“You should all die”

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By Christopher Elliott

Bad flight stories are a dime a dozen, but every now and then, I get one that rises above the others. Like Michelle Vazul’s.

She and her husband were flying from Elmira, NY, to Orlando on US Airways just after the busy Thanksgiving holiday last year. Vazul was wearing her Penn State sweatshirt.

Travel turbulence

The flights didn’t go well, from a customer service point of view. Their first leg to Philadelphia was delayed because the crew didn’t show up on time.

“Our flight landed at the very last gate in Terminal F,” she says. “We ran through the airport as fast as we could. We arrived at the gate just as the plane pushed back.”

The Vazuls were sent to a long line to get rebooked on a flight departing the following day.

Once it was our turn, the lady we spoke to was laughing at us. We told her we needed to get to Orlando as soon as possible. We were not on vacation, we had an appointment to look at a house due to relocation. We asked her for a nonstop flight. She put us on a flight to Orlando the next day with a stopover in Washington.

Vazul says the US Airways staff was consistently rude to them. But nothing could have prepared her for the way she was treated on her next flight.

Nightmare at 30,000 feet

She’d pleaded with US Airways to change their schedule to a nonstop flight, in order to minimize the possibility of another cancellation, and they were finally rebooked on a nonstop flight from Philadelphia to Orlando.

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On this flight, we experienced the worst customer service I have ever seen.

I didn’t even think about it, but I was wearing a Penn State shirt. I had worn it the day before and since we had no luggage, had to wear it on this day, too. We sat in the emergency row. The flight attendant’s seat was facing us. I noticed he kept staring at me and I started to get a creepy feeling but blew it off.

When he got up to pass out drinks, he started making comments directed at me. Each time he would pass, he would say, “I hope you rot in hell. All Penn State fans are baby molesters. You should all die.”

This, of course, was right after the Jerry Sandusky scandal had hit the news. I was horrified. I didn’t know what to do. I felt trapped.

During landing, he had to sit in his seat and he glared at me the entire time. I have never before felt completely trapped like that.

As soon as she checked into her hotel, she phoned US Airways to tell it what happened.

“They were not surprised,” she says. “They told me almost all of the complaints they receive are due to Philadelphia staff. Stating the initiation of an investigation.”

US Airways responds to harassment complaint with $50 vouchers

Vazul gave US Airways the names and flight numbers, even though she had some trouble getting them.

“The male flight attendant had flipped his name tag when he saw my husband looking at it, so we did not have a complete name for him. However, we are assuming they would know who it was since they had the flight number,” she says. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

A few weeks later, US Airways sent the Vazul’s two $50 vouchers for the “inconvenience.”

Vazul says she was livid.

I waited a few weeks to calm down and responded, telling our story, again. I told them at the very least, we deserve two round trip tickets for the way I was treated by the male flight attendant – not even taking into account what had happened up to that point.

I also explained that we had to pay for one night’s hotel and rental car fee plus an up charge of $12 per day for the rental car, because the one we had reserved was gone and there was nothing else in that price range. And to top it off, we lost the house we were trying to rent, because we missed our appointment.

US Airways stuck by its original offer. It hasn’t reported back to her on the results of its investigations, apparently hoping she’ll go away. (Related: Mom died, but US Airways won’t refund my fee.)

I have mixed feelings about this one.

Do my advocacy team and I believe her story? Yes, mostly. We’ve heard stories of ticket agents laughing in the face of customers and of flight attendants flipping their name tags. In the wake of the Penn State scandal, it isn’t inconceivable that a crewmember would voice his opinions in that way.

Also, US Airways’ Philadelphia staff does have something of a reputation, when it comes to customer service. It’s not the greatest.

At the same time, US Airways did everything it was contractually obligated to do. The $50 vouchers were what the airline would consider a “goodwill” gesture. Although to Vazul, it probably comes across as another kind of gesture.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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