He didn’t make a fortune during his working days, but he did OK and has a decent pension.
So Pat Shank of Wadsworth is in position to take a nice vacation every year.
The retired truck driver and his wife, Pam, usually schedule their big trips for September, the month they were married more than three decades ago.
Early last year, they decided they would head to Cabo San Lucas, the popular resort town on Mexico’s portion of the Baja peninsula. They found a nice condo on the water and shopped around for flights.
The Shanks settled on an outgoing flight that would require sacrificing some sleep — 7 a.m. out of Akron-Canton — but, with a stop in Charlotte, they would land at Los Cabos International Airport shortly after 1 p.m., giving them plenty of time to get settled and soak up some first-day sun.
The return trip seemed equally comfortable, leaving Mexico at 2 p.m. and again stopping in Charlotte before touching down at CAK at 11:30 p.m.
But US Airways had other ideas.
Two months after they made the reservation, the Shanks received word they would have to make another stop on the way to Mexico, as well as another stop on the way back, adding Phoenix to the mix.
Going from CAK to CLT to PHX to SJD would cost them another two hours of travel time westbound and an extra hour and a half heading home. That was disappointing but still manageable.
Then, more than three months later — and only one month before their long-awaited vacation — they were informed that US Airways had yet another surprise in store:
Instead of getting back to Akron late at night, they would have the pleasure of spending the night in Charlotte — at their own expense — and returning home the next morning.
What could they do? They certainly weren’t going to cancel their whole vacation. The airline couldn’t reroute them to eliminate an overnight stay, and switching to another airline at that point would have cost the Shanks lots more money. So they gritted their teeth and accepted the change.
In Charlotte, they wound up paying $95 for a motel.
When they got back to Wadsworth, Pat Shank sat down and fired off an email to US Airways’ customer relations people.
The response: “Schedule changes of this nature are commonplace in the airline industry. ... They are generally posted well in advance of the implementation date ... [and] since you accepted the reaccommodation, no compensation would be due.”
Shank’s blood began to boil.
“I felt that since the change was of your doing,” he wrote back, “you would do what was right and at least reimburse our motel expense after putting us through all the added aggravation of changing our flights.”
US Airways’ second response was only a slightly softer version of “tough noogies”: The airline offered two lame travel vouchers — $25 off a flight costing up to $250, or fifty bucks off a flight costing up to $400, and so on — apparently hoping Shank would just go away.
This time he fired off an email to the CEO, accusing the airline of “changing the product you accepted payment for.”
Says Shank: “I never heard back from them. Not even, ‘We received your info, sorry,’ or ‘Too bad, tough.’?”
He told the CEO he considered the vouchers an insult, “presumptuous on your part that we would fly with you in the future.”
Even if the Shanks do fly US Airways some day, he won’t use the vouchers. “You’ve got to use them on full-price tickets, so you’re not going to save any money.”
At the very least, he says, US Airways should have offered a free companion flight.
“I understand [the need for airlines to juggle flights],” he says. “I’ve had plenty of flights that have changed. But when you’ve already booked it, and they’ve taken your money and it involves more money out of your pocket, I think they should be responsible for that.
“It’s just like if I put a roof on their house and they paid me up front, and then I did half the roof and said, ‘If you want the other half done, you have to pay me some more.’ I don’t think they’d go for that. But it doesn’t seem to bother them to do that.”
Not much seems to bother them. The Media Relations Department at US Airways, given 29 hours to respond to a detailed message, didn’t bother. Their non-response fits in quite nicely with the company’s current reputation.
With 3,100 daily flights to 202 destinations, US Airways is among the nation’s largest carriers but consistently has ranked at the bottom in customer satisfaction research by Consumer Reports. As the magazine reported last year after tallying the responses of 14,900 readers:
“Bottom-ranked US Airways occupies the same unenviable spot on our list as it did in 2007, when we last assessed airlines.”
Not exactly the kind of reputation you’d want in an industry that remains competitive despite steady consolidation. But US Airways certainly isn’t knocking itself out to counter that perception.
“Even if you didn’t put anything in the paper,” says Shank, “just the word of mouth from me telling people the story — not exaggerating, but just telling them the real story — has to cost [the airline] more than what it would have cost to take care of me.
“But I guess that’s how you do business.”
Well, at least how US Airways seems to do business.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.