Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Air Tran, what did I do to thee? - Chili's

I must warn you this is a long post. If you aren't in to reading novels, then scroll down for the pretty picture, and be on your way. End disclaimer.

I promised I would tell the story of my day with Air Tran, yes it turned out to be an entire day, 21 hours worth. In order for this to fly on the food blog though, I decided to include my meal at the airport. So, there, is where we shall begin our journey.

In a tribute to my house mate, Craig, who wrote a spec script on Pushing Daisies, and recently turned 23.
The facts were these: The Food Monster had long been hungry after surviving on a few small assorted snacks for the day, it was already 5:00pm EST. The options in the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport were unfortunately unappetizing. After spotting a Seafood Restaurant in one of the terminal directories. The Food Monster (TFM) was off to find dinner. Large jumbo LCD's lured TFM into a small alcove. A Chili's To Go.

The Food Monster (to self): this will be a quick, perfectly priced meal, and I am already right here, no need to walk any further.

Perfectly priced indeed. You see TFM had a $10 voucher for any restaurant in the airport, given to him by Leeah, an Air Tran Representative, for certain unfortunate circumstances.
Here is what he ordered.Chipotle Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger: Spicy and smoky with chipotle pepper sauce, bleu cheese crumbles, Applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickle and bleu cheese dressing.

However, today, TFM decided to have a black bean burger instead of the normal beef patty. To this day nobody is sure what overtook him with the urge to go vegetarian. Luckily, crisp, tasty fries accompanied this dry patty. Also, TFM, has never been one for the smoky flavor of Chipotle. That sauce, while tested, remained on the sidelines throughout the game.
The good bits: The Fries, the Bleu Cheese, the Bacon, and even the ketchup wasn't bad. The burger wasn't terrible.
The bad bits: The burger was dry. Flavorful, but dry. It tasted, like it had been frozen for a really long time, and nobody dared order it until this young chap decided its fate.

TFM began his journey at 4:00am EST, when he left for the airport to catch a 6:00am flight in RDU. In order to catch the reason for leaving so early, we would have to turn back time to his previous flight.
There, at the baggage claim, his bag showed up with the 3 of the front 4 pockets torn 80% off the suitcase, dangling, waiting for somebody or something to put them out of their misery. In order to get a new suitcase, Theresa, assured TFM that he could spend up to $100 of reimbursed money. The only catch, was to return the suitcase, and a receipt the next flight. Great, TFM was here early to return the case and receipt, and get on his plane to ATL, where he would make a connection to LAX.
A man named Andy, was super courteous and assisted TFM in photocopying the receipt, and taking the suitcase, as well as checking him in and taking his new suitcase full of his belongings. Already through security an hour early. The day had started off great. Unofficially, due to some storms the night before, every AirTran flight leaving RDU was well overbooked. Including the 6:00am to ATL. Upon hearing that a small change in itinerary, would grant some rewards, TFM took AirTran up on its offer. The rewards were these. For compensation of voluntarily giving up his flight, TFM would receive a free round trip flight to use within a year, as well as business class flying for the day, provided it was available, and a flight leaving at 9:55 to ATL, and a connection from ATL to LAX at 12:22 pm.
After final boarding and the plane had left the gate, Andy, who was now at the gate (the young lady who informed TFM of compensation was now missing), told TFM that the 9:55am was full, and that he could fly standby, but would have to wait until 2pm for a guaranteed seat. This was completely different than the compensation offered, and wouldn't have been accepted if the plane was still there.
Fortunately, TFM was early for the 9:55am flight, and got on the standby list and onto the plane. He informed the ticket agent that he was promised a business class upgrade on all flights today, provided they were available, for free. It was granted. All right, AirTran, although not 100% consistent or honest, were flying by the seat of their pants in keeping their word.

In Atlanta, TFM spoke with a nice lady, who helped him get a 12:22pm ticket to LAX, even though the flight was already overbooked. Apparently getting bumped from a flight, voluntarily or not, grants you certain status. TFM arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare, an hour and a half, and informed the gentleman who he was, that he had a coach ticket, and if there was availability, he would like his free business class upgrade. The man had never heard of such a thing, and so it goes, without any RDU employees, TFM was in a helpless situation, his word against no existing company policy. Nobody had written any compensation under his name on file. How was he supposed to trust an AirTran employee again, he had just been lied to.
However, there was indeed one business class seat, not checked in, and the man said he would check with a supervisor as the time to board approached.

