AOL Mystery Flyer: US Airways Report Card

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No hot food, no pillows and blankets, and on some flights, no complimentary water. What's left? The one thing that can turn a long, meal-less coach flight from an ordeal to a joyride is...friendliness: helpful airline personnel and flight attendants with a positive attitude.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be traveling coast-to-coast on ten of our country's busiest airlines as AOL's Mystery Flyer. And I'll be looking to answer one really important question: Is there a price for nice?

Read on to see how US Airways scored on yesterday's flight to Tampa, FL.

How It Works:

After each of the ten flights I'm taking over the coming weeks, I'll judge the airlines on six areas of customer service, using a scale of one to five. My goal along the way is to be an average passenger with normal travel requests and questions. In no way am I going to bother flight attendants and airline personnel with unusual demands; I know these are very busy people. I'm not looking to push airline staff to the limit, but simply to judge their friendliness during the most common travel interactions faced by the flying public on a routine flight.

Here's how to decipher my 1-5 rating system:

1/5 means a flat out rude reaction to my requests
2/5 means an unfriendly reaction, although not necessarily rude
3/5 means a neutral reaction to my requests
4/5 means a friendly reaction with a smile
5/5 means friendly customer service that goes that extra distance
1. Operator's response to pre-flight requests (such as a seat change) when I called the airline's toll-free number the day of departure.
4/5: A few hours before my departure time, I received two conflicting emails and voicemails from US Airways about a potential flight delay. I called the 800 number to see what was going on. The operator was efficient and answered my questions in a polite and patient way. She gave me the bad news that I had a middle seat for the first leg to Charlotte and said the only other available seat was in the middle as well.

2. Friendliness of the ticketing agent during the check-in process at the airport.
4/5: In the interest of engaging staff at check-in, I stood in the full-service line with my carryon bag. There were a few people in front of me. When it was my turn, I approached an empty counter, and the ticket agent waved me to the self-check in, even though it was clear that I was looking for him to check me in. I said: "Actually, I was hoping to give you my confirmation number so you could check me in." He said that was fine. The rest of our interaction was friendly, and he answered my usual questions about in-flight services politely and with a smile. He told me changing my middle seat was not possible since the flight was totally full.

3. Friendliness of the gate agent when I request a seat change prior to departure.
2½/5: There was a short line at the departure gate in Richmond, and a US Airways employee was talking with a passenger whose flight had been canceled due to weather in Philadelphia. His options for flying out the next morning were detailed to him by the gate agent. When the passenger inquired whether the airline would cover a hotel for the night, he was answered quite abruptly and told in no uncertain terms that that was not an option due to the nature of the cancellation (weather). The man was waved off in a 'Sorry, Charlie, nothing we can do about this' manner; then it was my turn with the same gate agent. I prefaced my query by saying: "I'm sort of confused because I've received a few phone calls today and I wonder if my connecting flight to Tampa is delayed." The gate agent was quite abrupt and asked: "Where are you going right now?" I told him and he said: "Well, you're in the right place; it's boarding now." As he tried to shoo me back into the boarding line, I said I had wanted to inquire about a seat change. He was firm but not rude, explaining that the flight was full and there were no available seats. His behavior was neither friendly nor rude, just busy and efficient and slightly harassed.

4. Friendliness of flight attendants to my requests for a blanket, an extra beverage and anything else I might need during the flight.
3/5: When I boarded the plane, the flight attendant who usually greets passengers was using the phone. She neither turned to look at me nor greeted me when I walked onto the plane. She was busy untangling the phone's cord as I stood there and waited to pass. She looked busy, I felt invisible. It wasn't the best way to start the flight. But the rest of the onboard interactions with flight attendants were fine. At one point during the drink service, I asked if our flight was going to be late getting in and the flight attendant said: "I don't know, I'll find out for you." But she never came back with the information; however the captain made an announcement shortly thereafter about our arrival time. When I interrupted the flight attendants at the back of the plane for a second drink, they were very accommodating. In general: there were not many smiles, but all of the onboard services were carried out in a professional, efficient and polite enough way.

5. Friendliness of general interactions between airline personnel and other passengers that I observed during my travels.
4/5: I did see quite a few friendly interactions and joking between the flight attendants and other passengers during my flights, which is why I'm bumping the overall score up to a four. We were delayed nearly an hour arriving into Tampa due to weather. As we exited the plane, I thought the flight attendants were quite friendly with everyone. They were probably as happy as we were to be done for the night, since it was 11 p.m.

6. Friendliness of gate agent upon arrival when I ask for help finding a connecting flight or the baggage claim.
5/5: When I stepped off my initial flight from Richmond into the Charlotte airport, the scene was chaotic and my arrival gate was crowded with passengers. I went up to a gate agent who was obviously busy doing something else to ask where to find my connecting flight to Tampa. (If I were not researching friendliness, I would have just found a screen for the information.) She was very friendly, looked up at me, then looked at her papers, found the information and pointed me in the right direction.

My journey isn't over yet. Follow me on Twitter as I go undercover to see how America's most popular airlines rate when it comes to service in the sky. Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Join the conversation by ending your tweet with #spyinthesky

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