Dear United Airlines: "You Have Designed Your Customer Service To Piss Off Your Customers"

After a mechanical snafu grounded his flight to Zurich, Aaron received several vouchers and an upgrade as compensation from United Airlines. Unfortunately, the vouchers and upgrades proved so difficult to use that he has given up and is now publicly vowing never to fly United Airlines again.

Aaron writes to United Airlines:

On August 5th, 2007, I had a flight from Dulles Airport to Zurich. I was meeting my family there for an once-in-a-lifetime hiking trip. I boarded the plane without difficulties, when the plane experienced a series of mechanical difficulties. We were kept on the plane, during an especially hot D.C. summer day, without power, without air-conditioning for two hours. We were then told to de-board the plane. We sat at the airport for a while, then re-boarded the plane, sat on the plane for another two hours, then de-boarded again. We then waited again at the airport for an hour, when it became impossible to make the flight to Zurich without violating your union policies. So the flight was canceled six miserable hours after it was supposed to take-off. I completely understand how this could happen. I can only imagine how complicated those airplanes are and I certainly appreciate safety precautions taking precedence. Though I would have appreciated some more communication and coordination from the customer service agents, I understand that they had limited information.

When the flight was canceled though, that is when the proverbial shit hit the fan. All the customers on the August 5th flight became to clamor to reschedule their flight for the next day. There were only two agents to handle the entire flight. I waited in line for another two hours and they had barely made a dent in the line. So I called a travel agent and had her book me on the next flight. I consider myself lucky to get that one.

At the front of the line they were handing out taxi and hotel vouchers. I live in DC, but it is about a $70 taxi to the airport. I approached the front of the line to ask for my taxi voucher and was told, quite rudely, to stay in line. So I called United Customer Service. They told me that if I took a taxi and saved a receipt I would be refunded the next day when I returned. So I paid for the taxi out of pocket, returned home, and then returned to Dulles the next day. Upon arrival, I checked in, and tried to turn in my receipts. The agent at the counter told me that they would not reimburse me. After explaining what happened the day before, she eventually agreed to give me $200 voucher. I thought this was more than fair. I had only spent $140 on the taxis so this seemed more than fair.

I got on my flight and made it to Zurich. My family was waiting for me in Zurich, and because of the schedule we ended up having to cancel a major portion of our trip. I flew home without incident.

I know that airlines are required by law to compensate their customers when flights are canceled for mechanical problems. Upon returning home, I stopped at the United desk at the airport to ask how we were being compensated for the previous day’s fiasco. At first I was told that I had received a $200 voucher, and that was my compensation. With much ado, I finally spoke to a manager who gave me a Systemwide Upgrade and another $100 voucher. I was thrilled with this deal. I was planning on a major international flight the next year and I couldn’t wait to fly business class on the flight.

In September I had to fly to Chicago. I went online to buy my flight and found a great deal. Having never used a voucher before, I was surprised to find there was no place on the website to enter the voucher code. I called United Airlines once again. They told me that vouchers could only be redeemed at the time of purchase at the airport.

Let me just take a minute to explain to you how idiotic this is. No one buys paper tickets anymore. No one. The only reason to have paper vouchers that must be redeemed at the airport is to make them impossible to use. But the whole point of vouchers is to make unhappy customers happy. By making the vouchers impossible to redeem you only frustrate the unhappy customer more. This stirs up all the reasons they were unhappy in the first place. This is the internet age. There is NO logical reason not to offer vouchers that can be redeemed online.

Anyway, I went to the airport to buy my ticket. The ticket at the airport was $125 more than online, and then they had the nerve to charge $25 for booking in person. So my $200 (reimbursement) voucher became a $50 pain in my ass.

Fast-forward to early May 2008. As I said before, I’ve been planning a major trip to Kathmandu, Nepal in early August 2008. I was excited to use my upgrade and voucher on this flight. I started looking at tickets. The cheapest flight from another carrier was $2000. United’s cheapest flight was $3000. But I was excited to use my upgrade and at the time I considered the $1000 premium worth it. I called United to book, and was told once again that I needed to go to the airport to redeem both vouchers and upgrades. Fine. So I traveled to the airport to book the flight. At the airport, I’m told that I actually have to mail in my upgrade. I argued for a while, but they were unsympathetic. I asked how long it would take to upload my upgrade to my account and they say a week.

I go home and mail the upgrade immediately to a P.O. Box in South Dakota. FedEX doesn’t deliver to P.O. Boxes so I send it Priority Mail. A couple days later it arrives. I still have the tracking receipt. But the upgrade never posts. Meanwhile the cost of the flight keeps inching upward.

Three weeks later, I call Customer Service. I need to book this flight. I spend three hours being routed to different people at different agencies and different people. Much of the time is spent on hold. Your music is awful by the way. The answer I finally get from a manager is that they have no record that I was ever issued an upgrade, and that there is nothing they can do. I ask to be reissued the upgrade, but they refuse.

