United Airlines Very Mean To Homeless Girl With Cat

United Airlines is a big meanypants, but we have to wonder, why didn’t she just pay the cat fee in advance?

That would’ve avoided the abusive and vituperative ticket agent, one who was determined to prevent the notorious “kittykat fee scam….”

This is the letter Dan wrote to United:

    “Hopefully, at least one of these e-mail addresses will receive this complaint; I’ll also enter it on your apparently only sometimes-functioning complain form at United.com.

    A friend of mine recently hit hard times here in New York City, and found herself staying on my couch for a week just before the holiday seasons. She was homeless, had no money, and was distraught with her New York experience. Her former employer in Seattle, WA offered to fly her home for the holidays, provide her with a job and a home, and basically allow her to regroup.

    He bought a ticket for her on United, to fly out at 8 am on Saturday December 16th, from New York’s LaGuardia airport. She was to be flying with her cat, and during the course of the week we spoke to Reservations repeatedly about getting the cat (in a carrier) onto the plane.

    We received many various statements from your call centers, and piecing it together we finally figured out that there was another pet booked to be in the cabin, so my friend’s cat would need to be checked. No problem, we said, and the Customer Relations person told us that there would be an additional fee for this. Again, this was no problem — my friend spoke with her former boss in Seattle and he provided her with his Credit Card number to make such arrangements.

    The morning of the flight, my friend attempts to check in at LaGuardia and is again told that she’d need to pay to have the cat checked onto the flight. The woman “assisting” her, Ms. Dani Coleman, was less than helpful. Not only would she not accept the credit card (which is understandable, being as the card was not present) Ms. Coleman told my friend, flat out, that she would not be boarding this plane. I was not present for much of the conversation, but apparently it left my friend quite distraught and Ms. Coleman was quite abusive and unhelpful.

    While this was going on, I was at home with my roommate. My roommate was on the phone trying to help my friend at the airport out, and I was on the phone with your Customer Relations. I offered to provide my credit card number to pay for the cat check-in, or my banking account information. Anything to allow my poor — and now, in tears — friend get onto the plane and home.

    The representative I spoke to was also less than helpful. He told me that the *only* way that payment could be made would be at the airport itself. When I asked to speak to his supervisor, I was told that his supervisor “does not speak on the phone” and that he, the person we received when we first called, was the highest level person I would be allowed to speak with.

    After the multiple calls we’d made that week, dealing with your CSRs, it was the last straw.

    At something around 6:30 in the morning, tired from being up all night, I hopped in a taxi and went to LaGuardia, spending a quite unexpected $40. I paid the $100 fee for the cat, in cash so that my friend could board her plane.

    Once assured that she was boarding, I asked the only helpful United employee I’ve ever dealt with — a Ms. Lei Leinda (not sure on the spelling there) to please provide me with the name of the woman that had been abusive to my friend, as well as her own name. Ms. Dani Coleman overheard this request, and initially refused saying “He don’t need my name, she already has it” and followed with “Whatever, she ‘claims’ her boss is buying the ticket but is in Seattle, and then all of a sudden you appear out of nowhere to pay us.”

    Fortunately, Ms. Leinda was helpful enough to write down Ms. Coleman’s name.

    I’ve worked in Customer Service, and I’ve been a consumer. I know how tough it can be to be helpful sometimes. But in a case like this, it was not one unfortunate CSR but a series of events that caused both emotional and financial duress on both my friend, her cat, her boss, and me.

    I simply wanted to know that the commitment to customer service you speak of, the plan for improving customer relations and dedicating yourself to your customers, appears to be failing. Never have I had such a miserable experience before with an airline — and I wasn’t even a passenger! You can rest assured that this will remain the case.

    Thank you for such a wonderful holiday experience.”

If the card was good enough for the ticket purchase, why wasn’t it good enough for the cat fee? Why did she have to pay the cat fee at the gate?

United should apologize, and refund the cat fee and cab fare.

Incidentally, Dan’s forward of this email to United President Glen Tilton and Head of Customer Service Pamela Coslet bounced. — BEN POPKEN


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  1. MonsieurBon says:

    Hey, I had to plead and beg the United guy to let me check in for a flight back to Chicago for my dad’s funeral. This was before 9/11, mind you, but the guy still wanted to see the credit card I had purchased the ticket with a day before. I didn’t have it, and so he said he couldn’t help me. He eventually let me on, though.

