Thursday, July 25, 2013

United Airlines Sucks



OK, everyone.  It's been one month since I have experienced the most horrific and unacceptable experience with flying and customer service that I ever have in my whole life.  And I have flown a lot.  It all has to do with my still unresolved problem with United Airlines and the lack of any sort of care, decent customer service or retribution from them in the aftermath.  I don't believe in bitching for the sake of bitching, unless it's about how California is broke, so I wrote United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek a letter detailing my experience.  The following is true. Enjoy:

July 25, 2013

Dear Mr. Smisek,

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.  As the Chief Operating Officer of the world's largest airline I think there is something you should know.  It's in regards to my recent, and last trip ever, on a United Airlines carrier.  Dealing with the number of people that fly your service everyday there are bound to be imminent complaints, problems, delays etc.  That's just business.  However, I believe my most recent experience was so bad with United Airlines that it warrants a letter to you personally. If I were the CEO I would want to know about it immediately to ensure it would never happen again.  You may find this shocking and sad, but it's all true.  And you need to listen to me.

I live in Los Angeles, California and recently purchased tickets from LAX to Newark Liberty for July 2, 2013 and returning home on July 6th.  The tickets were a bit high but I'm used to paying astronomical prices for domestic flights on any carrier, not just United, but all airlines.  I used to fly to London each month cheaper than a ticket is to fly to Philadelphia, but that's ancient history.  So no harm there; after all, it was to see the family for vacation so I'll do it.  I received some heartbreaking news on June 24th: my grandfather, Joseph Clark Jr., passed away at 92 years old.  I was heartbroken as I truly loved this man and needed to get to my hometown in Pennsylvania for the funeral immediately.  This was Monday, June 24th and the funeral would be held on Thursday, June 27th.  I left work immediately and headed home.  Very upset and having a hard time with this information I still needed to make arrangements to go back.  

I called United Airlines customer service to exchange the tickets I already held to get new ones right away.  Now, I was not looking for anything free but I was looking for someone to help me in a professional and efficient manner so I could make this exchange and make it on time to the funeral.  That was clearly asking too much.

The first representative I spoke to told me it would be $602 per person/totaling $1,204 all together to swap the tickets.  Whoa!  Really?  That must be a mistake.  I asked her to verify the information and also reiterated the fact that I was already in possession of two United Airline round-trip tickets and simply needed to swap the arrival date with another one.  I also mentioned it was for my grandfather's funeral.  She told me the same information; basically there were nominal fees for a cancellation and I'd have to buy all new tickets.  I asked if I could just not show up on the first flight, buy another ticket, and use the returning ticket still.  She told me my return flight would be cancelled if I did this or I'd have to pay a cancellation fee of $150.  Wow, you do not make it easy, do you?

I asked her if she could help me out because I was flying back rather quickly for a funeral.  She told me, and this is all true, that if I could show "proof of the death," I could get a 5% discount.  A 5% discount?  Proof of the death?  Am I lying?  Am I trying to get a free flight?  Why is this happening and what person in their right mind would ask this?  My grandfather was a World War II veteran who proudly served his country.  Is this how United Airlines treats veterans?  Proof of death?  Come on, you're better than that. I hung up the phone and called back, hoping to get a different representative this time.  Preferably one with a soul and a touch of human compassion.

The second representative was friendlier but told me the exact same information: $1,204 to swap out.  At this point I'm getting pretty upset and explained it was for my grandfather's funeral.  I begged her to help me and told her I am not looking for a free flight, I am just looking to not have to pay $1,204 to bury my grandfather.  She said she was sorry and started to read off of a script about Avis car rates and inquired if I needed to rent a car.  I hung up the phone immediately.  Third time the charm?  Oh, I don't think so.

So I wanted to give it one more chance, just hoping there was one person that worked at United Airlines that I could speak with that had a heart, or at least lied to me kindly so I felt like they cared.  But that's OK if they don't.  United is not a therapy session or support group, it's a business.  They don't need to be compassionate, they should be, but it's not necessary as long as they provide great service and excellent customer support.  Unfortunately I received neither.