The only conclusion I can come to from this ordeal is that you have designed your customer service to piss off your customers. Rather than make travel bearable, you antagonize them at every step of the way. Agents lie in order to pass the buck to someone else in the hope that the customer eventually tires and goes somewhere else. Well that’s exactly what I’m doing. I am tired of arguing with your agents. I’m tired of being passed from agent to agent. I would rather spend another six hours waiting on a hot tarmac in dark plane with no air-conditioning than deal with another minute of your customer service. That is why I am leaving United, and never coming back.

As a final note, I would like to remind you that I have yet to receive any compensation as required by law for the canceled flight on August 5, 2007. I expect this compensation to the address I have included below promptly. I will not accept vouchers or upgrades. Only cash or check will be accepted. Also, remember that I am concurrently filing this letter with various government agencies, so this letter should serve as notice.

Hopefully this letter will prompt some changes with customer service, but as you can imagine, I’m not holding my breath.

Sincerely,

Aaron

You probably are already aware of this, but because you were flying to Zurich, it’s likely that you are entitled to more compensation that your typical hapless domestic traveler. The EU (of which Switzerland is not a member, but does participate in occasionally) has much better traveler’s rights laws than we do. Check them out.

Be prepared, however, for airlines to try to weasel out of it.

(Photo: Zonaphoto )

Comments

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  1. jamar0303 says:

    Ahh, United. I’m saying goodbye to my Mileage Plus card first chance I get.

  2. DJBS77 says:

    This is why I never settl for vouchers.

  3. scooby76 says:

    This is why I’m glad I’m no longer traveling for my company every week. Happy to be in his cube farm all day.

  4. bravo369 says:

    that was a very well crafted letter. I think many companies purposely do these types of things. I wish BBB or attorney general can periodically audit companies tech support or customer service centers and force them to make changes instead of waiting for many complaints to come in. I like the end of his letter too. yeah they gave him vouchers but the fact that he cannot use them means he hasn’t been compensated yet and United should definately reimburse him.

  5. SkokieGuy says:

    I usually groan at such long letters, but other than the cursing, this letter is well done.

    The problems are details, the acknowledgement that mechanical mishaps occur is reasonable and the OP asks for specific action.

    The only fault IMHO is to clearly state the OP will never fly United again. Certainly a company’s incentive to respond to someone who will never generate any future revenue is reduced.

  6. thebluepill says:

    This is an incredible cycle of failure.

    Less People are Flying =
    Airlines Raise Rates and Decrease Service =
    Customers are more dissatisfied =
    Even Less People are Flying

    How can any high-level business person in the industry not see this?

    This is still a competitive industry, people want Value, Service and convenience.

  7. greatgoogly says:

    If you have a choice, never ever fly a US based airline. For international travel I would take an old North Korean, troop cargo plane before American, United, etc.

  8. ltlbbynthn says:

    @SkokieGuy: “The only fault IMHO is to clearly state the OP will never fly United again. Certainly a company’s incentive to respond to someone who will never generate any future revenue is reduced.”

    Well there are two things you can say: “I’m never flying United again” or “I am a loyal customer for xx years.”

    Then somebody would be saying that’s dumb to be loyal. Maybe those types of statements really don’t mean anything.

  9. BlondeGrlz says:

    @SkokieGuy: But if you don’t say you’re never going to use them again, they aren’t really being punished for their bad behavior. “I hate your stupid company, your customer service sucks…See you for that flight on Friday.” just proves they can treat you like crap and still get your business.

    Maybe saying you refuse to use them again unless they fix this issue would be best.

  10. AnxiousDemographic says:

    At the risk of sounding like I’m blaming the consumer–which I am not–I am glad to hear he was rudely ordered to get back in line when he attempted to jump ahead to get a voucher. Line-jumpers have a inconsideration for the people they are bypassing that indicates they are not entitled to ordinary polite treatment. I would most certainly make a commotion with both the jumper and the agents (if they were dopy enough to allow the jumping.) Apart from that, it is a very informative story. I now consider myself well-warned away from vouchers.

  11. bravo369 says:

    @AnxiousDemographic: i thought the same thing at first about being a linecutter but I think what happened was that he was able to book the next flight with a travel agent. He just wanted the vouchers so he could go home. The agents were working with everyone else to reschedule, get information etc. i’m sure he wasn’t the only one who was able to reschedule without having to wait in line so it would make sense to be able to give out vouchers to those who don’t want to reschedule in order to get them out of the terminal. it would cause a lot less confusion and get rid of more unhappy customers faster.

  12. wow, this guy takes cool vacations.

  13. SkokieGuy says:

    @BlondeGrlz: Yup, I agree statements such as:

    Unless you do xxx by this date, I will never fly United again.

    Your response to this unfortunate incident will determine whether I continue to fly United.

