Tower Air was maybe the worst airline in the history of the world. Flights were routinely delayed for hours with no explanation. At the New York terminal, the X-ray machine sat in the middle of the room, where it would violently eject baggage directly into the wall. Employees routinely engaged in shouting matches with travelers and with each other.
Tower had nothing going for it at all besides rock-bottom prices. Both they and their customers knew it. The disinterested, confrontational service seemed to say, "If you had any money or self-respect, you'd have flown with someone else."
Early in its history and certainly by the mid-1990s, Tower Air became notorious for poor service and questionable maintenance. By 1995 it ranked fourth in the number of complaints per mile among leading U.S. airlines. The 1997 Zagat Survey placed Tower Air 59th out of 61 ranked carriers, only edging ahead of Valujet and Aeroflot. In February 1998, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed two civil penalties totaling $276,000 for continuing to fly aircraft that required maintenance action.
My favorite Tower memory came on a flight back to San Francisco in 1999. They'd made us wait for an hour and a half on the ground in New York, and something else delayed us for another hour in the air - turbulence, or wind, or a tear in the duct tape holding on the wing, or a pig getting loose in the cabin. To make up for the delay, the flight crew decided to waive the charges for cocktails, much to the delight of the Canadian tourists behind me. They proceeded to get wasted and beligerent during the in-flight movie, shouting Canadian things at one another and falling out of favour with our crew.
When the flight finally landed in San Francisco, two Asian passengers stood up while the plane was still rolling toward the gate. They politely nodded when the flight attendant asked them to sit down, and more politely when the captain stopped the plane and came on the intercom to demand they sit down. They even nodded politely when the Canadians started heckling them: "Sit the fuck down, John Woo!" "Jackie Chan! Plane's still moving, eh?"
Finally the head flight attendant walked up to restore order. "Let me handle this," she said, moving her frazzled comrade aside. She stood a foot away from the nodding, confused Asian men, and proceeded to clarify matters.
"YOU NEED TO SIT DOWN!", she shouted.
Unfortunately, the added volume did not overcome the language barrier, and only some creative sign language from another passenger kept the Canadians from going Flight 93 on their asses. I walked off the plane, confident that I would never fly Tower again. At least not for more than $225, round-trip.