Leslie Cook

Why United Airlines Sucks

In Bad Travel on October 26, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Over the weekend, Norm and I took a quick trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming to visit his parents. What we thought would be a relatively short flight turned out to be a 2 day ordeal all caused by what I see as the lack of customer service of one of the country’s largest airlines.

In the old days, we use to fly the friendly skies of United. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for United, probably because I worked there for 7 ½ years. When I worked for the airline, customer service was a priority. Every employee went though customer service training and weekly refresher classes to remind us who was in charge, the customer. If the airline still does this, it’s wasn’t in evidence on Friday. Maybe United is now relying far too much on electronic media. Maybe they can’t afford to hire the personnel they need to take care of their customers the way they use to. I’m not sure where the company went astray, but astray they have gone.

Let me start from the beginning. Friday morning Norm and I got up bright and early to make an 8:50am flight to Denver. Everything went fine. We got though security without incident and, because it was such a short trip, we packed light, with carry-on bags rather than checked luggage. This turned out to be a very smart move given the way the day would eventually turn out. Our plane boarded on time and, although someone took our overhead space before we got to our seats, we settled in without much incident. About 10 minutes into our flight, the pilot, Captain Bob, made an announcement informing us that we would be returning to Los Angeles because of a mechanical problem with the plane. Thankfully we made it back to the airport in one piece. It took about an hour to return and we were back in the airport by 10am. Prior to getting off of the flight, there seemed to be some confusion with the flight attendants as to what we were doing. Do we stay on the plane or leave, taking our bags with us? After several very confusing announcements, a ground manager came on the speaker and told us all to leave the plane, take all of our stuff with us and wait in the lobby of the airport for further instruction. We were also told that it would take about an hour to determine what was going on.

Norm and I of course waited in the lobby. I did notice that the gate from which we departed went blank after announcing that our flight was delayed. Around 11:30, new information about a future flight was posted at that gate. At noon, we heard an announcement for a flight to Denver and hadn’t heard anything from the flight crew or airport personnel about our delayed flight. At this point we were getting a bit nervous, so I headed over to the
“Denver” gate to see if anyone there knew anything. I stood in line for 45 minutes waiting for the staff to sort out all of the “standby” customers (most of who were from our 8:50 flight to Denver). In that time, the flight took off without most of the stranded passengers and we were informed that our names would be rolled over to the next flight to Denver. Rolled over? When did they announce that our names would be placed on standby? When I finally got to the counter, I was informed by the Gate personnel that they didn’t have time to talk to me, that they were late for their next flight and that I would have to work everything out at their “Customer Service” desk. They then walked away without informing me where the Customer Service desk was located. Yes, I was fuming at this point. It was 1pm and we had no idea how we were going to get to Denver, let alone Cheyenne. Luckily, one of the passengers pointed us in the right direction and we headed off to Customer Service to try and figure out what was going on.

Once at the Customer Service desk, we were met by a very cheery man who informed us that he couldn’t really help us but that we could either pick up a phone and talk to their phone agents or stand in a line 20 deep and wait to talk to someone in person. We opted for an in-person conversation, mostly because I wanted to yell at someone in person. Of course, while standing in line, all but two of the Customer Service Agents went to lunch, and one of the “live” agents suggested that we’d get faster service by giving their phone agents a call. Luckily there were two of us there, and since we weren’t doing anything else, I hopped out of line and picked up a phone. After explaining our situation to the phone agent he informed me that I’d have to talk to an agent in person, that he couldn’t help me. So much for the phone being faster.

Eventually, we made it to a live agent, who informed us that we could probably get to Denver that night but wouldn’t be able to make the connecting flight to Cheyenne. Happily, they did offer us a hotel room in Denver and food vouchers for dinner that night. The agent then proceeded to get us on the 6pm flight to Denver and told us to see the Customer Service agent in Denver for our vouchers and hotel. 4 hours later, we were on our way to Denver in Coach Plus seats (which provided a little extra leg room). At 9:50 that night, after once again searching for the Customer Service desk in Denver (the one near our flight was closed, but luckily, there was an open desk in the middle of the airport), we were provided with our hotel and vouchers and pointed in the direction of the hotel shuttle.

Yes, they did give us a hotel and food. Yes they upgraded our seats. Yes, they turned a 2 hour flight into a 36 hour ordeal. I will be forever grateful to Captain Bob and his staff for bringing us home safely. I will never forgive the staff at United Airlines LAX for their lack of communication and customer service.

We did finally make it to Cheyenne and had a wonderful time with Malcolm and Phyllis, Norm’s parents. But a day of our lives that we could have spent with family was taken from us and we’ll never get it back. And this is why United Airlines sucks.

My suggestions for UAL?

  • Don’t rely on electronics to update your customers. We don’t all have access to our computers or our cell phones when we’re stuck in the airport. Yes, they did leave a message on my phone telling me that our flight was finally cancelled and that I was should contact customer service for further information, basically leaving us high and dry.
  • If you have a cancelled or delayed flight (which I’m sure they have all the time), please, please, please have a human available to inform the passengers on that flight of what is going on and please provide a unified message about what to do. Please have one person available where the flight deplaned to point all of us puzzled passengers in the right direction. Don’t leave us to struggle on our own. For all I know, there are people from our flight still waiting in the airport for the cancelled flight to board.
  • Make sure that the replacement reservations you make to correct your errors are correct. We were delayed at the Great Lakes Airline counter for 30 minutes the next day because the United Airlines Customer Service agent didn’t make our connecting flight reservations correctly.
  • Return to the customer service that you have obviously abandoned. Your customers will appreciate you more and will be life long customers. As it is, you’ve lost at least two customers because of your callous disregard for service.
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