Despite being (or perhaps, because of being) a 2 million mile lifetime flyer on United, I generally do my best to try and avoid them. But once in while, routes being routes, I decide to give them a chance and see if things have improved.
Today’s odyssey begins in Hartford where what looked like a fairly empty flight (from the check-in seatmap) ends up an overbooked mess at 630. The weather in Chicago chips in for some fun and after boarding 25% of the plane, they stop, and ask us to de-board citing a ground stoppage in Chicago.
Being one of the first on the plane I am one of the last off and face this line for a cup of coffee at Dunkins. (You can see the sign way down at the end.)
We’re not off to a good start. About 30 minutes later, and before I could finish my hard-earned cup of Joe, we board again. I am constantly using my United app to decide on the likelihood of making my connection. But the whole time we’re boarding it shows us arriving at 845 and my flight leaving at 910. Until they close the door. Now it says 930 arrival, which quickly turned into 950. Unless my connection is delayed, too — I am toast. (And the one “good” thing the app let me know is that my flight had already landed from Hawaii hours before and wasn’t going to get badly outbound delayed.)
So, now, I’m screwed. If they had just BEEN HONEST AND TOLD ME that I had 0% of making my connection, I would have gotten off the plane. I needed to back on the East Coast later that week and knowing that Chicago is in trouble and the SFO is also having bad weather, I knew I would be toast if I showed up in Chicago connection-less.
Which is precisely what happened. But only after my outbound was delayed twice so I managed to miss it — and it was just two gates down — by about 10 minutes. Thanks for waiting.
Then I look at the customer service line — literally a football field long. (You can’t even see the end of this one.)
I don’t think I’ve seen a line that long (and that’s before even entering the roped back-and-forth real line on the right) in a decade.
I slip into the United Club (which for some reason I still pay for) and which resembles a refugee camp at this point. I fire up my web browser to look at rebookings. I quickly realize — and this is possibly a good thing — that the United mobile app has way more functionality in this situation than the website which — and this is a bad thing — is basically useless and tells me I need to CALL and rebook.
I use the app.
The trick is EVERY flight is full / standby, but one. So I choose that one, for a whopping 10 hour delay in arrival. Since I had ponied up for a First Class seat, I figured it would only show me flights with First available. Nope. They put me into an economy middle seat on a First Class fare without saying anything, proposing a refund, nothing. Not a peep.
This continues United’s tradition of basically ignoring whether you paid extra for Economy Plus (where they are so careful to price each seat) or even First Class when things go awry. All that’s out the window.
I figure First is small so maybe it’s unavoidable. And then I see that they have been upgrading people into First on earlier flights that I am standby on instead of giving me the ticket that I paid for. I look at my place on the “complimentary First Class upgrade” line for the flight they have me on standby — and I’m number 36. But wait, I’m not asking for a complimentary upgrade. I paid nearly $1000 for a one-way ticket that I needed to buy on short notice.
No one cares. United Twitter support which promptly offers to help when I first reported my troubles goes silent when I raise this issue. “Oh, whatever, it’s a crisis you should be happy with ANY seat regardless of whether we choose to charge you a premium when you bought it.” I beg to differ. If you want me to not care at crisis time, don’t care at purchase time.
Then I notice that the 777 is configured 3-4-3 in coach. The 777 was designed to 2-5-2 but in order to squeeze in an extra seat per row, every customer-centric United has decided to go 3-4-3 on some models — and of course this is one.
The hits just keep coming. Everything they do to reduce my experience they have done.
Then my wife says to try another airline. No, that won’t work, I say. The weather’s the problem and I’m sure if seats were available on other airlines, United would be routing people to them — instead of making them 12 hours late. I’m sure that every flight on every airline is toast.
Amazingly, I still give too much credit to United and too little to my wife. About 4 clicks later, I have a bulkhead seat on American.
We see about the refund process later.
(Cross-posted @ Kellblog)