An Open Letter to U.S. Airways in Which I Admit to Two Mistakes, but in Which They Are Mean and Inconsistent

As many of you know, Arden and I were looking forward to a nice long trip home for the holidays this year. I’d put in a lot of hours at work just before we were to leave and wasn’t really thinking through all of my details, which led us to

MISTAKE 1: Not reserving pet airfare early enough.

Did you know there are a limited number of pets allowed on board an aircraft? It was news to me, since my dog also counts as my “carry-on baggage,” which is not limited except to 1 item in other circumstances. I mistakenly assumed we would be in the clear.

Tory at U.S. Airways phone support corrected me and said there was no way I could take my dog on my flight from National Airport to Sky Harbor.

I almost broke down and cried (if this were America’s Next Top Model, you’d be keeping track of this) right then. But after several minutes of begging Tory for any other option, she said she could check other flights from Baltimore. She found one for me leaving the same time and arriving slightly earlier with pet vacancy. I took it and paid the $300 change fee and pet airfare.

I then changed my SuperShuttle reservation to take me to the different airport at the same time. My return flight would still be National.

Then, Arden and I went to sleep, nervously awaiting our trip.

SuperShuttle came and got me at the appointed time and took us to the airport. Just as I approached the check-in kiosk, a stern ticket agent looked at me and said, “You can’t take a dog on a plane like that. That carrier’s too small.”

I was like, “WHUH-HUH??” Arden was in the carrier she used when we flew U.S. Airways from National to Sky Harbor for Thanksgiving. I thought back to the myriad U.S. Airways employees who looked right at her and said things like, “Awww, what a sweetheart!” and “She looks so comfy in there.”

Okay, so I started getting a little irate. “What the f—?” I asked, except it wasn’t he f-word. But it felt like the f-word, if you know what I mean.

Then I almost cried again. I turned beet red and I demanded to know what I was supposed to do, citing our earlier trip on their airline. They did not care. “You’ll have to take her home,” they said plainly. “Or go over to United and see if you can buy a larger carrier.”

I trundled my enormous suitcase over to the United counter and explained my situation to the very kind gate agent there. She pulled out their duffle carrier, but it wasn’t much bigger than mine. The other option was a kennel, a huge one, that would need to be checked. But since U.S. Airways doesn’t check animals, it didn’t matter unless I changed airlines.

I went back and coerced a gate agent into going over to the United counter with me to examine the other carrier. She demurred, saying it was also too small. She then offered to go get her manager so he could tell me know, so I waited patiently for fifteen minutes until he came out.

MISTAKE 2: Read carefully, and frequently.

Throughout this ordeal, I was insistent that I had followed the guidelines on their website, which I thought I had. I told this to the manager, and he came out five minutes later with a print out of the website, where it said pets needed to be able to stand up.

I immediately opted to take a full refund of my fare rather than change my flight to the next day. At this point, I did not want to fly their skies ever again. I’d been flying U.S. Airways for eight years almost exclusively, had their credit card, and had racked up a bunch of miles with them.

I thought back to my Thanksgiving trip, floating blissfully through check-in, security, the gate, and wondered if everything would have been different if I’d simply gotten my pet airfare earlier.

I wandered back over to the United desk, where I knew I could check her in the baggage compartment. “I’d like a ticket to Phoenix.” The gate agent–not the friendly lady who helped me–looked at me bemusedly, crackled his fingers over his keys and said, in understatement, “This is not a great day not to have a reservation.” Nothing.

Arden and I wandered around the Baltimore airport together. I tried to make a plan. I was stranded at the airport. I had no ticket. I had few options. I called my parents, but they didn’t pick up. For the next twenty minutes, I juggled the following phone calls in various succession: my brother, Beau, my sister-in-law, my friend Joe, and Joe’s dogsitter. My brother was scanning pet air travel guidelines, Beau was offering support, my sister-in-law was running the phone between my brother and me while also calling my other brother’s girlfriend (a U.S. Airways flight attendant) for support.

It boiled down to this: Arden was not flying again. Today or any day. U.S. Airways said the “stand-up” rule was a federal regulation, and my brother said checking her was too dangerous. Thanks to Joe, I got connected with his dogsitter, who sounded very kind on the phone and agreed to take her. My brother got me on a flight today–on Southwest, who doesn’t take animals, but who also doesn’t intermittently enforce their policies.

I’ll also flesh out this story by adding that all I’d eaten by this point, by 5 pm, was a bowl of cereal. All day long. That was it. My head hurt, I was dehydrated, defeated. I had been sweating. I had been emotional. I had been driven to the brink of what I could handle in a single 24-hour period and I was ready to drop.

Arden and I lumbered down to the SuperShuttle counter, where I paid another fare to go back home, where I would then cancel my return airport shuttle in January and sign up for two more with my new airfare. We sat for half an hour, rode for half an hour, and then ended up back in the apartment.

Since then I’ve been trying to tell her to be a good girl and behave, and sorry she can’t go home with me for Christmas.

What kills me is that my dog, who is otherwise treated as “luggage,” has to be able to stand up, but babies can sit in laps….? It kills me because babies are less well-trained and are far messier than my little girl. And yet.

Thanks, U.S. Airways! You ruined Christmas.

At least we got that part of the holiday out of the way.