OK, moving along, I phoned United Airlines a third time and explained the whole situation again.  I was told the same situation applied.  I didn't particularly have the emotional resources to deal with this all day and I certainly need to get a flight as soon as possible so I said I'd take it.  I gave her my credit card information and was told it didn't work.  "OK" I said, and told the representative I'd call back.

This time it was my fault because I had the wrong credit card number written down.  So I called back a fourth time and got a new person.  This lady's name was Mary and she was pretty kind to me.  She gave me a discount of $100 plus let me apply a small credit to a future flight.  I wish someone told me this before but I suppos a unilateral customer service policy/protocol is asking too much.  Maybe next year.  So I booked the flight and had my reservation.  I thanked Mary again and told her it was for my grandfather's funeral and that I appreciated her help.  Mary told me she wished I had mentioned the funeral before I paid for the tickets because she could have...wait for it...given me a huge discount.  Wow.  I told her politely that my grandfather was still passed away and she could still do that.  No, no.  No, no.  Once the tickets were booked a discount could not be applied.  That's probably true, but why wouldn't one of the first three representatives mention this?  Why did they ask to see proof of the death and  5% discount?  If I were the CEO I'd want to order an evaluation of all customer service policies and procedures.  But that's just me.

I had my tickets and took my girlfriend to LAX on Wednesday to fly out on a 1:00 PM flight to Houston, which connected us to Philadelphia.  Now here is where things started to take a turn for the worst.  

As my girlfriend and I made our way to ticket counter I started to print my boarding pass and placed our luggage on the weighing machine.  My bag was 33 lbs and my girlfriend's bag, with all of those hair thing-a-ma-jigs and products, was 55 lbs.  Clearly overweight, our fault.  But thankfully that's a pretty easy thing to switch.  It's just a matter or removing 5 lbs or more from bag B and switching them over to bag A.  This is just another example of how math is a part of our every day lives.  HOWEVER, you would have thought that I stole that ticket counter associate's baby with the way she carried on.  Here's an excerpt from that rude exchange:

United Airlines Associate: This is Fifty-five pounds!  That's five pounds overweight!

Me: Oh, I see.  I'm sorry.  Let me swap out some of her items and put them into my bag seeing I have a lot of space.

United Airlines Associate: You better!  Or you'll be paying two-hundred dollars!

*note to reader: the exclamation points are not for effect, she was really yelling at me*

Me: OK, no problem.  Let me swap it out.

United Airlines Associate: How much did you pay!?  $25 a bag, right?

Me: Yes.  

United Airlines Associate: Then you'd have to pay $200!  That's $125 more!

I didn't want to point out that her math was horribly wrong, but judging by her grammatical skills and the overall attitude of United Airlines employees, I don't think screening qualified and intelligent candidates are part of your hiring criteria.  

Now I'm a very patient person, and very kind in most cases.  People respond to kindness, work better in positive atmospheres, and should always be kind to customers, even if they are wrong many times.  At this point I just wanted to get to Pennsylvania so I apologized to her and started moving items from my girlfriend's suitcase to my own.  This was a problem.

United Airlines Associate: You can't do that here!  You need to go back and do it and then return to line!

Why is she screaming at me?  Maybe she had to fly United Airlines somewhere.  That would put anyone in a sour mood.  OK, so I left the line, lightened up the luggage, and returned to that gem of a lady.  She looked at me and told me that I needed to go to counter #8, almost 200 feet away.  Why?  I didn't ask.  I'm upset and I need to get out of here.  My girlfriend and I went to ticket counter #8 and proceeded to wait in line.  After a long wait I got to the counter where a friendly gentleman with a puzzled look told me I needed to go back to the counter I originally went to.  Is this an Abbott and Costello routine?  What's going on here?