    I have 3 international trips planned for the next six months representing at least $6,000 in ticket purchases. This is your last opportunity to retain me as a customer.

    Any of these type statements would help make the letter more powerful.

  14. reykjavik says:

    Just take them to small claims. I took Iberia to small claims in Brooklyn for $300. They sent a lawyer and we settled. All was good. Don’t bother with stupid letters when wasting lawyers’ time is much more fun and effective and costly.

  15. relaxing_dragon says:

    I believe you can only claim using the EU policies, on flights entirely between member states, on flights originating in member states, or for flights to a member state from a third country “unless they received benefits or compensation and were given assistance in that third country” or the “operating air carrier of the flight concerned is a Community carrier”.
    In short, only fly an EC carrier to and from the EC (and possibly Switzerland). Not only will the flight probably be cheaper and the service better (you will also be able to collect united points on Swiss or Lufthansa), but if something goes wrong you have better recourse. The “assistance” offered by United in this case probably fulfilled their obligation under the treaty.

  16. Pylon83 says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the OP. We had an awful experience flying home from LaGuardia to Chicago a few weeks back. I wrote an email to the right people, and was sent 2 $200 travel vouchers. Come to find out, I have to go to the seventh circle of hell (O’Hare) to redeem them. It’s a sold 1hr train ride from Downtown Chicago where I live to O’Hare. When I got there, the people working the counter were absolutely ridiculous. Slow, uncaring and incompetent. It is perplexing that they can’t setup some sort of online redemption system for the vouchers. They give them out to people to make them less pissed off about their fuckups, and the vouchers do nothing but piss people off more. Who lives anywhere NEAR an airport, at least so close that it’s convenient to go there and get a ticket? Absurd I say!

  17. Wes_Sabi says:

    I’ve never had a problem redeeming United vouchers. Yeah, it’s a kind of a pain to do, but O’Hare airport is close to me so I either go online and save the itinerary that I want or do it by phone, then go to O’Hare to purchase the ticket and redeem the vouchers. I’ve never gotten charged the in person booking fee, either. I don’t know if that’s because I’m a premier member or what. I have also mailed in a voucher once (which you have to do within 14 days of booking the flight) and it went through.

    FYI – the O’Hare United ticket desk is on the baggage level at the very end, so they really don’t want you to use it.

  18. Spinfusor says:

    This is why the Continental/United partnership scares me. CO has good service. UA’s service is a joke.

  19. IphtashuFitz says:

    @greatgoogly: Agreed. A year ago I flew from Boston to California on a US carrier and the trip was a real pain. From there I took Qantas down to Australia and back, and despite the length of those flights the trip as quite enjoyable compared to the US legs.

  20. incognit000 says:

    Airlines have made the decision that they do not need to care about their customers, since no matter what they do or what happens they will still be bailed out at taxpayer’s expense.

    I refuse to fly on any American-owned airlines. Other countries know that their airlines are the first (and sometimes the only) contact that foreigners have with their nation, and so they work hard to make the plane ride at least bearable, because they know it reflects their national character.

    That taken into account, the national character of America is “Fuck you, I’m makin’ money.”

  21. TVGenius says:

    My boss had a voucher from a trip last year on United where she got bumped. After several trips to the local airport to try to find a flight that would work (and she’s looking for a flight months from now) they couldn’t find any that were available. I should also mention those visits have to be timed in the narrow window that people are actually at the ticket counters at our airport, since they disappear except for the hour to half hour before a flight leaves here, and also load the luggage.

  22. Bye says:

    Once long ago, my spouse and I volunteered to be bumped from a United flight enticed by the promise of VOUCHERS. Little did we know those things are worthless for the reasons the OP states. You cannot use them except when buying a ticket in person. United hates to deal directly with its customers so much that any flight purchased in person tacks on so much money so as to render the vouchers useless.

    We’ve had problems with United since then and a couple of times were rewarded vouchers that we scoffed at but kept just in case they might be worth using. Every time we attempted to book a flight with them, the higher costs negated any benefit of the vouchers – especially considering we would have to drive to an airport to buy the tickets.

    I don’t know if United even realizes it, but the temporary fuzzy feeling you get when you are awarded a voucher for their screw-up turns into seething rage when you attempt to take them up on their “offer”. Boo.

  23. JGB says:

    I work in the airplane maintenance industry, so I have a lot of friends and business associates at United. I used to go to their overhaul base in San Francisco 2-3 times a month. I have also been to pretty much all the others.

    That being said, there is no where on earth, in this industry or any other I have encountered, where employee morale is as low as it is there. I suspect that street whores go to work in the morning with a better attitude.

