This is a narrated account of a close female friend of mine who flew Northwest (NW) Airlines recently.
From long lines at security check-in and delayed flights to unprofessional staff and unclean planes, air travel has turned into a virtual nightmare over the past five years. Unfortunately, my job requires me to travel by air nearly every week. As one would expect, I have had my share of exasperating experiences, but my recent experience with Northwest easily counts as the worst. The incident left me close to tears and really angry. I feel strongly enough about the incident to come forth and share it in public.
I was scheduled to take a flight back to Stewart International Airport from Champaign, Illinois on October 13, 2006. After a long day at work, I reached the check-in desk 27 minutes before the flight departure time. Given that I didn't have any luggage to check and it was a very small airport, I didn't have any problems checking in. I was at the gate in five minutes and boarded the flight.
While boarding, a lady at the gate was making an announcement asking for volunteers to give up their seats. When the boarding had ended, a flight attendant again announced they were looking for volunteers. In response to this, a person got up and volunteered. A little while later, attendants announced they were looking for one more volunteer. No one else got up.
After about 10 minutes or so, a male staff member came up to my seat, and without preamble, shouted, "Miss, you need to gather all your things and get out of the plane right now." Caught by surprise and chagrined by the fact that everyone on the plane was looking at me, I fumbled and asked what had happened and why did I have to get out? He behaved as if he never heard me and merely repeated his exhortation, this time more loudly, "Miss, you need to get out of the plane right now!"
I felt close to tears, feeling deeply humiliated, and unable to think what had happened. Afraid, I quietly followed this guy out. Once outside, I asked him the same question. He again pretended he’d never heard my question and rudely asked, “Which color is your luggage?” He started to make his way back to the plane and I started following him when he turned back and spat, "Why are you coming after me? Get out of here right now!"
When he came back with my luggage, I asked him again about what had happened. He responded, "Miss, you better start marching up the stairs to the gate right now." I asked him why and he said, “this flight has to leave and you are delaying it. You better go up the stairs right now."
I went back to the gate and the lady there said, "I am sorry for the trouble, but you were thrown off because you checked in 27 minutes prior to departure time. The official check in time is 30 minutes."
When I asked her if I was eligible for any compensation, she said I wasn’t because I checked in late. (I talked to the NW customer care representative today and they hinted that I did qualify.) She finally gave me a $300 travel voucher, without asking me if I wanted that or a free ticket.
Shaken, I left the gate and went to the ticketing area. I waited there for a NW agent so I could register a complaint against the guy on the plane. As luck would have it, he was the person manning the ticket counter. More incredulously, he came up to me with my boarding pass and asked me to go back to the gate. I asked him what had changed and he responded, "You better run up if you do not want to miss the flight." He repeated this when I questioned him again.
I went back up through security. The lady at the gate told me, "You know, I did not realize that one person had already volunteered. We are going to put you back on the plane." I was really infuriated by then for they had deplaned me in a manner that suggested it was a security issue, when instead they had merely overbooked the flight. The lady at the gate had the temerity to ask me to return the $300 voucher. I refused, citing the hassle I had to go through. She then acquiesced and said, "Ma'am, you can keep the voucher for your troubles."
She had cancelled that voucher.