SkyBus from RIC to CMH - Worth the $10 and not a penny more.
My wife and I recently flew from Richmond, VA to Columbus for business. While we were optimistic that the experience would be pleasurable, we quickly realized that we got what we paid for.
We checked in on-line 23 hours and 5 minutes prior to our departure - and were placed in boarding group 3. For those of you who have flown Southwest Airlines, Skybus' groups 1-3 are identical to that of SW's A, B, and C groups. I'm assuming that boarding groups were assigned on a first come, first served basis - which means that the other 156 passengers must have been even more eager than I to check in on-line well in advance. I paid for our two bags during the on-line check in experience and printed the boarding passes...everything seemed to be, well, normal.
We arrived at RIC some 90+ minutes prior to departure and proceeded to the SkyBus counter, decorated with orange and yellow balloons. There were two lines - one for passengers who had already printed boarding passes, and one for those who had not yet done so. We stood in line with others who had already checked in and immediately felt that sinking feeling in our stomachs. After ten minutes, our line had not moved an inch. Four counter agents, dressed in their t-shirts, appeared to be receiving the epitome of 'on the job training.' Blank stares, numerous "hrmmmmm's", and lots of questions, but enough about the desk clerks! After standing in our spot in line for 15 minutes (we were numbers 9 and 10 in our line), we began to wonder if it would have been quicker to check in at the airport - to our dismay, the answer was a resounding 'yes.' In the 28 minutes it us to move from spots 9 and 10 to the actual counter, THIRTEEN customers had walked to the kiosks, checked in on the touch-screen, paid for their luggage (which can ONLY be paid AT THE KIOSK!!! Counter staff was directing customers who had yet to pay for baggage BACK to the kiosk to pay as "they could not accept payment individually) checked their luggage with a clerk, and proceeded to gate B-15. One of the counter clerks left her computer monitor, and approached the folks in our line. Expecting to hear something like, "Good morning!!! Welcome to SkyBus! Be patient with us, please, we have a, uh, computer glitch this morning," we became increasingly perturbed when she came to us with a handful of skybus luggage tags and asked, with a scornful tone, "Need one?"
After finally getting to the counter, the clerk (not the before-mentioned tag lady) made us feel even more unsure as she took our boarding passes and drivers licenses, matched them up incorrectly (my license with wife's pass, and vice versa), smiled, and said "Ok, you're all set." She kept my driver's license - which I had to ask for to get back.
We went to gate B-15 and noticed the roped-off isles for groups 1, 2, and 3. About 5 minutes before the incoming flight landed, the gate clerk (the tag lady from before, who was now stationed at the gate) announced that boarding would begin shortly. Just like with Southwest, hordes of people moved to the three lanes, some trying to nudge out others to get a better spot. 22 minutes after this announcement, the plane had landed, de-boarded, and was ready for new passengers. Not too bad, as you can easily stand in a similar line on Southwest for upwards of 35 minutes or more.
We boarded the plane and took our seats which were EXTREMELY narrow..and legroom!?!?! Can we say "non-existent"? I still have the words "fasten seat-belt at all times" implanted on my femur..ok, a slight exaggeration there..sorry. Fortunately we had an empty seat between us for the 45 min flight and were able to stretch out a bit...I could not imagine sitting in these seats for a 5-hour cross-country flight.
We departed RIC 45 minutes behind schedule because the head-count made by the flight attendants did not match the count in the computer. Soo.....an attendant announced over the PA system that they were going to follow an FAA procedure to see who was there and who was not - they called roll!!!!! I felt like I was on a high-school band trip..What was even more confusing was that the attendant did not call the names of every passenger. He called the name of my wife, but did not call mine. He said later that he did not call the names of all passengers - only the names of primary people in traveling parties. Is that really safe!!!!?!?!?! If you want to know who is on the plane and who is not, wouldn't you want to call the names of ALL OF THE PASSENGERS!?!?! Especially post 9/11????
We finally departed RIC and the actual flight was just like that on any other airline - smooth, some very minor turbulence, nice touch-down, etc. Pilots were friendly and courteous - although I was not impressed with the flight attendant's announcing of "Capt. Jimmy and his first officer, Tom." I felt like I was about to be served a meal at Shoney's with that sort of introduction.
We declined offers to buy food and beverage, although the food DID actually look and smell good. We were seated near the rear of the plane and there appeared to be many selections remaining for purchase. We arrived in CMH well behind schedule, but no worse for wear. When Jimmy parked the plane, the flight attendant announced that for some reason, 24 pieces of luggage were left at RIC. He blamed it on the TSA folks who had inadvertently "left those items sitting in a corner." While I'd like to believe that a government operation screwed up (shocker, I know!!) never before had I heard such an absurd statement. I felt like I was back teaching in elementary school (which I did for three years) - "Mr. Smith, Jimmy wanted me to tell you that he left our suitcases at home, but it wasn't his fault because the crossing guard told him to put them down, and then there was a circus bus that came by and distracted him and he forgot to get the them, but then his puppy ran off and........." OYE - well, my wife's suitcase made it to CMH, buy mine was one of the lucky 24 which suffered the fate of the TSA. A SkyBus baggage agent (who was pleasurable and helpful, apologetic, etc) handed each of us who did not have our luggage, a blank piece of paper with the following items written in ball-point-pen:
Description of Suitcase:
To their credit, they WERE trying to help and I filled out the form and returned it to the agent. He informed me that the luggage would be in CMH by 4:30pm that afternoon (seven hours after our touch-down time). We returned to the airport around 6pm and my suitcase was indeed there!!! The agent was supposed to call me and notify me when it had arrived, but no call came to my cell phone. It didn't really matter at that point.
As I said before, we got what we paid for .... on THIS leg of our trip. Our tickets from RIC were 10 bucks each. Our return tickets were 135 each. Round trip with fees and taxes - 189.99 for each of us. My recommendation: if you can get the $10 fare, go for it!!! Be prepared to spend an equal amount on food and beverage if desired, and...oh yes...don't forget to budget money to CHECK YOUR SUITCASE(s). If the $10 fare is not available, spend your money with a different outfit - Delta, USAir, Airtran, Southwest, etc. ...or maybe give SkyBus another shot - if your experience is like mine, you'll have plenty to talk about!!
· Skybus Coverage [Jaunted]