Broken Seat Belt And Massive Customer Service Failure Mean I Miss Grandpa’s Funeral

Elizabeth missed her grandfather’s funeral because of a broken seat belt. Well, that’s not entirely true. United Airlines claimed that there was a broken seat belt on the plane she was supposed to take from Chicago to Savannah, then kept pushing back and ultimately canceled the flight. By the time they finally canceled the flight, there were no more flights to Savannah for days. A broken co-pilot seat belt and a massive customer service failure is what kept Elizabeth and other passengers in Chicago.

She sought a refund for the expensive last-minute ticket, since United was unable to get her where she needed to be.

This is a story of how United Airlines stranded me in Chicago, I missed my grandfather’s funeral, and then United refused to give me a refund.

On Friday, July 20th I left on a 12:05 PM flight to Chicago O’Hare airport, connecting to Savannah for a 7:20 departure. Upon landing around 6:15 in Chicago, we found out our Savannah flight was delayed until 9:15. That delay continued to push back by 20 minute intervals until 12:15 AM, when all waiting passengers were informed a broken co-pilot seatbelt was causing United to cancel our flight. Since we had been delayed so long, all other flights to Savannah and surrounding areas had left and no direct flight to Savannah would happen until Sunday, July 22nd. After a painful hour and a half with a ticketing agent, it was confirmed that no flight to any airport on any airline would get me to my grandfather’s funeral at 11 AM the next morning and the flight United was offering me to Savannah would land after my scheduled departure back home to San Francisco (so of course that would not work as a viable option.)

Thus began my journey into trying to get a refund for the trip: From 1 to 2 AM on Saturday morning, I talked to two agents from the US office of United Air – first [R] (badge [redacted]) and then [K] (badge [redacted]) – they explained to me that if they refunded my $1500 ticket,
they would have to cancel my return flight home from Chicago to San Francisco (leaving 9 AM on Saturday, July 21st.) They said that if I called back upon landing at noon on Saturday, they would process my refund. As you can imagine, I was worried that United would refuse, once my trip had been completed, and they promised that would not be the case.

I’m sure you know what’s coming.

On Saturday afternoon, I spoke to [D] (badge [redacted]) – I was placed on hold for over 40 minutes before reaching him and the agent I spoke to before him would not give me his name or badge number and told me my hold time would be “somewhere between 2 minutes and forever.” D explained to me that he was Reservations and all the people I had spoken to were in that department and Customer Care and Refunds only worked 8-6 PM, Monday through Friday. I had to call back then. He also explained that since he was not changing my ticket at all, there would be no record he spoke to me (hence why I took his badge number.) He told me no customer service person in the US worked other than 8-6 PM on weekdays, so I could talk to no one until Monday.

On Monday (today) I called back and spoke to another man oversees who called himself [L]. He placed me on hold for over 50 minutes, told me he would only offer me a refund for the part of the ticket I didn’t use because I *did* fly somewhere, after all. Finally, he came back and said he talked to his supervisor ([P] – his badge number was allegedly [redacted], I’m not sure why it was not the same standard as the others I spoke to. Laurence claimed his badge was [redacted].) P agreed to refund my ticket, but I did not receive a confirmation number that this will happen and won’t receive an email that they are processing the refund for 7 to 10 days – and after that confirmation comes, it will take up to TWO MONTHS to refund my money back to my credit card.

I’m not sure what’s worst: The fact that United had a plane in its main hub and they were unable to fix a seatbelt, the fact that it took them almost 7 hours to inform customers of this fact, the fact they were unable to rebook anyone in a timely manner to where they needed
to go, or the fact that it took three phone calls, over three hours on wait, and will take two months to refund my money for an epic failure of a flight. In addition to all of this, I never got to say good bye to my grandfather.

I’ve tried to reach out via phone and email and Twitter to United but have never received a reply from anyone in a Customer Service role – apparently, United lets Reservations take care of everything and they are not at all equipped to handle Customer Service issues.

The money is one huge problem as to why I’m writing you, and the treatment of customers secondary, but the pressing question to me is: If a seatbelt can do all this, how in god’s name can we trust any of their engines? Who works for United, and from Customer Service up to technicians, why are there clearly no proper procedures and training programs in place?

We hope that Elizabeth actually gets her promised refund. If you’re reading this because you have a United problem of your own, we’ve heard in the past that the executive e-mail carpet bomb has been successful in coaxing United to do the right thing.

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  1. dahanese says:

    Thanks for covering this, Consumerist. As a follow up: my sister and husband have been denied a refund and I have never received the email they said they would send about my own refund. I am working on disputing the charge with my credit card because we have been told (as well as my sister) that there is no way we will ever get a refund. We are not given a reason and they refuse to transfer us out of the Reservations department. They have claimed that I cannot talk to Customer Care or Refunds – I am unsure if people exist in the department that you can talk to.