Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I may (or may not) be home for the holidays

Unless United leaves without me...which they did.

edit: This is the actual letter I sent

Given the horror stories from this holiday travel season, I should be thankful that I only ended up 100 miles south of my destination 6 hours later than scheduled. That said, I recount to you my experience taking a direct United/Mesa Air flight on 12/23 from IAD to MYR to complain about two specific problems:

(1) United's reduction in staffing levels, and the effect on passengers like myself, and
(2) How the outsourcing of your customer service line to India can only complicate the experience when someone has a problem.

A synopsis on my trip:

* Used United self-checkin at 10:30am, flight is 1hr05min late. Proceed to security line.

* The sullen TSA sub-contractor tells me my suitcase is too large to check on skyway (false), and makes me get out of line and check it at the United counter.

* The sullen United sub-contractor _points_ ("I already checked in but I need to check my bag..." <> -- no words) me to the bag check in line. Wait, scan, tag. Now get in the line to drop your bag. Wait, drop, back in security line.

* I was in my concourse by 11:30am. I called United's flight information number (An IVR that hears more background noise than words, and claims to have "Up to the minute flight information") tells me I'm delayed until 1:55pm, then 2:00pm, then 2:05pm, then 2:20pm.

* Around 2:00pm, I watched our plane arrive and all the passengers get off. People continue to ask the gate agent when we're leaving, which they don't answer but they will update us "soon". I overhear that they're short (2) flight attendants, then only (1), so we can't take off. Finally around 2:35pm they tell us we're delayed an hour until they have a full crew. I call the 800 information line, it says we're delayed until 3:30pm, and the monitors all agree.

* Frustrated, I walk away. I wandered over to news stand (across from the next gate over), but stayed in the immediate area. Finally, I walk back over to the gate and my plane is gone, no employees to be found, no page looking for me.

* I get into United's customer service line (which is long), and call the 800 number for ticketing. I get a representative on the phone at 3:10pm who is obviously in India, and tell him what happened. He doesn't quite understand and asks, "Can you not get to the gate in 20 minutes for your flight?" Even his computer says we shouldn't have left yet. That's the only flight to my destination until the next day, which doesn't help since I'm only there for 2 days. He offers to get me there if I can connect through Chicago, but the flight to Chicago is already 2 hours delayed, so I don't want to chance getting stuck (1) away from home, and (2) further from my destination than I started. He offers to refund my ticket, which won't help me because my car and house keys are <>, and now on their way to my destination. He puts me on hold to see what else he can do for me, and I get disconnected.

* Since my parents are picking me up, I call to tell them what happened. They are already at the airport, and my mother is going to talk to a United agent there while I stand in line at United's customer service <> call customer service back. She suggests I try to get a flight to Charleston since there are no other flights to Myrtle Beach that day.

* I call customer service back, and tell another Indian gentleman my tale. He laughs, and tells me my ticket was refunded by the first agent. He can book me a new flight, but both flights to airport CHA (5:00pm delayed until 5:40pm and 10:00pm) are oversold. Since I'm <> the airport, he tells me I have a better chance of making this work: their system locks them out of seat reservations several hours before takeoff.

* I walk over to the gate agent for CHS/5:00pm/5:40pm who tells me the plane holds 50, they have 54 booked, but only 44 are checked in. He can't do anything because my ticket was refunded, but if I can get it reopened then he can put me to the top of the wait list.

* I return to the endless customer service line line and call my mother with an update. The United agent she's working with tells her that she cannot do anything with my old ticket: the agent in India who refunded it needs to reopen it. I get back on the phone to customer service, which is unreachable because more flights have been cancelled. My mother calls back while I'm still in queue(s): her United agent has created a new ticket for me, and to run over and have the gate agent get me on the wait list. In my three stays in the customer service line at Dulles, I never made it within 20 people of the front.

* I run to the gate, and the agent is able to actually issue me a ticket and a seat number. I should have arrived at 2:00pm, instead I land at 8:30pm in an airport 100 miles south.

My flight home yesterday did land 30 minutes early, which is a small miracle. but United remains at the top of my shit list. Also, their fucking alert system doesn't work:


SP said...

See, this is what happens when you only fly a couple times a year. I fly every week and I never have nightmare stories like yours. Except for this summer when it was so hot and we had to sit on the plane with no AC, and an overheated Yorkshire terrier threw up in the aisle. :)

thecardaddy said...

brilliant. perhaps united and mercedes-benz should merge. their customer service is about as helpful as united when you're stranded.