Trifecta of Crappy Airplane Stories

It’s the mother lode, one man’s tale of how his and his family’s Memorial Day weekend was ruined, in swift succession, by no less than three airlines.

United, TSA and Delta really made sure Sebastien’s Memorial Day Weekend was one to remember. They achieved this mainly through their abject incompetence and failure to let him travel to the cheese-lined shores of Madison, Wisconsin.

You know it’s a good one when it ends with, “By the way, any chance you know of any phone numbers/e-mails of any executives from United, Delta, and/or the TSA?”

Check out the exploding aircraft, after the jump…

Sebastien writes:

    “Hi Consumerist,

    I just got back from quite the experience dealing with the airlines and the TSA and thought maybe your readers would care to hear. For those who don’t care to read through this lengthy story, the brief summary is that United cancelled our flight for no reason and got us an alternative flight on Delta, which would’ve worked well had the TSA not given me the special “selectee” treatment and lost my ticket.

    Chapter 1: United Crashes and Burns
    My family and I had a flight with United Airlines scheduled at 6am this morning from Boston out to Chicago and then connecting to Madison so that we could get to our final destination by some time around noon. We arrived at the airport at a little before 5am and approached one of the e-ticket automated kiosks in the United terminal. Upon finding our tickets in the system, the nice big “CANCELLED” text came up. That’s right, United cancelled the flight — on a Friday morning of Memorial Day weekend — with no clear reason why. The weather is beautiful here in Boston as it is in Chicago and Madison. Any obvious reason why they’d cancel a flight? We weren’t sure either. Regardless, we looked at the alternatives given. The next available flight they claimed was tomorrow morning — not so good for us since we have to be out there by tonight. After standing in a line for an hour with the rest of the people who were supposed to be on that flight, the woman at the kiosk said she could get us on a 7am Delta flight to Atlanta, which would connect to Madison. That sounded alright, so we ran the distance with all our luggage to the other side of Logan Airport where the Delta terminal was. By now it was 6am.

    Chapter 2: Delta’s Ray of Hope
    Already relatively angry at the fact that United would just cancel a flight like that, we weren’t too happy to see another long line at the Delta kiosk, which we had to deal with in order to have them actually print up our tickets. A ray of light shined, however, when a nice guy who worked for Delta started asking around for United passengers. He took us to the front of the line, showing that Delta may actually be attentive to passengers. We explained what happened to the agent (Mary Ellis Massa), who was also very pleasant, and would later prove to be helpful a second time. She printed up our tickets for the 7am flight, smiled, and told us to have a nice flight. Things seemed to be looking up. It was 6:25am…

    Chapter 3: TSA (Thousands Standing Around)
    We made our way through the security line. We’ve all traveled a good deal, so we know how to get through it relatively quickly (pack away your wallet, watch, cell phone, and change, and take off your shoes and belt). Perhaps that’s why we got the extra-special treatment when all four of us were taken out of line as “selectees” as they would later call us. By the time I got patted down, it was 6:45am (remember that our flight was at 7am). My family had already gone through the treatment, but I was last. My dread grew as I saw the characters who would be inspecting my bags: A Baby Huey ( character and a depressed old man who looked like he’d rather be dead. Baby Huey proceeded to open both my large suitcase and my smaller messenger bag. Extremely slowly, he wiped through everything with that damned wand thing they have (I’ve been told it’s to detect bomb residue). He couldn’t have gone any slower. Yet I was patient. I didn’t say anything and rather stood there patiently waiting for them to finish. When he came to my Canon Digital Rebel DSLR…well! He just wasn’t sure what to do. He couldn’t quite figure out what to do. When he looked through the lens, he didn’t see anything, and asked me how one saw anything, to which I replied “you have to remove the lens cap.” He must’ve been embarassed, because he slowed his pace even more. It was 6:54am by now. I kept on looking at my watch. Finally, the mental midgets got through with my bags and let me go, saying “have a nice day.” Right, I’ll try. I sprinted to the gate (which was much farther away than I anticipated). As my Mom and I got to the gate (my Dad and brother had run ahead), I looked at my ticket envelope and realized to my horror that the TSA dimwits hadn’t given me back my ticket from Boston to Atlanta — only my ticket from Atlanta to Madison. The gate agent refused to let me on without a ticket — saying he couldn’t print up another copy there. I sprinted back to the security checkpoint. The fact that the TSA really just doesn’t give a damn about people became most obvious at this point when, even when I told the idiots there that my flight was at 7am (and it was 7:01am by this point), the TSA agent and the state cop just kind of blankly stared at me when I told them that they didn’t give me back my ticket. “Nobody turned anything in here” the state cop noted. Awesome. The TSA agent told me that the gate agent could print out another ticket and that I should go back and talk to him. On my way sprinting back to the gate, I called my Mom, who told me that the flight had already taken off.

