Monday, March 12, 2012

United Airlines and the Quest for Common Sense

Oh, we had such high hopes for our weekend in Pittsburgh. Such. High. Hopes.

I want to begin this by saying that Erin's wedding was lovely, and so much fun, and once we were IN Pennsylvania all was good. But the trip out there was...

Well, first, my husband and I had our roommate drop us off at the airport at 4:45am or so. For a 6:45am flight. We didn't check a bag, and we were at one of the smaller airports, so security was a breeze (and I really hope the guard likes the way my nekkid skeleton looks. He did give me a thumbs up, so here's hoping, right?). In fact, we were there before TSA set up the security lines!

We finally get to board our plane at 6:30am. Only 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time. We had a little bit of a buffer, though, and we were still flying United from Chicago to Pittsburgh, so we felt...uneasy yet reassured. However, once we were ON the plane, we just sat on the runway. And sat. And sat. Turns out, we were just one of many waiting to take off. We ended up lifting off around 7:20am, and because of "weather complications" were told we would be arriving about 40 minutes late.

We ended up getting into Chicago an hour late. And yes, we had totally missed our connection. But hallelujah, the United people were going to get us onto the next plane for Pittsburgh! Only on standby. Because, you know, it's not their fault or anything that we were late. And the next flights were full! So an entire plane full of connecting passengers made haste to the customer service desk, where many of us spent the time in line (and boy did we spend some time in line!) on our cell phones with United. While my husband was on hold, the ladies in front of us were able to get through and get their flight reserved. I got through and was told we had two spots waiting for us on the 1:55 flight, but we had to hurry.

We hauled ass through the terminal, where they had just shut the doors. There was nothing they could do, and they suggested that we go back to customer service. Bonus: the lady who gave us two spots on the 1:55 flight removed our names from standby, so we now had no flight at all.

So, back to customer service we went. We had been in line for around 20 minutes and moved up a whole ten feet when a customer behind us slipped on a spilled milkshake. The other customers helped him up and started to get him cleaned up while I flagged down a United associate. "This man just slipped and fell in your line!" I said. "Okay." said the helpful employee, who then proceeded to do nothing. While nothing was being done for the injured older gentleman, my fellow passengers and myself tossed paper towels over the spill and the fallen gentleman then moved the line barriers over so no one else would slip as he did.

So, in a case like this, what does United do? Why, they send the escalation manager over to yell at the injured man for moving the line barriers, of course! Because why ask if he was okay or needed medical attention?

I glared at the manager. "I cannot BELIEVE," I growled, "that you do not possess the wherewithal to ask if the gentleman who slipped on a spill in YOUR line that YOU could not be bothered to clean up is okay. Don't you think he may need medical attention?"

The manager slimed into action. "But of course, " he said, suddenly British. "Please, sir, come with me and let's get your medical needs attended to."

The gentleman flushed. "I'm not leaving until I figure out my flight!" He said. "I need to get to Pittsburgh!"

The manager was finally able to convince the gentleman to go with him, but I think it speaks volumes about their customer service that he would rather wait in a ridiculous line clutching his right arm than risk losing his spot.

My husband returned to the line, having had a chat with customer service over the phone again. This time, they were able to get us to Pittsburgh, but our choices were to either fly through Newark, adding another connection and hours onto our travel, or they could get us directly to Pittsburgh the next day. However, they would NOT pay for a hotel, because it was not their fault that we missed our connection. I guess we should have taken jet packs and bailed when it was apparent that we would miss our original connection. You know, because people who are strapped into a jet with no control over when and where it lands are obviously at fault.

Since we were almost to the front of the line, we decided to have our new tickets printed out. The associate at the front of the desk looked at us. "How were you planning on getting to Newark?" She asked.

"We were hoping you'd get us there," I said.

"Well, first you'd need to have a ticket from Chicago to Newark." She explained slowly, chomping on gum.

"You mean they booked our new connection, but didn't connect us to it?" I said.

"Do you want to go from Chicago to Newark?" She asked.

I seethed. "Not really, but I do need to get to Pittsburgh by tonight. Tomorrow is not an option."

They just stared blankly for a second. Then printed my tickets. Then there was a furrowed brow.

"We can find your tickets, but not your husband's." They said. So there was another wait while we waited for them to find the missing tickets. We made a decision that if we couldn't get on this connection, they would be refunding (THEY WOULD BE REFUNDING!!!) our cost for this leg of the trip, we would rent a car, and drive the 6 hours to Pittsburgh.

At this point, we didn't have time to eat. We got to the gate and made our connection into Newark. I would say "thankfully" but I wouldn't mean it.

I would like to take this moment, now, to point out that the butthole of civilization can be found in Newark. There were so many awful people. It really explains everything you may have questioned about the Jersey Shore gang.

We looked for our gate, but we couldn't find it. We asked a lady, and she then let us in on the secret: in order to FIND gate A26, we'd have to be bussed. Through the Newark airport. Once we got off the bus, we went up a series of staircases to another terminal, identical to the one we had been at, and also labeled "A".

We found some seats and waited. Our plane was due to take off at 8:28pm. We waited. and Waited. and Waited some more. Some fine fellow in a sleeveless grey tank top yelled at a flight attendant. I wept into my cheddar whales.

The plane didn't end up taking off until 9:45pm. And do you know why? Because they couldn't find the pilot. Which they announced over the loudspeaker. Couldn't. Find. The. Pilot.

The plane landed around midnight in Pittsburgh. We got in our rental car, exhausted, a full 7 and a half hours after we were supposed to have landed. We entirely missed my good friend's rehearsal dinner.

And the kicker is, at every opportunity, they thanked us for choosing United, because "we KNOW you have other choices in air travel."

Yes, United, we know we have other choices. And from now on, we will choose to use those other choices. Because here are some facts that were brought to our attention by fellow passengers:

1. The small airport we chose has a no-fly zone from 11pm to 7am. Knowing this, why would they then schedule a flight at 6:45am, knowing full well that we wouldn't be taking off until after 7am, once we had waited for all the other planes that were also stuck until 7?

2. And then, knowing all of the above, United STILL scheduled our connection for a time when they knew we wouldn't make it. But, our delay was our own fault. Or so we were told.

They basically set us up for failure. And yes, knowing this, next time we could choose a later flight with a different connection, or a nonstop flight. But the fact is, we won't be choosing United again. Their scheduling sucks, their planes are like flying in a Greyhound bus, their employees are rude or poorly trained to handle customer complaints or problems or issues or WHATEVER, and the fact that I had to yell at the manager for not medically assisting a paying passenger who had slipped in their customer service kiosk? Priceless.

Keep it Classy, United.

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