  2. synergy says:

    Perhaps the ticket was pre-paid? If so, then I can understand how making additions to the card would require authorization from the owner. It was stupid to be suspicious when a friend shows up to help out when obviously the girl has no money, the card number she has won’t be taken, and she needs money to come from SOMEWHERE.

  3. I cant resist…

    United Airlines Dick to Transient Girl’s Pussy.

  4. denki says:

    Holden Caulfield with the checkmate.

  5. MeOhMy says:

    Often the gate and check-in agents don’t even have a CC terminal and can only take cash, and it’s absurd to expect them to take a CC number without any real way to verify it’s not being used fraudulently.

    The real issue shouldn’t be the policies or technical limitations behind requiring the fee paid in cash, but whether she really was treated poorly by the agents, and of that part all we really have is a thirdhand account that was not present for the actual exchange. But if her reaction to him asking her name is any indication, she probably did a crappy job and damn well knows it.

  6. Ben,

    “Why did she have to pay the cat fee at the gate?”

    I could never get a satisfactory answer from any airline, but they’ve always made me pay the cat fee at the airport. You can’t do it in advance. And there were limited forms of payment they accept (although I don’t recall them since I haven’t flown with my cat in three years).

    They also make you take your cat out of the carrier and carry him through the metal detector, rather than, say, hand searching him. This is fine (although a cat in a busy airport NOT restrained (you can’t leash them through the metal detector because of the metal in the leash) is a REALLY BAD IDEA), but they don’t tell you in advance. So if you fly with your cat on board, go to the last metal detector, usually the one where they help handicapped people, explain to the security people that you’d like your cat’s carrier to go through as fast as possible, and WAIT to take the cat out until they are ready to zip the carrier through. (And for God’s sake, don’t wear metal or you’re getting wanded with a freaking-out, squirming cat trying to escape into O’Hare International Airport.)

    While I appreciate being able to fly with my cat in the cabin (my husband and I were living in different states at the time and we were in the middle of a complicated three-point move), because being checked as cargo in the hold is NOT good for animals and the cabin is MUCH safer, the policies surrounding the whole thing were bizarre. For example, they make no allowances or accommodations for someone allergic to dogs or cats if they get stuck next to a pet on the plane. The paying-at-check-in and the security procedures were just bizarre and arcane and poorly-thought-out.

    My cat does love flying, though.

  7. acambras says:

    See, Eyebrows, I had a totally different experience from yours.

    In late 2003, I was in the middle of a move, flying AirTran from New Orleans to NYC. I wanted to get my cat a spot in the cabin so I researched each airline’s pet carry-on fee/policy and factored that into the cost of a ticket. AirTran had the lowest pet fee ($50) and let me put that on my credit card at the time that I bought the ticket. They did have to make sure that they hadn’t already reached their limit of carry-on pets, and fortunately, they hadn’t.

    The vet gave me some tranquilizers that I mashed up and mixed with milk. I gave the cat a shot of the happy juice before leaving for the airport. I had to take my cat out of the carrier to go through the metal detector, but she was passed out and limp, so it was easy. I’m sure people wondered why a lady was carrying a dead cat through airport security.

    It is odd that airlines make no allowances for passengers’ allergies. Out of courtesy, I asked the people around me if they were allergic, and when it turned out that my seatmate was, the flight attendants and other passengers were very nice about doing a little seat-switching.

    The cat didn’t make a sound during the flight — many people didn’t know there was a pet in the cabin. A couple of times I peeked inside the carrier to make sure she wasn’t dead.

    Funny that for the last leg of my trip (NYC to Connecticut), I had to rent a car because I was told by Amtrak, Metro North, and all of the airport limo services that pets (even in carriers) were not allowed.

  8. “The vet gave me some tranquilizers that I mashed up and mixed with milk. I gave the cat a shot of the happy juice before leaving for the airport.”

    Ah, my cat was not tranqed. My vets both recommended against it unless absolutely necessary, and my fella likes to travel, so I didn’t think it was necessary. Turned out to like the airplane just fine … just not being out of his carrier in the middle of a busy airport to go through security!

  9. acambras says:

    You’re lucky, Eyebrows. My cat can’t even ride in the car without freaking out. Once when I tried to put her in her carrier, she peed on me.

    Cat tranquilizers — good stuff.

  10. x23 says:

    they let cats ride in the passenger area of planes? with the cabin air being recycled and pushed all around? really? yet they stopped handing out peanuts?

    time to start smoking on planes again then.

  11. Helvetian says:

    @x23: I have been on flights with cats before, they don’t bother. Infact on a Delta flight, the girl behind me had two puppies. They managed well on the five hour flight.