OK, so back to the original counter I went to.  A new lady was there and she asked to see my baggage claim ticket for my girlfriend's bag.  I told her I didn't get one because the bag was too heavy and I needed to lighten it up in order for it to make the flight.  She says "Oh, no sir.  You did get a claim ticket."  I repeated myself that I did not and asked her what I had to do.  As she is insisting I received a baggage claim ticket she spots it...in the trash can behind the counter.  So now your incompetent and mildly challenged employee from before threw out a printed baggage claim ticket.  The new person at the counter pulled it out of the trash, handed it to me, and said "Sorry, someone should have given you this."  All set to go.

No harm, no foul, at least I'm on way home to bid farewell to my grandfather.  Or so I thought...

As I am waiting in the security line to be screened before entering the terminal I received an e-mail from United Airlines.  It said that the gate has changed.  OK, so I hopped out of line and entered another one for the appropriate terminal.  Waited some more...waited some more...another e-mail, another terminal change.  Yargh!  Now I am moving lines again for the appropriate terminal.

I finally get through security and make my way to the gate.  A few minutes pass when the United Airlines counter personnel associate gets on the speaker and tells us that the plane will be delayed by twenty minutes because the airplane is being towed in from the runway.  Towed in?  That doesn't sound very safe but commercial airline flying is pretty safe so I don't worry.  I'm more worried about missing my connecting flight because the stopover in Houston only allows an hour and fifteen minutes between flights.

Twenty more minutes pass and the associate gets on the horn again and tells us there is an additional delay because the crew is late.  Hmmm...now I'm pretty worried.  I start tweeting @United and get some pre-written, generic customer service response.  As I look through @United's Twitter feed I see tons of horror stories about how badly your airline has ruined people's travel plans.

After some more time there is, alas, a final delay.  The same associate announces that the plane is being serviced and cleaned and we will be able to board shortly.  This might have been believable except there was one missing component: THERE WAS NO PLANE ON THE RUNWAY!  It was empty.  Maybe it was a Twilight Zone episode?  Maybe invisible?  I don't know, but it certainly was not there.

I'm pretty angry now because I will undoubtedly miss my connecting flight and now @United has blocked me on Twitter.  A few of my friends start retweeing this and now @United has a bit of a PR crisis.  So they follow me on Twitter and start asking how they could make my travel right.  They didn't follow-up with anything though.  Just kept saying generic things like "Sorry about your grandfather, Clark."  My name is Matthew, or Mr. Clark.  I am a customer, not a friend.  Do not refer to me as "Clark."  That's reserved for friends of mine and people that care about their customers.

Finally we board the plane almost an hour after the original departure time and the pilot gets on the speaker and announces something I've never heard before:

Pilot: Sorry for the delay, folks.  The person at the counter made that stuff up.  We were en route from Chicago and were late due to inclement weather.

Mr. Smisek, I have a pretty keen sense of human observation and I knew, whilst sitting in the terminal, that the service desk associate was telling fibs when announcing the delays.  Do yourself a favor and fire her.  She can still have a promising career at the California Department of Motor Vehicles or a telemarketer for a debt collection agency.

Moving along still, and don't worry, it gets worse if you can believe that.  I arrived in Houston and have clearly missed my connecting flight.  Happens all the time, but I am a little worried because I have to make the funeral the next day.

As I left the airplane a smiling United Airlines employee hands me a ticket and says: "You're new return ticket, sir."  I glance down and it's for 9:40 AM the following morning.  I tell him I need to get home today and he directs me to the customer service counter.

I make my way to the customer service counter, and no lie, it's at least sixty-people deep with three employees working the desk.  By the time I made my way to the front of the line, two hours had passed and the line now stretched down the terminal and had at least one-hundred people in it.  People whom missed flights, people crying because they were stuck, people angry that they weren't being helped.  Basically people screwed over by an incompetent airline carrier staffed with employees who couldn't care less.  I should thank you at this point though, because I was able to experience a part of foreign history that I would have never experienced otherwise: I finally knew what it was like to be a poor citizen in 1955 Soviet Union and to wait in a breadline with other miserable people.  Thank you.