    Once, a few years ago, I was working with United’s engineering depart on a very tricky SB (service bulletin) implementation. This was at the tail end of a mechanic’s strike. The srike was over and the mechanics had received a big raise. The next day, the engineers were told that their pay was being cut to help offset the cost. The engineer on the project I was working on told me to do whatever I wanted, he was not going to concern himself with it any longer. His exact words to me were “they took away 11% of my paycheck, so I am giving myself a 4% raise by doing 15% less work”

  24. Amy Alkon000 says:

    The same thing goes for the flights you get as bonuses when you sign up for a United Miles Visa.

  25. poopmasta says:

    ANA (Air Nippon) is just as bad

    I had so much trouble redeeming miles for either a free coach ticket or a upgrade. They basically put you on a waiting list(yet you can pay for a regular ticket) and never call you back or follow up. I called again 4 weeks before my desired flight date and was told that I was still on the waiting list and all of a sudden I went from #3 to #11 on the list and that I should have bought an upgradable coach ticket at double a regular coach ticket’s price. I bought a ticket from JAL and I ended using my miles for vouchers for their mail order grocery store.

  26. andys2i says:

    This article is so well timed for me. I just wrote about my terrible experience with them in my blog ([www.savingtoinvest.com]) and have vowed never to fly them again! Here is a list of some of my complaints on my most recent flight to Brussels with them:

    . The staff, both before you board and on the plane, seem disinterested when it comes to customer service. I know the last few years have seen a lot of layoffs and even wage cuts, but it clearly looks like the staff are unhappy in their jobs and this was clearly reflected in their service and attitude. I even heard this first hand from some crew members who openly discussed the poor work conditions they have.

    2. On board their audio-visual equipment is terrible and far behind their competitors. They have small TV screens and provide headphones used in the 80’s. In fact I had to use my iPod headphone to get decent sound quality. I recommend you bring your own entertainment if you fly the friendly skies with them.

    3. Food is mediocre and in both flights they ran out of food options, so if you were at the back of the plane you had no food choices. On my return sector, they even ran out of plastic cups, so everyone had to reuse theirs. Great for the environment but it is annoying to have coke, orange juice and water in the same glass over a 9 hour flight.

    4. The bathrooms were in terrible condition and even though passengers complained, nothing was done.

    5. The seats are tiny and legroom is designed for a person around five and a half feet tall. I know they have old planes, but they pack ‘em in like sardines in a can.

  27. MrDo says:

    Keep in mind, those assholes in Congress will just bail the airlines out once again when they fail due to their own incompetence and horrid business model. Let that sink in.

    Really, I wouldn’t mind paying more for an airline that treated me better than it does a piece of luggage. I’m sure I’m not alone too.

  28. Rachael says:

    Oh dear. I didn’t know this info about using vouchers. I received a free round trip flight from them after a fiasco last year where we were delayed not because of weather (though it WAS bad) but because of PAPERWORK. Now from reading this, it sounds like the voucher I’ve been clinging to for a year because I anticipated skyrocketing airline prices is going to be useless. :(

    Great.

  29. tinyrobot says:

    The part in bold is the real meat of this letter – United pulled the same crap on me as well. We had a miserable flight to Amsterdam and back (4/4 planes were late, in one case the pilot was missing and discovered to be DRUNK! And to top it off, they lost our bags), and I wrote a letter, received a $100 voucher. Tried to book a flight to Miami from JFK online, saw a fare for around $235, but couldn’t use the voucher. Made a reservation over the phone, and I was told that I would have to go to the airport (JFK) within 24 hours to purchase the ticket, and that the SAME flight itinerary would be $335. So my $100 voucher only bought me the priveledge of taking a $90 round trip cab ride to JFK to purchase a ticket that would cost me exactly the same (plus the cab fare) as the one I could buy at home???

    Screw that. These vouchers are, in fact, worthless. I asked a United CSR supervisor if they were willing to actually provide me with some compensation that would amount to some financial savings, and they said “we have provided you with the $100 voucher, which you can use on any flight blah blah blah…” I asked them once more, they repeated their line. I told them they had one last chance or no one in my family would ever fly United again, and they stuck to their line. I hung up.

    That was four years ago. Haven’t flown United ever since, will never fly them again, nor will my family members. These worthless “vouchers” are the customer relations equivalent to using someone’s baby carriage as a toilet. I hope they go out of business as soon as possible.

  30. Jmatthew says:

    My girlfriend and I were traveling down to San Diego on United a year or so ago and we got bumped from an overbooked flight. No big deal, we’d built in some extra time, so wasn’t really effecting us, and were happy to mellow in whatever random airport we were stuck in.

    So the flight we got bumped to gets called for boarding. They told us when we got bumped that they’d call our names and then assign us seats before the boarding. So they start calling boarding. I go up to the desk, wait patiently as they keep boarding people… then they start calling standby people… so I jump to the front of the line, and kind of blurt out that we were bumped from the last flight.

    The attendent apologized to her current customer, asked our names, verified we were bumped from the previous flight, and tells the door person to stop, that they need to board my us. The door girl turns to her says “No. They won’t be getting on this flight.” and finishes boarding the stand bys.

