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 decided 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 6:30 AM. 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 app has let me know is that my flight had already landed from Hawaii hours before and ergo wasn’t going to get badly outbound delayed, due a late in-bound at least.)
So, now, I’m screwed. If they had just been honest and either told me (or given me the information to conclude) 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 San Francisco is also having bad weather, I knew I would be toast if I showed up in Chicago connection-less.
Part of the problem here is misinformation — when my outbound showed no delay, United’s staff response was “they always show no delay right up until they delay it” — which gave me some hope that the outbound would be subsequently delayed and kept me on the plane.
Well, connection-less in Chicago is exactly what happened, after my outbound was delayed twice so I managed to miss it, just two gates down, by about 10 minutes. Thanks for waiting.
Then I look at the customer service line, which was literally as long as a football field. (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 it 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 United mobile 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. You feel a mentality of, “whatever, it’s a crisis — you should be happy with any seat regardless of whether we chose 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, ever 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.
I call my wife and she 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.
I arrive 6 hours late having traveled 16 hours door-to-door on an East Coast flight and having needed to purchase a pricey second ticket on American.
The moral is to avoid two things at all costs: one-stop travel (I should have driven the extra hour to Boston) and United.