A Quiet Protest

Saturday, 12 December 2009

If you're a regular reader of my blog or my retired blog www.blondacrossthepond.com then you know one of my favorite topics to blog about and therefore complain about is air travel.  There's no other service or product that we pay so much money for and get such a horrid return on.  And really what's up with the lack of customer service?  My troubles go something like this:

My friend checks my flight for me at work last night and finds out it is delayed 50 minutes because of a crew change.  He determines the delay will cause me to miss my connection in San Fran and put me into Columbus at 9:26 p.m.  Plenty of time to miss the "Christmas" dinner my mother and grandmother are lovingly preparing because I have to work on Christmas.   Nooooo!

Note:  I didn't get an update from the airline.  We were being proactive in the situation.

My friend calls reservations and tries for 25 minutes to get me on the United flight through Denver so I won't miss Christmas.  NO - because the only seats they have left on that flight are first class.  So?  The agent suggests I go out to the airport to talk with a United agent and see what they can do.

After work, driving 30 mph on icy roads, I make my tender way to the Eugene Airport. After I slide into the median trying to get into short-term parking, I'm really feeling sorry for myself.  At the United ticket desk, there are no agents and the lights are off.  I pick up the courtesy phone and after hearing my story and checking my reservation the man actually tells me to go to the airport to speak with an agent.

"Sir, I am at the airport.  There are no agents here."
"Oh, that's because the ticket desk is closed."
"But didn't you just tell me to go to the airport?"
"Yes, but you need to go during opening hours, at 8am."
"My flight leaves at 6am."
"Let me see what I can do."

He comes back on the line 12 minutes later and says, "I can get you on the 6am San Fran flight which will get you to Columbus by 5:34 p.m.!"
"I'm in Oregon, not California."
"There's nothing I can do."
"But this isn't a weather delay, this is a crew change and not my fault!"  I try not to raise my voice and hang up.

After sleeping for an hour and a half, I get to the airport (again) around 5am.  I go through security because the line at the ticket desk is out the door and approach a United desk.  I'm not even close to the agent, just hanging back smiling (hopeful I might be able to get to my destination at the time my reservations say I will) when he yells without looking up, "I'M NOT TAKING ANY QUESTIONS FOR ANOTHER FIVE MINUTES!!  EVERYONE NEEDS TO SIT DOWN!"  Holy Hanna.  This man was not to be messed with.  After five minutes, I quietly asked from a safe distance, "Excuse me, is there any room on the Denver flight?"  Again, not even looking up, "NO, NO ROOM!"

Absolutely heartbroken, I shrug over to a seat.  I will miss Christmas dinner and even though I paid $500 for a flight and more to check a bag, United does not care and has no accountability.  When I made it to San Fran, I waited in line to see if I could get a window seat.  Again, the United agent wouldn't acknowledge me at the desk.  Why?!  He called up 8 stand-by passengers and when I finally asked for a window seat he said NOPE without checking the computer.  The REALLY bad part of this?  When I got on the plane, there was no room left for my carry on so the agent checked it through.  I'm in Chicago with a magazine, my laptop, wallet, make-up bag, phone, laptop cord all just piled around me - with no bag.

I'm really thinking about permanently altering my mode of travel.  Maybe trains, cars and ships are the way to go when possible.  How else can we quietly protest the practices of the airline industry?  Had I wanted to get into Columbus late on Saturday night, I would've purchased the much cheaper ticket.  But because United needed to do a crew change without planning ahead, I miss Christmas dinner with my family and get no compensation for my time, trouble or money.  I can't even get a window seat or carry on a bag when I've already paid to check another one!  Who conducts business like that and expects to succeed?

So what's fair?  Air travelers should be able to reserve a reservation with a credit card and then pay once they arrive at their destination.  If there are problems because of the airline, travelers should pay accordingly.

Are you flying for the holidays?


Monique/Velvetdrums said...

Hello Denae,

Sorry to hear about your experience this morning. I experienced a similar United fiasco this morning. That United Guy who was "tweaking" or on a ton of coffee was completely unprofessional and out of control. I am glad you got the window to sleep. What a small world. I hope you are home enjoying family and you made it to your destination safe.

Happy Holidays,
Monique/aka Velvetdrums

LizP said...

Sounds like the beginnings of a great story :-)

You would think, given the economy, that the airlines would treat their passengers like gold.

Ted Stryk said...

MK and I have had so many experiences like that. The worst was our 2007 Mediterranean Cruise. MK's luggage got mislabled at the ticketing desk with another person's tag. The lazy U.S. Air attendees refused to change the tag (the bag was sitting right behind them), so it got shipped to another person. The told us we would have to deal with it when we got to Venice. As a result, it was day 5 of a 7 day cruise when she got her baggage (and I spend, collectively, about 12 hours of our cruise on the phone with them). The only silver lining is that after six rounds of letter writing after the fact, I got a refund for our flights. Other trips have, among other things, prevented me from touring Oxford with my grandfather (who actually went there - it was the last year he was healthy enough to take me), not to mention countless family events. Many of the airlines were nearly out of business, including U.S. Air and United, but, time after time, they convince the rodents we call our Congress that if they go under, air traffic will no longer exist (yeah right - given the demand and the fact that the planes are already out there, yeah right). Every time they get bailed out. Therefore, they have no incentive to pretend to be human.
My suggestion is that if you have complaint, send it via snail mail, and when it gets rejected, write back again and again. They take real letters much more seriously than e-mails and phone calls, because they figure that if someone will go to the trouble to write a detailed, non-vitriolic, original letter (not a form letter), they are someone who is serious and might sue.