    I asked to talk to the supervisor, and the door person told me she was the supervisor, and that she doesn’t care that we got bumped, and that they were overbooked all day (um, they were boarding standbys?!) so we wouldn’t be flying out that day (it was like 10am!!!) and we’d have to rearrange our plans.

    Obviousely this was crap, so I walked over to united customer service for the airport, passed the line of 200 people and demanded the highest ranked person in the airport. The clerk basically told me to go spank it, so I just refused to move and told them to either call security or management, I’m not moving.

    A manager shows up, asked me what’s wrong. I explained the situation. He put us on the next flight, made sure we boarded first, so at least we got where we were going. They refused to offer us any compensation though. I was absolutely furious, but wanted to get to our destination so let it drop. I called the United customer service line and just got apologies, they also weren’t “authorized” to offer me any incentive to fly with them again.

    So I won’t.

    Our flight home was delayed by 5 hours when our plane caught fire just before boarding.

    Not like I needed fruther incentive to avoid them…

  31. tinyrobot says:

    @incognit000: “That taken into account, the national character of America is ‘Fuck you, I’m makin’ money.‘”

    With respect to most airlines, absolutely. I can’t wait for foreign carriers to begin offering domestic flights in the US. On the whole, that is a pretty concise and accurate summary of the prevalent mega-corporate attitude. Sprint, Best Buy, Countrywide, BoA all come to mind…

  32. geoffhazel says:

    @tinyrobot:

    told them to either call security or management, I’m not moving.

    I like that. And it worked!

  33. tedyc03 says:

    Good letter. Again, swearing in a formal letter is probably not advised but at this point I don’t think it mattered. He was angry and he expressed it well. This is exactly the reason I don’t fly legacy carriers.

  34. Cap'n Jack says:

    @thebluepill: This man speaks the truth.

  35. JBlair42081 says:

    United is horrible. They’ve outsourced the customer service and client relations phone monkeys to Bangalore India. At least with American I can speak to someone in the US. In the last year I was almost stranded in HI by United not fulfilling their contact with Aloha to ferry displaced passengers and American stepped in and took care of it. I was also stranded in IL for an extra day due to “mechanical problems” but since I was already flying on a voucher they didn’t care. In fact it wasn’t mechanical problems at all. They pulled our plane to fulfill a different route… guess they don’t care much about you when you are flying into a small 10 gate airport. After the Hawaii trip I said never again and have stuck to that. Complaints and emails go unanswered and ignored. I honestly don’t think they care about their level of service at all anymore. It’s a shame flying used to be a somewhat fun experience. Now it’s treated like it’s a loss leader commodity and we’re cattle.

  36. fjordtjie says:

    i used united for a trip from chicago to san francisco to monterey and back, and every flight was delayed to the point I almost missed my bus back to madison. thank goodness I allowed 3 extra hours (on top of the usual 1 1/2) between the arrival and the bus departure because i got the feeling they’d delay, thanks to consumerist.

  37. kimsama says:

    As I always start out when I see a United post: welcome to the club! I have avoided United for years and will do so forever. I also can’t wait until foreign airlines can operate in the US. It will be a brilliant day.

    BTW, though — if you’re ever at Dulles again and need to get back to the city, now that you know the vouchers are a scam, take the 5A or the Supershuttle ^_^. Waaay less than $70.

  38. zgori says:

    Also, if you are using a voucher and something happens — delay, cancellation — you’re at the back of the line because the paying customers get priority. You will only be accommodated if the airline incurs no cost whatsoever for accommodating you (ie: there’s still an empty seat ten seconds before they close the door). Vouchers are one notch up from worthless. Always fight for cash.

  39. mthrndr says:

    I haven’t flown United for at least six year, and never will again. The airline industry neither learns from its mistakes nor improves over time. It is the epitome of the term ‘entropy’ -it is a system that has been overcome by useless and scrap energy.

  40. mthrndr says:

    @zgori: has anyone actually received cash in hand from being bumped or cancelled? Somehow I doubt that very many people have been able to get cash. I always thought it was either a voucher or the highway.

  41. And my wife looks at me with puppy eyes when I tell her that I don’t want to fly anywhere for vacation.

    SouthWest is by far the best experiences I’ve had, but they don’t fly everywhere.

  42. erratapage says:

    I’ve avoided United ever since they refused to compensate me and my husband for getting us to Chicago 3 hours too late to catch a plane to Orlando. We pointed out that we *did* ask if we would make our connecting flight and were assured we would. Once on the plane, we were on the ground for another 90 minutes waiting to take off. My husband and I finally realized that we could have driven to Chicago twice in the time it took for us to get the flight to Orlando.