In line, my girlfriend called United Airlines customer service and I tried to e-mail them.  I figured it was best to reach out to customer service in as many ways as possible as the two-hour line was not really doing it.  I have to give credit to some of the other passengers in line, whom I've spoken with and learned their plans were messed up as well.  People forced to stay the night in Houston, missed weddings, cancelled plans, business trips ruined, etc.  

Strangers can be really kind sometimes, and one kind woman, who had tickets to Pittsburgh, but was now headed to NYC, came up to me and offered me help and a smile.  I needed that.  The thought of not being able to say goodbye to my grandfather because of this airline was stressful and sad enough.

As everyone is waiting in line a United Airlines employee goes around handing everyone a printed card.  They can see the line is getting rowdy and upset and they want to help.  This happens when people are told they will not make their flight and are forced to stand in line for hours.  On this card are the United Airlines logo, a telephone number and instructions to call for a ticket voucher.  I called the number and received the following recording:

United Airlines Recording: Welcome to United Airlines.  The number you have reached is no longer in service.

You have to be kidding me!  As more people dial this number a wave of sighs, curses, cries and shouts start echoing down the line.  Finally, two hours later, as mentioned, I get to the front of the line.  I explained my situation, and was very angry, sweaty, gross, tired and miserable at this point.

The representative tells me the next flight to Philadelphia was that 9:40 AM flight the following day.  I tell her I need to get back tonight because of the funeral so she can either book me a private jet, or the second option would be to buy me a ticket on another airline.  She smiles sheepishly and says that 'United Airlines prides ourselves in being the only direct carrier from Houston to Philadelphia.'  Oh, I wouldn't be "priding" yourselves in anything. 

Let me just remind you that this is the fault of the airline company.  I am not just some dumb kid who overslept and was looking for a ride; I paid a lot of money for these flights and no one seemed to care.

The lady told me I can't speak to her that way.  OK, fair enough, it's not her fault this happened.  But actually, it is.  It's the fault of your incompetent organization to let many customers' experiences be this bad.  It's the fault of the baggage claim lady who screamed at me for having an overweight bag.  It's the fault of that woman at the terminal who lied three times to us.  It's the fault of your incompetent customer service reps who change their story and your final price/destination is based on how good of a mood they are in.  It is your fault.  

I explained to her everything I just went through, how I need to get home and bury my grandfather, and that no one is helping me.  She looks at me and says "How fast can you run?"  "Excuse me?"  "There's a plane leaving for Newark in two minutes at Gate [something or another].  If you can run you might make it."

This being my only option I ran like 'Rocky' during the training montage, only a lot punier and pretty out of shape.  The terminal was almost a quarter mile away and it took me a lot longer than two minutes to get there.  Clearly I missed this flight to Newark, which isn't even where I was supposed to go at this point.  But thankfully, because of the incompetence of United Airlines, the flight was late!  I had made it!

Breathing a tired sigh of relief I made my way to the counter only to have a woman tell me there isn't any room.  I'm really upset at this point and my girlfriend and I are showing her pictures of my grandfather and I'm begging her to help me.  That moved something in the woman and she put me on standby.  I looked around and saw that the flight is filled with marines in uniform and are in good spirits.  At least it'll be a safe flight.  One kind man overheard my story and gave me two drink tickets and told me he was sorry for my life.  Again, kind strangers are out there.

I was paged to the counter and was told there are seats available and I would make it.  Thank you!  I inquired about my luggage, saying my suit and everything was in there, and asked what I needed to do.  She assured me it would be in Newark.  I didn't believe her so I asked again as I wanted a confirmation my luggage would be there.  She told me it would be.  OK, nothing I can really do.  At least I'm flying back.

The flight was delayed and I finally land in Newark, New Jersey at 3:30 AM.  I still have no car, a two hour drive ahead of me, and a funeral in six hours, but that's OK.  I don't work for United Airlines so I have no problem working hard to get things accomplished.

