Kicked out of my first-class seat to make room for a crewmember

Denyse Sadkin and her husband had two first-class tickets from St. Thomas to Buffalo on US Airways. At least they did until the airline bumped one of them back to economy class to make room for a crewmember.

The Sadkins, which had redeemed a total of 120,000 frequent flier miles for their flights, weren’t happy with their new seats, so they asked US Airways to be rerouted. It refused. They ended up paying American Airlines $1,500 for a more circuitous flight back to Buffalo via Boston.

US Airways didn’t apologize and offered no explanation, except to say they had booked their seats using frequent flier miles. So they came to me for help.

I recommended they ask again, this time to a few executives who might be in a position to review their case. They did — sort of.

Dear Mr. Sadkin:

On behalf of Doug Parker, Robert Isom, and the Executive Office, thank you for your recent correspondence. I appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns.

Please accept our apology for the disappointing service you received in St. Thomas in regards to your downgrade on your return flight. As was explained, US Airways deadheading crew members are given priority in cases where it is necessary for them to travel due to operational needs of the airline. I do apologize for any inconvenience or difficulties this may have caused you.

Our records indicate that authority was given for the miles for the return portion of your flight to be deposited to your Dividend Miles account as you opted not to take your US Airways flight. We regret that we cannot honor your request for reimbursement of the ticketing charges you incurred with American Airlines as you voluntarily chose to fly with another carrier.

Mr. Sadkin, thank you for allowing us the opportunity to explain our position. We hope we have the opportunity to serve your future travel needs.

So let me see if I understand this: US Airways is bumping its best customers out of first class in order to make room for a crewmember? Didn’t a Delta Air Lines executive do the same thing to make room for his kids a few years ago? That didn’t win the airline any points from its most loyal passengers.

Needless to say, this could have been handled better. But I took US Airways’ response, which had come from its executive office, as its final answer. I advised Sadkin to take the airline to small claims court.

Here’s what happened.

We filed in small claims court and had the pleasure of dealing with a claims rep from US Airways [name redacted]. She was wonderful. If half the US Airways staff had her personality they might not have so many issues. She truly is a gem.

She showed up for court on Jan. 7th along with us. To make along story short, we were able to settle before going before the judge. She agreed to give us an additional 120,000 miles (we received 120,000 on Nov 16th when we didn’t take our flight home) plus two $800 cash vouchers for travel to be used within the next two years.

We still had to let the judge know what our settlement was, and it was put on the record. We were also told that if we have any problem using the cash vouchers we could re-submit in small claims court again.

The rep was actually put off at some of the email responses we received from the executive office. And as it turns out, we were told that the reason we were bumped was because we used frequent flier miles — although every email from the US Airways executive office said it wasn’t. They would rather bump a mileage passenger than a revenue passenger.

I think US Airways needs to take a hard look at its bumping policy. Downgrading your best customers is not going to encourage brand loyalty. It could land you in court.

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