  43. Vanvi says:

    I’d also like to chime in with United is horrible. The last time (in every sense) that I flew them, my flight was canceled with 24 hours notice due to apparently future mechanical problems. I could only get rescheduled on a later flight that left and arrived at two completely different airports from the ones I booked (each about an hour away from the original). And I had to fight with the uncooperative CSR to give me a $50 voucher which had the same restrictions as the ones in the post, so I never used it (though I’d have to be paid to fly United again). If I had been reading the Consumerist then, I’d know my rights better and have argued for more.

    For what it’s worth, I got a $50 voucher from Southwest that had the same impossible restriction of having to buy at the counter, but they gave me that voucher with no argument when they just lost my bag for a couple hours. I also received a round-trip voucher from JetBlue after a canceled flight that was incredibly easy to redeem. That canceled flight experience with JetBlue was at least as frustrating as the United one, but the quick compensation and friendliness of their staff is why I’ll still fly JetBlue. United, never again.

  44. choinski says:

    This is the classic example of the ‘sunken costs’ principle. At what point does walking away from an investment (of time or money) become more beneficial than continuing to the original goal?

  45. buckfutt says:

    I’ve very rarely flown United, but Delta follows all these same idiotic rules. Delta vouchers can only be redeemed in person (they closed all the off-airport ticket offices recently), and you can’t “stack” vouchers, only one is allowed per flight. They don’t tell you any of that up front, of course.

    JGB’s story about United’s engineers getting screwed over to pay off the union maintenance guys might as well have been taken verbatim from the experiences of a friend of mine who co-oped in Delta’s engineering department back in the ’80’s.

  46. katylostherart says:

    “Much of the time is spent on hold. Your music is awful by the way. “

    truth.

    flying in america is balls.

  47. mariospants says:

    kudos on the letter, great job and for once, you can’t blame the OP.

  48. saltytoast says:

    I can’t remember the last time I have had a trip involving a domestic carrier where something didn’t go wrong. We took VIA rail from Windsor to Montreal for a long weekend last year, and the experience was much better than flying, if you have the extra travel time.

  49. malvones says:

    Great letter, way more meticulous at keeping track of this ordeal than I ever could have been.

    I think the lesson in all this is that nothing except cash or an open ticket as refund will do for compensation anymore. There is zero accountability.

    Having been lied to my face before by airlines, I don’t believe a word they say anymore. If their compensation is not literally in my hand at the time of the incident, it is as good as worthless.

  50. DynamicBits says:

    Looking over the original post and some of the comments, I find it interesting that several people were late or had their flight canceled for an actual reason.

    I recently bought tickets at the full price directly through the United web site. It would be hard for them to screw up and not get me on the flight at this point, right?

    Fast forward to just before boarding. The gate agent makes an announcement asking for people to volunteer to give up their seats. I was going to visit a sick relative and couldn’t give up my ticket. Good thing I bought a ticket and didn’t try something like flying standby, right?

    A couple minutes later, they call my name and the names of the two people flying with me. We were told there wasn’t room on the flight. Thinking (knowing?) a mistake had been made, I explained we hadn’t volunteered to give up our seats.

    The story goes downhill from this point. It took approximately 24 hours to finally get to our destination. My laptop was damaged through no fault of my own. We (along with a few other lucky passengers) were told we couldn’t have our bags when we arrived.

    We were offered one voucher for our troubles. Keep in mind that the people that *volunteered* to give up their seats got a voucher. We were *forced* to give up our seats.

    I’ve flown almost exclusively with United for about 20 years. Time to check out the competition…

  51. tebbster says:

    Having been through multiple delays with United I have ended up with a lot of their vouchers and experienced a similar situation with the added fees of redeeming their vouchers. I ended up calling customer service and they reissued my vouchers as electronic vouchers. I was then able to use them online with no added fees. Unfortunately by that point I had also given up on ever flying United again so I sold them on eBay. But United did make the switch and e-mailed me the codes so I had them within 24 hours.

    Overall United sucks… My favorite “feature” of their customer service is that it can only be reached during normal business hours. Because no one has any flight issues after 5pm ET.

  52. Consumer9 says:

    How about this one: United takes my boarding pass and a couple of other peoples’ and as we’re walking to the plane someone says, “you’re not boarding this aircraft” and makes us turn around. We wait and wait and after a while the agents leave the gate and we wait some more. I called and the agent on the phone said that the flight was canceled but it wasn’t listed as such at the airport. As a result I couldn’t change my ticket to the next flight at the customer service desk (which I was acutually originally scheduled on) and went back to step one: check in at the departures level outside of security. Still didn’t get a seat. I begged the agent at the new flight and eventually got a seat which was apparently their ‘gift’ to me.

    oh and I paid about 60 cents per mile on this flight

    So…to the OP, I can certainly imagine how your experience was. I haven’t flown on UA since, though!