The pilot gets on the speaker and says something else I've never heard a pilot say: "Sorry, folks.  It looks like nobody's home to let us in.  We placed a phone call and someone will be out shortly to let us off the plane."  There was no one at the gate to operate the walkway to let us in!  An hour goes by, and at this point it's four-thirty in the morning.  Tired, exhausted and really losing adrenaline I make my way to the baggage claim.

Here's a riddle for you:

After the baggage has all been claimed,
one customer is left, but who's to be blamed?
I watched the conveyor belt go round and round,
but guess who's baggage just could not be found!?

Cute, right?  Not when you're the only man standing in an empty baggage claim area in Newark at 4:30 AM with no suit, no car and a funeral to be at in hours...still two a two hour drive.  I walk up to the gentleman and show him my claim ticket and he laughs and says "Your bag's in Philly!"

It is?  Then why am I not in Philly!?  He instructs me to go to another United Airlines customer service desk.  I go to the customer service desk and wait in line.  Yes, there's another line at this ungodly time of night/day and I am in it.  When I get to the front I ask the lady where my bag is and she shrugs her shoulders and says "I don't know!"  "I don't know?"  What is this?  What about "sir?"  What about "I am so sorry, how can I help you?"  What is WRONG with your employees?  I am a customer!  These tickets were expensive!  I am trying to get back and bury my grandfather!  She offered me some toothpaste and toiletries. What the hell is that going to do? What will I do with toothpaste?  Do I have bad breath?  After some tapping on the computer she tells me my bag will arrive in Philadelphia the next morning and they can deliver it to my house.  Why did they tell me it would be in Newark?  I give up.

OK, so I have no suit but at least I'm getting home.  After another hour of trying to find a car rental service I pay a ridiculous amount of money of $200/day (and need to return the car back to Newark that night) and head to Pennsylvania.  Now, Avis is not United Airlines but I find it funny that on one of my original calls to United Airlines they mentioned Avis on deal savings.  Hah.  

I have to wear my brother's suit to the funeral, which looks a bit funny on me, because he's a lot taller than I am.  With an over-sized suit, bloodshot eyes from no sleep and a sad demeanor I looked like a junkie, or a United Airlines customer service rep.  Either way it's a despicable appearance.

Here's the last leg of my miserable experience:

I receive a text from a number I didn't recognize the next day that says "You home?"  Um, who is this?  "Who's this?" I ask.  "It's United Airlines, we have your bags."  I told them to please drop them off and thanked them. Who texts customers like that?  I didn't want to argue with her.  I just want my luggage.

When my bags arrive I thank the girl and tip her $20 for dropping them off.  You tell me what person would do that?  I told you, I'm a very nice person.  So I got my bags, I take them upstairs and proceed to unpack.  And that is when I noticed that my GPS was gone.  Where did it go?  I packed it in a zipped compartment of my suitcase, which now had a brand new slit in it and the item was gone.  United Airlines stole my GPS because they were the only ones in possession of it since I checked the baggage in.

Since then I have called customer service, emailed United Airlines and physically mailed them a letter.  That was one month ago at the time of this letter, and I have not heard back.

I hope you've enjoyed my letter and you'll evaluate your customer service policy.  I know not all United Airlines employees are incompetent, in fact I'm sure you have some very qualified people whom work there.  Unfortunately for me, this was not my experience and I have not seen any.  

This was the worst travel experience of my life and I will never, ever fly United Airlines again.  I will book my tickets on a cargo plane filled with Chinese made toys before I book with United Airlines again.

I refuse to ever fly your carrier again.

I can never get that day returned to me nor have a do-over.  I can only ask for my GPS returned, please.

Still waiting,

Matthew Clark

Update to story: As of 7/30/2014, United Airlines has not returned any of my stolen items to be nor offered a refund.  Several months after the incident they only offered me a $100 voucher to use towards a United Airlines flight.

I would rather shit my pants on my wedding day than ever fly with them again.

2 comments:

  1. HOLY SHIT!!!!!! THIS IS ABSOLUTELY AWFUL! I WILL NEVER FLY UNITED AIRLINES, I THINK I'D RATHER DIE!

    ReplyDelete