Now 20 minutes until the flight, it was boarding time. The man was nowhere to be found. The nice young lady there, Dorian, was approached by TFM, boarding pass in hand.
He calmly offered for her to scan his ticket to insure a seat on the plane, and inquired about a business class upgrade. She said she would check with her supervisor to approve the free transaction as the business class client hadn't showed. Scanning the boarding pass, would be unnecessary, she told him.
Great, so TFM waited by her side until 10 minutes left to board, the time where you have to be at the gate, or they give your seat to stand-bys. TFM reminded Dorian, that he hadn't spoken with a supervisor yet, and hadn't been scanned. She acknowledged he was there and said not to worry.
Other people were boarding, no supervisor in sight. TFM's seat had been given away. The man had now returned and was furious the way that TFM had handled the last minute preparations. He said, "I hate it when people try to get business class this way." He printed out a ticket with confirmed seat 1A, in business class, and said ok, you can board the plane.

Once down the tunnel, inches from the plane door, TFM was stopped by Monique. she said, please hold on a second. She peered in the door, and then came out, shut the door without a word, and told TFM, there are no more seats on this plane, walk back up to the airport. But I have this boarding.... TFM began to say.
Monique, said we can talk about this in the airport, and began to move the boarding tunnel away from the plane. While TFM was near the edge. This was unsafe and could have had a terrible result, she could have at least warned him she was going to move it.

The plane left....

Once back up in the terminal, TFM was told to go to the back of the line and wait to talk to Monique. Once up to the desk, she said, What?

TFM informed her of his situation, that TFM was involuntarily denied boarding, a policy that, when complying with DOT regulations, should result in up to $400 in compensation, double that up to $800 in compensation, if AirTran can't get a person to their destination within an hour after the original plane lands. Whether that be on an AirTran flight, or another airline.

TFM asked how she was going to compensate him for not letting him on that plane. She explained that TFM was late, and there was nothing she could do. It turns out, there was a slight miscommunication. Dorian, never brought it fully to Monique's attention, who turned out to be not just her supervisor, but the regional supervisor. Therefore, there was no scanning of the boarding pass, the computers said TFM was never there, TFM's coach seat was given up, and TFM didn't confirm his business class seat soon enough to warrant boarding. There was obviously still an empty seat on that plane. A lie told by Monique. Lie #2 by an AirTran employee if we are keeping count.

She ended up routing TFM through Indianapolis, on two well-overbooked flights, to ensure he would get home by 10:30pm PST. Nothing else she could do...

Two customer Service desks later, all inquiries went through, you guessed it, Monique. She said she had handled the situation. Nothing the employees could do. TFM then called the DOT liason for AirTran and explained the situation.
Debbie Hearns, said, oh that doesn't sound right (now looking at the flights), why would she send you to Indy, when there is a direct flight that is less overbooked than either of those flights, and gets in earlier?
That is a good question Monique.
She said she would make some calls and call TFM back soon. Time went by, and the Indy flight was boarding. TFM walked to the end of Terminal D, to prepare to board, if Debbie couldn't save the day.
After the treatment from Monique, he wasn't expecting anything miraculous.
However, she called just in time and informed TFM not to get on the plane, rather, head to the familiar Customer Service desk and speak to Leeah, she will have your boarding pass for the LAX flight.
Back across the D terminal, train to Terminal C, back to the line at the Customer Service desk. Leeah, not only had a boarding pass, with a seat, but a coupon for $10 at any airport restaurant, and a $25 ticket voucher to be used by 12.25.08 for TFM's trouble. Debbie called back to make sure everything was taken care of and informed TFM that he would have a business class upgrade to use in the next year, as the LAX flight did not have one available.

Monique, couldn't have even done that for TFM. Hardly, seems like she did everything in her power.
Thus brining us full circle to his meal at Chili's. While not, $400 or $800 cash in compensation, it was enough to get TFM to LAX by 9:00pm and home by 10:00pm PST, after picking up his new suitcase, which was again, damaged. In it's maiden voyage. Thanks alot AirTran.
And that is how TFM spent a day with AirTran.

Thank you for enduring my rant on AirTran. I will be writing a letter to corporate, requesting the involuntarily denied boarding compensation, and let you know if I hear anything. Do you all have terrible or delightful AirTran stories?
I will definitely fly AirTran again, to use my free flight.
If you have been traveling since 4:00am, and you are eating an airport Black Bean Burger, you have many other things to worry about than the dryness of the patty. Thank you Chili's for giving me sustenance.

1 comment:

sarah j. gim said...

oh honey. i feel you. i hate ATA. or whatever three-letter-acronymed supersmall airline happens to screw me last...

and i do the same thing...write about air travel (and other things) under the guise of a food blog post ;)

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