  53. theczardictates says:

    My last (and I mean that in every sense) experience with United was paying $29 to switch to an earlier flight when a canceled meeting meant I got to the airport 4 hours early.
    Five minutes later United canceled that flight and rescheduled me on the original flight

  54. Hairyback says:

  55. Hairyback says:

    Ooops! :)

  56. Hairyback says:

    Ooops!

  57. theczardictates says:

    …[d’oh] Not only did they not offer any compensation, they refused to refund the $29 I’d just paid to be put back on my original flight. Conversation with Customer Service Supervisor’s Manager in India went something like this:

    UA: The fee cannot be refunded
    Me: You make it sound like it’s the money’s fault. If it were up to United, you’d love to give me the money back, but the money just refuses to go. It likes it too much over there.
    UA: It’s not our policy
    Me: Well, now I understand. It’s not like you yourselves made up this policy, so it’s hardly within your power to change it. Oh, wait — yes it is.

    And no, I make no apology for being sarcastic to the customer service supervisor’s manager when I’ve got hours to kill in a miserable provincial airport.

  58. kepler11 says:

    Unfortunately, United needs to do a much better job about helping people understand how to use the vouchers.

    Contrary to what the person thinks, this is not a paper ticket, and that isn’t why you have to go to the airport, etc. You have to get the voucher back to United at some point to apply the discount, and that’s what we’re talking about. (if they were smart they would give electronic vouchers, but that’s advanced for them…)

    You do not have to go to the airport, and you do not have to pay more than you see online. You *can* go to the airport, but it is not necessary.

    What you do is make a reservation online, or on the phone, and then “hold” it so that it receives a confirmation code. Then call and tell the agent you will be ticketing by mail, and send in your voucher by mail to the address given to you. You will not be charged a fee for anything and it will be taken care of in about a week.

  59. overbysara says:

    yeah I swore off united about a year ago after dealing with their customer service and a lost bag. it was… ridiculous.

  60. Cattivella says:

    I’ve had both good and bad United experiences. The worst was when I was 17 and taking my first flight alone and had forgotten to bring extra money. I was stranded at O’Hare for 11 hours and my return flight was delayed by about 7 hours.

    Recently, though, I had good UA customer service. I was having trouble with their website and called in to make a reservation with my flyer miles. The CSR was very helpful in scheduling a flight for me and, though she attempted to make me pay the fee for dealing with someone over the phone, once I calmly explained why I should not pay the fee (website not working properly), she waived it. Although, this may seem very pleasant because I had pretty low expectations.

  61. JiminyChristmas says:

    I had a recent experience with an American Airlines voucher and it was marginally better than what’s described here. They allow you to select a flight online and place it on hold. You then have to call a CSR to actually complete the reservation.

    Granted, I still don’t understand why you can’t complete the whole process online. Also, I was totally prepared for them to want to charge me $15 for making a reservation by phone which, thankfully, they didn’t do.

  62. kepler11 says:

    @JiminyChristmas:
    That is exactly how it is supposed to work with United also. The guy here just didn’t get good information from the rep on the phone, who was mistaken in saying that you have to go to the airport. You don’t.

    You do the exact same thing, place a reservation on hold, then mail in the coupon or go to the airport. Unfortunate that he got the wrong information, and unfortunate that he didn’t try to talk to someone else first before having to escalate it to this level of complaint. And unfortunate that United reps didn’t give him the right info in the first place.

  63. Rachael says:

    @kepler11:

    Thank you for this information!!!! You’ve made my blood pressure go down today.

  64. Difdi says:

    At least they didn’t deny him compensation for the flight to Zurich because the weather was bad in Texas…

  65. winnabago says:

    I’m also in United voucher hell at the moment. A flight I booked went up in price (exactly $125 for each of two tickets) as I was entering my credit card info, so I called and got the “it’s non-refundable” bit from the call center. It never showed up like that, they just added $250 to the final total. Called my credit card company and they weren’t willing to help. I even have screenshots of the price immediately after – it’s the lower one.

    I was angry at this point and called United back to ask for a refund, thinking that they had some sort of accidental purchase policy or something – if I had seen the price increase I wouldn’t have clicked “buy”. I was going to go get it at orbitz, which was still showing the lower price. All of the sudden the guy is pointing out that my ticket couldn’t be refunded, but “I was lucky” and the fare had gone down already. What? It had a price protection policy and they “could offer a voucher for the difference”. All this in 10 minutes!

    Him and his supervisor didn’t budge, and now I have these antiquated vouchers like other commenters.

    So that is their little scam, just wanted to warn others of this. At the very least it will be a good souvenir when United goes out of business.

  66. kepler11 says:

    Tickets purchased through United on the phone or their website are fully refundable within 24 hours of purchase — actually one of their good policies that not every airline is so permissive about.