    Chapter 4: A Return to Delta
    By 7:30am we had given up hope of catching that flight and returned to the Delta desk. The same woman, Mary Ellis, helped us again and was quite sympathetic. Apparently during that time that we were walking back, TSA did find the ticket, because when ME called them, they said they did have it. Good work, guys. She told us we had to return to the United desk and talk to the managing district supervisor of directions (or some other nonsense leadership title). We did, and were informed that the rest of the flights for the day had been booked. We could either wait around on standby all day or take the same flight the next morning. We took the latter option and left the airport at 9am, which is why I’m back at home writing this all up.

    Through all of this, two major factors keep returning to the front of my mind for their total absurdity: United’s cancelling of our flight for no obvious reason and the TSA’s mistreatment of passengers combined with their incompetence that ultimately led to their losing my ticket. Seriously, doesn’t that say something about a government organization if they’re losing passengers’ tickets? I suppose I’ve learned a few things through all of this adventure: 1) Don’t fly United. 2) The TSA will always be incompetent and slow, so it’s alright to yell at them. They can’t act any worse. 3) The airlines need to all go bankrupt and the government needs to stay out of air travel.


    By the way, any chance you know of any phone numbers/e-mails of any executives from United, Delta, and/or the TSA?”

UPDATE: Dan writes that Delta’s customer service manager is Macenzak and his email


Edit Your Comment

  1. officedrone4 says:

    Further tales of United’s incompetence included their removal and disposal of a 15 year old girls glasses and retainer from her bag because “they were metal”

    Yes, so in checked luggage they removed the child’s glasses and retainer because obviously these are really dangerous items we should all look out for.

    So her parents now have to pay $500 to replace them. When her parents contacted United they were told “well we can’t be certain they were in there.” Apparently having watched your child put the items in her bag, and subsequently calling and asking if there was any way they might have been discarded and being told “oh yeah, if there was metal in them and they were in a side pocket, they were thrown out.”


  2. anadune says:

    Every time I fly United, which is quite often, and a flight is cancelled for no weather related reason it generally turns out to be some mechanical issue such as one of the engines not functioning properly. That said United has been really good to me and gone out of their way to help me get to my destination in a reasonable amount of time.

    The only complaint I have is that United Express can’t communicate with United at all and they are the reason I have my one complaint against the company. I was going to Narita from Oregon and had to go to SFO, which was cancelled due to fog, so instead I went from SFO to JFK (which when given my ticket I was told I was going to O’Hare) and then I went on to Narita. At any rate I got the extra miles for free and I was only about a half a day late.

    • Anonymous says:

      Along with the reason above, most airlines overbook their flights due to the amount of cancellations they receive (on average). So every once in awhile the airline has to cancel flights for people because there is not enough space. I agree that airlines shouldn’t be able to do this and cause hell for it’s passengers, but I’m assuming the negativity it receives from the canceled passengers is outweighed by the benefit of full flights.

  3. I feel really bad for you, but I think the majority of the problem came from the TSA…which being a governmental agency is as corrupt and bureaucratic as you can get…so your complaints will likely fall on deaf ears. I think you’ll have better luck contacting the Chicago Aviation Department or other O’Hare officials…Then again…it is Chicago, so unless you are a friend of Daley, you probably won’t get a response.

  4. CatMoran says:

    The TSA will always be incompetent and slow, so it’s alright to yell at them.

    Don’t press your luck.

    Would you rather spend the first day of your vacation sitting at home, or trying to convince the feds that a TSA employee was just feeling vindictive and they should really let you go?

  5. Ben Popken says:

    David writes:

    “Delta’s customer service manager is a guy named Lee Macenzak and his email

  6. matto says:

    From what I can tell, Delta went out of their way to help- what did they do wrong? Not delay the entire plane?

  7. billhelm says:

    sucks. flights get cancelled all the time for no apparent reason, usually because of an apparent reason elsewhere that bucks the chain.

    suprising that they couldn’t print out a new boarding pass also..

  8. Ben Popken says:

    Jon writes:

    “A good way to know that you are going to need extra time in secutiry is getting your ticket issued on the day of travel. See that SSSS printed in the lower right of your ticket? Settle in for the big secondary screening. Also, its hard to imagine that United canceled your flight out of spite – its much more expensive for them to buy you a ticket on Delta then it is for them to stick you on their plane. Cancellation on a clear day is nearly always a result of mechnical failure – personally I’d much rather fly an airline that is willing to cancel a flight on high traffic day then to put an unairworthy plane into service…”

  9. SecureLocation says:

    You can’t yell at them (I’ve tried, it’s a mistake) but so many of these TSA people were obviously not the first picked for the softball team and are still getting even with the world. Talk about self-important and dumb (a bad combo anywhere). Like a terrorist is going to try a shoe bomb today or carry explosives is his Le SportSac.

  10. Steve B says:

    Don’t yell at a TSA person, don’t question them, don’t speak to them unless they ask you something, don’t do anything but smile and nod. They will threaten you with detention and – i presume – indeed detain you if you persist. They have complete control over your immediate future and they absolutely know it.