By Alex Chasick
Reader Thomas's scheduled travel on United Air on Christmas Eve went pretty much how you'd expect: his flight left four hours early, and his rebooked flight at 4 a.m. was overbooked. The horror, inside.
First, it's important to know that every year for the past 6 years I've flown from New Orleans to Denver to visit my parents for Christmas. The past couple of times we've been using United. This year, same as always, we made our ticket reservations almost 3 months in advance. We scheduled a flight to leave New Orleans for Denver at 6pm on December 24th. We get to the airport at 4:30pm and the adventure begins. The United check in area is abandoned but the self check in terminals are open, I put my debit card into the machine and it brings up my reservation and tells me that my flight left at 2:00pm. I ask an airport employee and he tells me to call United and fishes a ticket with phone numbers from behind the counter.
At this point I call my friend who I had drop me off and get him to park and let me see whats going on. I call the phone number in English I find on the ticket jacket and after navigating through their menu system get in touch with an agent. The agent tells me that they can get me on a flight for 6am today*Christmas*. I tell her I've got my parents coming to pick me up and I don't know how I'm going to get to the airport at 6am, I live about an hour from the airport. She tells me that's all she can do, but I can talk to a supervisor, but he won't be able to do anything either. She puts me on hold for about 5 minutes. My parents call, I can't answer because I'm on hold. She picks up, tells me she's transferring me now, then puts me on hold again. 20 minutes pass, my parents call again twice while I'm on hold. My Friend sends me 2 text messages asking whats going on. I have to hang up to get my friend to come and get me back home and tell my parents not to drive 2 hours to the airport to get me.
On the way back home I call United again. This time I get a man with an Indian accent. He tells me the same thing as the previous person. I ask if they can at least comp my parking so I don't have to foot a $100 parking bill since I'm probably going to have to bring my car to the airport since it would be very inconsiderate to ask someone to bring me to the airport at 4am on Christmas day. He tells me to talk to their customer care people. He can't transfer me, I have to call another phone number. I get a guy with customer care on the phone, another Indian accent, and he tells me that they can offer me a 10% discount on a later flight. Or a $25 credit on a later flight. I tell him this isn't acceptable, I want a parking or a partial refund to cover parking. He tells me no can do, oh and it is company policy that customers should check their flight info 24-48 hours before their flight and they weren't responsible for the fact that I never got a phone call or email that my flight information had been changed. I have found no reference to this anywhere, in fact the ticket sleeve says that reconfirmation of my reservation is not required. I hang up on the guy and call an agent to get my flight changed to 6am. My friend volunteers to take me to the airport while we're heading back home.
If this was all there was then it would be worthy of a post I think, but it gets worse. At 3:45am the next day I'm heading to the airport. We get there, get through security and are at the gate an hour before the flight. Their computer is broken and they only have about half the passengers seated at 6am. United apparently doesn't assign seats until you get to the terminal. They start manually assigning seats at this point. My wife is with me, she's stressed out and has been trying to keep me from getting too angry with the situation. We get called to get a seat about 10 people from the end. I get assigned a seat, 11E. She sees that there are more people than seats and tells me and my wife to stand to the side while she gets some people seated who's names she called while we were waiting and then proceeds to not deal with us and seats another passenger. I specifically heard a customer get assigned a seat 11F AFTER she assigned me 11E. At this point there were 3 people standing there and I was the only one with a seat assignment. She went on the airplane to see if there were extra seats somewhere, wtf?, she came back out and said "you two don't want to be split up, huh?" then gave the third person my seat. I get told nothing for another 20 minutes, we're standing here waiting to see what the hell is going, I'm obviously pissed off but trying very hard not to take it out on the agent. Eventually, 2 more agents come down and ask do we A, want to spend 7 hours by flying to Chicago, then to Colorado. B, want to spend 8 hours flying to Los Angeles then Colorado. or C. sit in the terminal for 7 hours then fly 3 hours to Colorado. My wife has issues with travel so we'd rather not spend 7+ hours onboard a plane. And here we are, sitting in the New Orleans airport for another 6 hours waiting for a plane to come.
Last night I was pissed off most because of the agent on the phone who put me on hold long enough for her call center to change over to India so she wouldn't have to deal with me. Today, I'm most pissed because they woke me up at 4am, out of spite? They did give us a pair of travel vouchers and a free lunch at a restaurant here in the airport, but somehow this doesn't make up for not waking up in Wyoming this morning or the stubborn refusal to do something as simple as cover parking and then telling me this is my responsibility for not checking on my reservation.