  67. Foneguy says:

    I fly international four times per year. United always has the best rates. Since I can be flexible with my dates, I have my agent put me on a United partner airline, Lufthansa to and from Europe. Still paying United rates, but getting nicer newer planes, greater comfort, and far superior customer service. Just be certain that the operator is not United. Lufthansa has always come through for me. If you have a United mileage account, transfer those miles to a Miles and More card, then use them on a dozen or more member airlines. Never tried to redeem a voucher, but it sounds like a PITA.

  68. deitybox says:

    I think the United reps at Dulles Airport are particularly bad. For our honeymoon in Israel in July 2005, my husband and I booked a flight from Dulles to JFK, then JFK to Tel Aviv. When we got to Dulles, we asked where the international check-in counter was, and an agent pointed us to a line in which about 50 people were already waiting. We stood in this line for about 45 minutes, until, on my way back from the restroom, I saw a small sign with an arror pointing around the corner to “International Flights.” This ticket counter was not visiblefrom the line we had been told to wait in; the only indication anywhere in the front of the check-in hall was the small sign. Pissed off that we’d been told to wait in the wrong line and had wasted 45 minutes, we went around the corner and explained the situation to the guy at the international check-in, who for some reason was extremely rude and proceeded to lecture us for five minutes, saying it was our fault for not being at the right counter. We made it clear, politely, that we’d been told to be there by one of their agents, and asked if we could get a voucher to go to the front of the security line as our flight would be leaving soon and our delay was their error. The agent grunted and waved us away. We took this as a simple, rude “no.” When we got to the security line, though, it became clear that this guy had flagged us for a security check, with no reason for doing so. Needless to say, after waiting about an hour in the security line, enduring the 15-minute check, and the 45 minutes checking in, we missed our flight to JFK. At the gate, we explained the situation to the agent, who was sympathetic, but said the only flight she had to the NY-NJ area that would allow us time to make our Israel flight was to Newark, an hour away from JFK. After some discussion, we had her move us to the Newark flight, on the condition that United would give us vouchers for a cab ride to JFK. We received confirmation from her on the vouchers, but once we landed in Newark, lo and behold, there were no vouchers reserved for us. We argued for several minutes with the agents there, giving them the Dulles gate agent’s name, before they eventually relented, making it clear that they thought we were making the whole thing up to get a freebie. Sorry this was so long, but the point is, United is unapologetically awful, especially in Dulles.

  69. Lorin says:

    Here’s a good one…I just travelled to Rochester NY from Salt Lake City, Utah via Chicago on July 4th on United. I setup my reservations via Travelocity a couple months back and made it clear I was in a wheelchair (I have no legs below the knees). I would need an aisle chair to get me in and out of the plane. As an aside, my experience flying out to Salt Lake on June 28 with Delta/Northwest was perfect-no issues.

    Getting on board in Salt Lake–no problem. Landed on-time in Chicago at 5pm–noone showed to help me. We waited 15 minutes after the plane was deboarded-no sign of any assistance. The flight attendant called the people involved–still nothing.

    I ended up crawling out of the plane on my own power and down the boarding ramp to the concourse where I got into my wheelchair (which was waiting) with the assistance of the main stewardess. They then voluntarily pushed me to my next gate and then had to run for their next flight (I did tip them for the assistance). The next gate person called a Concierge who listened to my experience and wrote down all the information saying I’d be contacted. She said I’d be put in First Class for the flight to Rochester and would be boarded 10 minutes before anyone else. Problem is noone (again) showed up with an Aisle chair to assist me until after the first 4 rows of coach were filled. I have now filed a complaint with Travelocity and have been told they will contact me. I’m not holding my breath.

  70. TwoScoopsRice says:

    I was flying on UA in the middle of spring break — early morning flight from the East Coast, connecting on the West Coast home overnight before heading out on an early flight the next morning to Asia. (Crazy work schedule.) Not much room for error. I’m at the airport super early for my 9:30 a.m. departure and the ticket counter person hurriedly says “are you checking that bag or can you carry it on?” I said either. He asked if I minded running a little. Puzzled and coffee-deprived, I said not really, but why. He said come with me, I’ll explain.

    Long story short, as he was asking these questions he’d moved me to an earlier flight and got me thru security and to the gate (used a radio, got someone else to help get me to the gate. Turns out my 9:30 flight had equipment problems and he was getting me on the 7:15 so I’d make my connection.

    To this day, I don’t know whether he knew about my next-day flight or was just being nice. I was flying on a coach ticket I’d upgraded with miles. And tho I’m a Premier member, I wasn’t Executive Premier that year. I don’t know either how we got from his counter to the gate in less than 10 minutes. But I had my biz class seat, I made my connection, I got home and did my laundry and battled jetlag to leave the house at 4 a.m. for my next trip. I checked later and had I been kept on that original flight, I would indeed have missed my transpac connection.

    So while there are lemons out there, by and large my experience with United has been positive. We let nearly 200k DL miles rot because of several terrible experiences; have consciously avoided that carrier for 13 years now.