The Real No-Fly List

Is Philly ready to revolt against US Airways?

Ah, spring. Flowers blooming, birds chirping, having to fly to go away for spring break. Oh wait, maybe not that one. Does anybody remember when flying commercial evoked Sinatra singing “Come Fly With Me”? Beautifully dressed and coiffed flight attendants, relatively good (and free) food and drink service, metal cutlery and glassware. Hell, you could even smoke if you were so inclined. Other than the smoking, maybe, it was a most civilized way to travel. No longer.

I just returned from a vacation, and the flying portion was worse than most Greyhound bus trips. Seriously, every step of the way is a problem these days. It is increasingly unclear why everyone isn’t turning back to the days of traveling by ocean liner. At this point, a cargo ship sounds pretty good. [SIGNUP]

We set off from Philadelphia International Airport where we were greeted with check-in kiosks, which as far as I can tell only help in slowing things down. Half the people checking in have problems with them, and every single person checking baggage has to deal with a human who double-checks all the paperwork the kiosks produce. In summary, total waste of time.

Next we stood in a security line that was so insanely long that an airport employee announced half the line had to march behind him to another terminal for screening only to have to walk all the way back. His directions would have been amusing if he weren’t serious (a mile down this hallway, and out to the parking garage, and through it to the sidewalk, and on and on). Thankfully I was the cutoff person who got to stay where I was. It was a brilliant and creative way to waste people’s time though.

After security, we had almost an hour to grab a bite to eat before our flight. Except they boarded the flight almost an hour early. The flight was at 9:50 a.m. and everyone was on the plane at 9 a.m. The gate was virtually deserted and we feared the plane was leaving early, so we skipped breakfast to get on. Then we sat on the plane until 9:50. Yep, another total waste of time.

Can I just take a moment to mention the gate agent? Surly doesn’t even cover it. Try abusive. This woman took the liberty of telling off every single passenger (read: customers—the reason you have a job, lady) as they checked in. First she insisted that we each turn our passports to the photo page ourselves before she would exhaust herself looking at it. Then she snarled at my husband about him having to tear the paper boarding passes himself in the future. Why would passengers know where these sheets are supposed to be ripped for the gate agents? Friends of ours were behind us and when the husband asked why we were boarding the plane so early, she snapped, “Haven’t you ever flown before?” This to a seasoned executive whose career has no doubt put him in a lot more first-class cabins than she’s ever been in. The other people we were traveling with had similar stories. I’d like that gate agent to know she became a punch line on our trip.

On the way home it was similar, but not the same. Why? Perhaps because US Airways changes their policies and procedures on an ad hoc basis. We paid $25 per bag to fly out of Philadelphia, but not on the way home (not that I’m complaining). We were able to pay using cash for food and drinks on the way there, but only by credit card on the way back, which slowed down food and beverages big time. The crew on the return flight—which was delayed three hours—was the most bedraggled group I’ve ever seen. I gather they had been through the ringer that day with the delay and all, but these employees were no spring chickens. And definitely not coiffed. In fact, they made some of the sloppy passengers look good.

Coming back into the U.S. is always a good time with terrorism and all. Before we could board the plane home (post security), tables were set up at the gate to hand-search our carry-on bags. I was standing next to a friend while we were being simultaneously searched, and we were chatting. The horror! Her searcher did not approve, and my friend was harshly reprimanded for talking. Whatever you do, do not enjoy being hand-searched! I just love those warm US Airways gate send-offs.

Finally we landed in Philadelphia. After about 10 warnings on the airplane’s PA not to use our cell phones in customs or they’d be seized, and the captain telling us what a large collection they’d amassed (nice policy), we were held hostage on the plane for at least 15 minutes before the doors were opened. Clearly there was no ground crew assembled for our three-hour-late flight. Nothing like wasting every possible last second of our time. Next time I pack my steamer trunk. Cunard, here I come!