United Changes Direct Flight To One With Stopovers, Doesn't Tell Customers, Customer Service Reps Cheer And Clap In Background

UPDATE: Executive Email Carpet Bomb, Consumerist Post, Prompt United To Solve Reader’s Complaint

“In February, my wife and I booked a flight from Philadelphia to Seattle to attend the Penny Arcade Expo, a major gathering of nerds and video game fans. Having traveled extensively on USAir I am aware of their history in Philadelphia and decided to use another carrier. I’ve had good experiences in the past with United (believe it or not) and decided to go with them and paid a little extra with a direct flight. Of course I get a code share flight on USAir. I know it’s not worth fighting and I’m just glad to have a direct flight early enough to get there, so I let it go.

Fast forward a couple of months. I called United out of the blue to check on my flights, and I’m told something about flights changing and connections and an arrival time after 4:00pm, much later than my original arrival time and too late to get to the convention when it opens. At this point communication broke down because I could not understand the customer service agent I was speaking to. He didn’t know how to pronounce the cities and he literally kept saying random city names and I had no idea what he was trying to tell me….”

I’m usually pretty good with accents, so for me to not understand this gentleman is saying something. The situation was made worse by the fact that people kept cheering and clapping in the background for some reason. I asked for a supervisor and was left on hold forever.

I then called back and got a woman this time. Again I could not understand her. I repeatedly asked her to speak more clearly and she proceeded to speak louder and louder, but just as fast. Again I could hear cheering and clapping in the background. I have no idea what was going on in the call center.

I called back a third time and got someone else who I could not understand. At this point I did some digging around and got a corporate number. It was an automated switchboard, but by pushing some random buttons I was connected with another operator at their corporate headquarters. I explained my situation and was told to call back the original consumer affairs number. I explained the language problem and was told in no uncertain terms that it was not the receptionist’s concern.

I then asked for their executive customer service. I was told there is no such thing. I answered, “Of course there is” and was told that the call would be disconnected because I was being “sarcastic.” I tried repeatedly to ask for help and appeal the receptionist’s sense of common decency and was told that she was instructed to never connect a call from a customer to management of any kind. At first she told me she didn’t have a number to connect me to, and then it changed not being allowed to connect anyone to the number she didn’t have. She eventually agreed to connect me to their legal department. I got a voice mail and explained the situation, but I don’t expect a call back from them.

I finally got someone at their consumer affairs department who I could understand and he found a flight that got me in earlier (with connections) but it’s still much later than I had booked in the first place. He also confirmed that they have my contact information on file and doesn’t know why I was never contacted with the changes to my flight.

I feel scammed because I paid more to fly direct and now I’m being forced onto a flight with a connection. I’m also bummed because based on their original flights I was able to fly in the day the convention started with plenty of time to get there before the gates opened, but now I won’t be able to. There are many perks associated with getting there early (30,000 people competing for 4,000 armbands for the concerts at night) that I will be missing out on. Even then, I’m very concerned about making our connection considering there’s only 40 minutes between flights and Philly is a nightmare with delays.

Most of all I am really taken by just how rude their corporate headquarters was. I politely asked for their executive customer service and was given a distinct “nah-nah, I have all the power and you’re helpless” attitude by a receptionist.

I’ve emailed Pamela A. Coslet, Graham Atkinson and Glenn F. Tilton but I don’t expect to hear from them either considering how their receptionist represented the corporation. My flight is the 24th, so it would be great to hear from them before then if they’re going to do anything for me.

I feel I’m owed money or an upgrade since I paid extra for direct flights and got a connection on the way out. What’s my next step? Small claims court? It’s not like I’m looking for something for nothing. I just want the difference refunded or an upgrade.

Next step is to send a letter by certified mail to their headquarters and make your complaint and request in writing, cc’d to the Department of Transportation. If that fails to get results, you could try the Executive Email Carpet Bomb tactic.

Also, for next time, you should know better than to call customer service in the middle of a staff birthday party.

(Photo: akaporn)