do what going to be complicated:
  1. Build a round trip awards tickets - I already had the flight numbers I needed, since I searched and had it up on my computer screen; I would do it myself, but the US Airways website wouldn't let me.
  2. Put the itinerary on hold so that my account had time for the purchased miles to clear.
  3. Purchase 4000 miles to my account
I was put on hold for about 5 minutes so she could check her "resources". That should have put me on alert where this was going. But, I stayed patient. She came back on and now I picked up the accent as she asked me, AGAIN, what my Dividend Account number was. I told her. She put me on hold again. Next, she informed me, AGAIN, how many miles I had available. Thanks, can we get on with this please? HOLD. Now, what my city of origin was (again). I told her Fresno, CA. She put me on hold again. Came back to ask whether it was CHANDLER airport!! I said no, the airport code is FAT. Hold. What is the flight number? Hold. Hold. Hold. Comes back to tell me she can't find that flight number from FAT to NYC. Now, I'm slightly irritated. I point out that the flight goes through Vegas, not straight to NYC. She points out to me that I said I'm going to NYC and now I'm changing my plans. Now I'm REALLY irritated. No, I'm going to NYC, madam, but the flight goes through Vegas. HOLD.

SUCCESS - she found that flight. We are now at around 20 minutes in the conversation. I'm ready to dunk myself in cold water. Her next question - What is your return date? SERIOUSLY?! We haven't finished building the FIRST trip yet. Oh ya. Where are you going again?

NO YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS!!! This is when I finally say "Madam, you seem very nice, but it has taken almost 25 minutes just to do my FIRST flight and there are 4 more flights. So, please transfer me to a supervisor who can do this quicker." In my opinion, they must get asked this a lot because it was the ONE function she knew how to carry out pretty darn quickly.

Around 930pm: An agent who still has an accent, but understood everything I asked gets on the phone. With her, we build my whole itinerary with the flights I need within about 10 minutes. Great. I tell her I need to purchase 4,000 miles to have the total 37,500 miles needed to complete the reservation, so please put the reservation on hold until the miles that I purchase online clear. HOLD. She comes back and says her supervisor said that is OK, so she goes ahead and holds the reservation until December 3, she says, gives me a confirmation code, wishes me a happy holiday, and we call it a day.

This pre-Christmas tale of craziness could have ended here happily with me pointing out in one line that I called on December 3 to complete the reservation and all went well. But alas, that wouldn't really be a scary Christmas tale, now would it? So, stay tuned for Part 2 where we find out what exactly happens on December 3.

DISCLAIMER 1: Dear US Airways - Part 1 is scary, but what happened next (which I will detail in Part 2) is the truly embarrassing part (for you). And while I don't have a lot of readers on this blog, I do have a thing where I will keep writing letters to whoever needs to read it for things to be made right. So, if any of you read this, please know that I informed your agent in whatever countries I spoke with them (there were a total of 5 agents I had to go through to make this reservation - but the last one will know) that I intended to even write to US Senators until I received my money back that you stole - $80 total.

DISCLAIMER 2: Dear Continental Airlines - you came out looking like a beautiful rose in all this. Your ENGLISH speaking agent was extremely kind, understood my dilemma, and did the best she could to help. I will be contacting you about transferring the balance of my miles to a OnePass membership, if anything like that is allowed (which I really, really, REALLY hope it is!) And please know that I intend to do business only with airlines who keep their reservations agents in the USA - because in frustrating moments stuck in an airport or trying to book a complicated ticket, I want to know that the first person who answers the phone will be able to help me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Flight Itinerary

It's that time again, boys and girls! Time to get back on a jetplane and leave my mark do some exploring elsewhere again. AA once wrote me a letter on pink stationary when I was leaving for med school where she pointed out how I always "sweep in" to places and fly around a lot. I still have that letter at home - it's not often AA compliments, so you gotta keep them as true honorary mementos in the same regard you would keep an Emmy!

Not flying somewhere new this time - coming home to Fresno. My next two rotations are in Fresno and are Pediatric Infectious Disease and Neonatal ICU (Intensive Care). I will in fact be in Fresno from December 5 until the end of January. I look forward to seeing those of you whom I haven't seen in a long time and hopefully meeting some new friends as well on this journey!

Hence, here is my itinerary for my flight. Oh boy, this is exciting!!!

December 5 - Saturday
Depart JFK @ 810am on Delta 33
Arrive LAX @ 1145am

Depart LAX @ 130pm on Delta 7446 (operated by American Eagle 3060)
Arrive FAT @ 230pm