Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Problem with United Airlines

I recently went on vacation to Seattle.  It was a kind of working (learning) vacation as I was going to attend a martial arts seminar.  Crossing the Pond - Martial Expo.  It was a great time and I will post the highlights of the trip here soon.  However the flight back was not so good.

It started when I got to the airport almost but not quite two hours early.  I checked in my rental car and headed to the United desk to check in for my US Airways flight.  This is where the trouble started.  I got to the United desk and there were easily 100 people in line ahead of me.  Maybe not that many but a lot none the less.  And of course some of them had eight and nine suitcases.  I was in line probably and hour and a half ahead of my flight.  Not bad considering it takes all of ten minutes or so to get through security and get to the terminal on the far side of the airport.

The line took forever, the people working the line were not paying much attention to getting people ushered through.  They obviously didn't want to be there.  I am certain that having people yell at you everyday doesn't help.  To make matters worse the check in process is all on computer(Automated).  Well, people don't use computers well most of the time.  Trust me I should know.

United Airlines has a 45 minute cut off for check in on all flights leaving Seatac Airport.  This is the first I have ever heard of this from any airline.  We have not had anything like this on any other flight.  No problems at all.  Of course we were not flying United on any of the other flights.  I asked an attendant about the time when it was 11:00 and my flight left at 11:51.  Her response!  "You should have gotten here earlier" turned and walked away.  I told her I have been in line for some time and she had no answer.  I honestly think it had been 45 minutes or so at this point but I am not certain.

I get to the counter and start entering my flight information on the computer.  A customer service person would have been much faster but not as cost effective I suppose.  All the other flight companies had attendants but not United.  They had people behind the counter to take your luggage but it was four people or less handling at least 15 counters.  Not enough people by far in my opinion.  Near the front of the line they had stationed an attendant directing people to empty kiosks.  When I was finally near the front of the line he leaves his post to go take care of something.  Not sure what but at this point time is nearly gone and I started directing people to the kiosks rather than wait for the customer service people to realize they were falling behind.  I directed at least four families to kiosks before I finally got one myself.

I start the check in process and the computer denies my check in.  You can't talk to the attendants behind the counter but they are nice enough to have a phone next to each kiosk.  I get a customer service agent on the phone and ask about the cut off and that I am one minute within the check in and he asks.  "Huh, did it offer you a stand by ticket?"  I tell him it didn't and he says well I am sorry.  We have tickets available tomorrow for $900+ per ticket to Tulsa.  I paid $488 for my son and myself.  Now they want me to pay a little more than $1800 to fly home.  And in order to transfer the money I had left over from my old tickets I would have to pay $230 in fines to move $65 in credit.  Yes, I said that right!  Which I later discovered that the customer service agent figured that wrong too.  It should have been $488 in value on that trip minus fees.

I told them those options are impossible for me.  I don't have $1800 in the bank.  So he tells me I should call other agencies to see if one of them can help me.  I ask about the airfare and he tells me again about the penalties and that I am probably better off just paying for new one way tickets.  I leave the counter and begin the search.  I ultimately found flights that were double the original price through Delta.  Delta did a very good job and they didn't have a 45 minute cut off either.  Of course the flight wasn't till 1:30 AM.  We had over 12 hours to check in.  We made that flight no problem.

I don't have any proof that others failed to check in on time but I would be shocked if several people also got blocked from their check in due to the extraordinarily long lines and poor service.  I saw several angry people leave the kiosks without tickets in hand while I was sitting not too far away calling every flight agency to get another flight home.

It is my opinion that United owes us for their poor customer service and for failure to deliver based on the contract they entered into with me upon my purchase of the return flight.  At the very least for the tickets we didn't use but in my opinion they can keep that if they will pay me back for the tickets I should never have had to purchase to begin with....

So the moral of the story!  DO NOT USE UNITED AIRLINES!  I for one will retract this statement if they take responsibility for their actions and return my money.  I filed a complaint with the company and with the BBB.  So far they have denied repayment 4 times.  Thus the beginning of the campaign to not fly United or US Airways since they are now affiliated with United.

Addendum:  United has offered me $300 in travel vouchers to try their airline.  Of course, even if I wanted to take advantage of these vouchers I don't have enough money to travel now.

The BBB has closed the case siting that the case has been "administratively resolved".  Not sure how they define resolved as I am still missing $850.  I was very clear from the beginning that this is what I wanted from United.

Now it is time to begin a online campaign about their failures until I get compensation.