WARNING: Don’t use the pay phones in the Atlanta Airport

ATL baggage claim. Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/dunrie/2054151448/

Remember when we didn’t all carry cell phones? I got a chance to remember it this past weekend when I flew to GA on business and left my phone in the car in Philadelphia. I’m not going to moan about that, I don’t use my phone enough for me to have considered it a problem for the most part. However, right when I arrived at the part of the Atlanta airport where my ride was supposed to meet me, he wasn’t there. Again, not a biggie, traffic stinks around any big city, but I was miles from home with something of a schedule to meet and no way to find out if I had a ride.

Then I saw the pay phones by the baggage claim. I didn’t have any change on me, because carrying change in an airport is a supreme hassle when you consider security checkpoints and all that mess. But I remembered a decade ago when I was using phone cards more regularly, and I remembered that they made it so you could do that with credit cards, so I went ahead to make a call with my card at the pay phone.

When I started dialing, it said “Press 4 for charges or press 0 to continue.” Now, I want you to think of a number. Take into consideration what you know about 900 numbers and stuff like that, and give me a number for a price for the call that would be exorbitant, but tolerable. Now think of a price that would be insane. Write them down, we’ll share more numbers later.

I didn’t press 4 because the line of reasoning in my head went like this…

  • Someone, somewhere has to realize that the only people using pay phones these days are the poor, those in emergency, and the few remaining people who remain untethered, God bless them. You would have to be pretty friggin’ evil to want to hurt any of these groups.
  • The last time I made a calling card call, the price was about $.10 per minute.
  • The last I heard, the cash price for a pay phone call was $.35 for a local call.
  • I only planed to be calling for 5 minutes max.
  • Even with long distance to PA, THE MOST I could imagine this call costing was like $5, and that was if they REALLY railed me

How does that jive with your thinking?

So I made the call and it lasted about 3 minutes. After, with nothing to do but wait, I figured I would take advantage of my new re-aquaintance with the pay phone and knock out some other business. So I started another call, and this time for laughs I pressed 4.

“For this call you will be charged $26.xx for the first minute and $4.xx for each additional minute.” NOTE: The X’s are there because I passed out for a second after hearing each number.

So I hung up the phone like it was on fire, almost vomited, and said a little prayer. This morning, back to work in the regular place, I check my bank account, and sure enough, there is a charge for $35.19 for that call. Now, I needed to make that call, so I don’t feel completely moronic. But seriously, you have to agree with me that there is no way my rational mind could have assumed it would be anything like that. And while I realize that the Atlanta Airport does not run the phone system, they should be aware that they are party to one of the most amazing and unassuming scams I’ve ever seen in real life. I mean, it’s like I puckered up because the roadrunner said it had a big one for me and made kissy faces, but when I open my eyes, there’s a stick of dynamite jammed in my puss.

I’m so annoyed. I’m going to try and figure out what to do. In the meantime, consider beating up a kid in the bathroom for his cell if you’re in the ATL airport and need to make a call.* Otherwise they’ll try and jam a plane up your backside. And if you happen by the phones at baggage claim, please, pee all over them for me.*

More important, please share this with everyone you know so nobody else has to suffer.


* These sentences are sarcasm describing what I would like to do, not actual suggestions for you to act upon. Hopefully you’re smart enough to see that on your own, but I had to disclaim it because we live in a world of fools (as well as suckers, apparently).


7 comments so far

  1. matweller on

    UPDATE: Apparently, I’m not the only one. Apparently it’s Kosher for a business to gouge servicemen and women who want to call their loved ones. http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/mar/06/tp-suit-says-company-overcharged-troops-for-calls/?print&page=all

  2. Derek on

    The same thing happened to me. I used a payphone not by the baggage claim, but right in the damn terminal when I was waiting for my late flight to arrive. I wanted to call my mother to let her know that my flight was going to be about 2 hours late. My cell phone’s battery had died, so I had no other choice.

    Bear in mind that I am 20 years old and had never used a payphone in my life.

    I tried to use the few quarters I had on me to make the call, but apparently I needed more change. I’ve read rumors on ScamBook (a website for reporting shitty companies such as this) that the phones may actually keep asking for more change regardless of how much you put in. So I had to use my card. Now I don’t remember the phone saying “press 4 for charges or 0 to continue.” I do remember, however, that I had to type in my card number on the keypad. Finally, after a few failed attempts, the call went through and I got to talk to my mother. It’s a good thing I told her everything I needed to, because the call cut off by itself at about 4 minutes in. And that was the end of it.

    Later when I got home I saw that the company had charged me $33.?? for the call. I was confused, thinking maybe I did something wrong and it charged me for every time the call failed to go through. After Google’ing the name of the company that was on my statement, I discovered that they purposely charge insane amounts and that I wasn’t alone. I was livid.

    A few days later, I saw that the company had yet again charged me, this time for $30.??. How could this be? I only made the one call. It seemed to me that the company was just taking my money deliberately now. After calling my bank and reporting my card as compromised, I had to cancel it and buy a new one.

    I never got any of my money back.

    • matweller on

      Derek —

      That’s horrible. And the fact that this post remains the most widely viewed on this blog suggests that it’s happening at a steady rate. I’m not even so annoyed at the company running the scam as I am at the Atlanta Airport continuing to allow that to go on in its building. From now on, I think anytime I’m in that airport I’m going to go to the info desk and ask to use the mobile of the person sitting there just so I can explain why when they refuse.

      Thanks for adding your story! Maybe this will get enough attention that something will get done.

      • Derek on

        A agree. It’s impossible that no one has complained about the phones being in the building. How can they treat their customers this way?

  3. Ginger LaJeunesse on

    Same thing happened with my husband at the Reno airport, 4 minute call to let me know he had gotten there safely, and just got the bill for 27.01 from WiMacTel out of Florida. I thought there had to be a posted rate for the charges right there on the box, hubbie says there was not. I have 35 years of telecom experience and am NOT taking this laying down, I will file a complaint with the FCC and everywhere else I can think of.

    6.75 per minute is unconscionable.

    • matweller on

      $6.75 per minute would be bad enough, but I’m pretty sure this is $20+ for the first minute and $3+ for every after. And I concur, the rate was not posted anywhere. I think they get by that with the “press 4 for rates” announcement.

  4. Steve bakatsas on

    Dispute the charge with your credit card company

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