Nikhil Inamdar said...


Happened to go through your blog because I met up with everybody from the MAJI batch in London yesterday (Lucy, Matan etc) and thought I'd atleast update myself on others through the web...

I loved the vivid picture you created of the frenzy and mess on the airport...such seamless writing :-) Wish I could write like that...

Are u coming to London anytime soon? I am here for a year now!


Anonymous said...

Hi Denae,

I must begin by clarifying that I am not a Tiger Woods or golf fan...

Now, much as I respect your feelings and the disillusionment you feel with someone like Tiger Woods - do you really feel he ought to go through public scrutiny of such magnitude? We are all entitled to our vices, mistakes and goof ups...but is it really fair to sit on judgement and say the person is disgusting?

He might genuinely have a problem with monogomy - and like many addicts can't get over alcoholism or drugs, he can't seem to get rid of his fetish for new women every day...IT IS A DISEASE, not a CRIME.

For all you know...all this uncalled for anger and uproar the media has created might just shatter the already unstable man and force him to do something he ought not to...(he's already taken an indefinate break from golf, a sad thing for many fans)...

Worse is the fact that you link his so called crimes to the money and millions he has...do you know research shows prostitution & infidelity are more rampant among the really poor and homeless?

I completely sympathise with his wife Elin - but this attention is not doing her any good as well...she is in the limelight for a crime she did not commit!

I suggest we all remain balanced about something like this and not get carried away by our emotions. The human mind and existance is very complex and you can't club behaviour into good or bad, black or white...

Live, let live & learn from something like this instead of coming to a conclusion about someone's character!

Sorry if this sounds harsh...but nothing personal, just a comment on the overall frenzy.

Do replY!

Anonymous said...

I asked a relative in "the biz" what he would do: "Oh Lord, I'd be livid. That poor girl. I think I would have called reservations from home, asked for a supervisor, and taken it from there. If they hadn't rescheduled me, I think I'd have bagged the whole thing, then contacted an exec at customer svc for a refund." Maybe his advice will help next time. You've done better getting to the UK!

Denae said...

Thanks all for leaving a comment. Air travel certainly is a hot topic right now. I don't have the answers but WOW something needs to be done!

Ted - snail mail is a great idea on this one. I've tried that before and Delta gave me a voucher for 20 bucks. No kidding.

Nikhil- what a pleasant surprise to have you visit my blog. Were you in London!? Wow hate that I missed you. How's things?

LizP - eeks. You make a good point. I don't expect the moon as a customer but at least kindness.

Anon- I could've bagged the trip but I really wanted to see my family. Thus, the demand for flights this time of year!

Monique - hope to get a chance to meet you at a tweetup. Thank you thank you for letting me have the window to San Fran! Small, small world.

Cathryn Stephens said...

Hi Denae... Sorry for your trouble! I have forwarded you blog entry on to the United station manager at EUG. While your flight was apparently delayed due to a crew change, winter weather events are stressful on everyone at the airport: the airport personnel, the airline employees, and the passengers. Still, there is no excuse for poor customer service. We work with our airline partners on a regular basis to encourage good interactions with our passengers no matter what the situation may be. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have trouble again and thanks for flying EUG!
Cathryn Stephens
Director of Marketing & Public Relations, Eugene Airport

Ted Stryk said...

On the U.S. Air experience, they tried the $20 trick after the second letter (and $50 after round 4). It was on round 6 of letters that I got a refund.

Chris F. said...

I've heard horror stories about air travel over the years. What seems to be the problem? Or the airlines just hiring people who have no pride in their work, bad management overall or a combination of problems? I guess I will stick to my original plan to cross the country by automobile next summer after all.

I think we need to bring back the railroads or some other forms of transportation.

Denae said...

Thank you so much for the comment! I ADORE the Eugene airport and almost never drive all the way to Portland. I'll contact United if I have problems on the way home. D

Anonymous said...

Hi Denae,

Perhaps you should run a news story about United's poor customer service. That doesn't always work since Craig Ferguson of The Late Late show ripped Continental Airlines a few nights ago (his 999th show monologue I think) and no news stories were written about it (according to a news search on google anyways), but it's a thought since you have access to the news cameras and firsthand knowledge of the story.

I know....Use your creative brainpower with your coworkers to produce a video on YouTube that is catchy and goes viral...like the response from United that guy got with the "United Breaks Guitars" video.

And there is also the website: http://untied.com/

And yeah, I know exactly what you mean about flying out of EUG vs PDX.

Keep your chin up, flying these days (esp. during the holidays) is stressful (though I suppose being approached by druggies under the influence while doing news reports is too), and we want to see smiling Denae when you get back.

Happy Holidays
J Smith