An Open Letter to Giant Foods

Dear Giant,

When I first moved to Maryland, there you were, right across the street from my apartment building, hulking among the Caribou Coffee and 24-hour CVS. I thought, what luck to have found you there, and so close. I dreamed of walking to you, my arms empty, and returning home with an abundance of individually-wrapped snack foods, ice cream cakes, and other novelties. I imagined fresh celery at any time.

But the reality was different, Giant. You were cold, distant, unresponsive. When I first shopped you, your staff were reticent. When I once asked where the pepperoni was, I was asked to wait there for a moment. While the meat department man went to look, I glanced around, hoping to see a little pepperoni somewhere. A little pepperoni in a logical place isn’t too much to ask, Giant. It really isn’t. And then, looking back, I saw the man I’d asked talking and laughing with another employee and another customer. He was clearly not on the pepperoni case. And that was the tip of the iceberg.

You were under construction and things were messy. You asked me to pardon your dust while you got ready to serve me better, but my expectations were already low and still unmet. Your produce was sad, wilted. Your V-8 aisle was consistently bare. And where was the pepperoni? I still don’t know, even after these three months.

So I broke up with you Giant. Maybe you didn’t notice, so wrapped up were you in your makeover and facelift and new logo. I snuck behind your back and drove the ten extra blocks to the Safeway, which was dirtier and in a scarier neighborhood, but the people there were slightly kinder to me, which is saying very little, but in this case is saying something. And there I found the special items I was yearning for, like bottled minced garlic and V-8 and bread with extra protein and yes, they even had pepperoni there, Giant, right where I could see it.

But then I could see that you had changed, Giant. You had adopted new brand colors–yellow, purple, green. Bright, festive hues. I thought, this new wardrobe might be the start of something. So, tentatively, I went back to you. I went back to you and stayed to the shadows; I knocked on the melons ever so quietly. I even bought a ready-made quiche one night when I needed a quick meal, and you were there for me, Giant, just like I needed. You were stocked in V-8, you had fat free yogurt on special.

But tonight, Giant, things went south again. I went to you for cilantro–citrusy, tangy cilantro–and there was none. No fresh cilantro, no cilantro paste in the convenient tubes (my preference for the turkey chili with cilantro cream recipe). When I asked your produce man if you had cilantro, he was walking away from me. He didn’t. He barely looked at me as he shook his head, No. I said, “NO CILANTRO?” And perhaps I sounded a bit like a crazy person then, Giant, but honestly! Who doesn’t carry cilantro! It’s an important ingredient in many kinds of cooking, not just Mexican and Tex-Mex but other kinds as well. He didn’t respond and kept his back to me as he walked off. Fuming, I wanted to yell out to my fellow customers, “Who doesn’t carry f—ing cilantro?!” but I stayed quiet, Giant. I held my tongue.

Continuing to shop, I tried to find pinto beans. They were not in the “American” bean aisle where we keep all of the “American” canned vegetables and “traditional” beans. There were canned carrots, canned peas, canned asparagus, god—even canned artichoke hearts and canned beets—but no pinto beans. Yet, you had plenty of collard greens and “southern style” pinto beans on hand, didn’t you, Giant? Didn’t you?

So I did the only thing I could think of. I went to the “Hispanic Foods” aisle, which shares shelf space with “Asian Foods” and “Rice dishes” that come in a box. Giant, I want you to know something. First, the Mexican diet consist of more than just tortillas, horchata, brightly-colored sodas in bottles, and seventy-five different varieties of bean. But you wouldn’t know that. And there are more producers of Mexican food than Goya.

There are many other options. You have no Herdez salsa. I mean, really! But, it’s a specialty item and I can get over it. I mean, it’s actually Mexican and everything.

And then the true offense occurred. What did I see among the bottled spices, by the cardamom, the cinnamon, and the caraway seeds? Dried Cilantro Leaves. DRIED CILANTRO LEAVES. While it’s an absolute travesty to cook with them, it proved something. It proved that you were lying to me, Giant!

I was ready to give up on you forever, Giant. I was thinking of even driving the six miles out to the Superfresh that’s right by the Chipotle and the PetSmart and the Target Greatland, which is my preferred Target anyway, and I was ready to forget about you, even when I’m drunk and needing a frozen pizza, I wasn’t even going to go back to you. That’s how very serious I was.

But I want you to know something, Giant. I let you win. At the checkouts, I saw this woman working. I’ve seen her before. She always smiles, works quickly, chit chats. I wanted her to be the way I said good bye to you. I wanted to give you the chance to make it right.

And Christina–that’s her name–Christina really did. She erased all of my bad experiences with you in under three minutes. She was pleasant, she was kind. She scanned a stray coupon she had on her counter that matched something I bought, saving me 50 cents. She asked me about Arizona. When I said I’d only lived here for three months, she said, “Welcome!” And she meant it.

I may not spend a lot of money each week, Giant—I’m only one man—but tonight, my $80 was for Christina. My Weight Watchers yogurt, my ground turkey, my frozen peas, my bread, my sugar-free dark chocolate Jell-O pudding snacks—all of it, all of that profit you made off of me, that belongs to Christina.

Hold on to her, Giant. She’s just about the only good thing you’ve got going for you.

Charlie Jensen