United Airlines failure

With all the stories about how United Airlines has been giving poor customer service, I thought I’d add my own recent story.

Recent news reports include a story of a dead dog forced to be in the overhead luggage compartment for the trip, a dog sent to Asia by mistake, and a passenger with a confirmed seat who was bumped and held out until United had to give her $10,000 in travel vouchers because it did not want to give any cash (they are required to offer compensation to bumped passengers).

My story involves a confirmed seat I held on a United Airlines flight from Dallas to New York (Newark airport) on March 21 on my way to an important family event I couldn’t miss. On March 19, weather forecasts said a big snowstorm was headed to the New York area on the evening of March 20.

Knowing that, I decided to try to change my flight to leave a day earlier, knowing that United has limited ability to book me on a later flight because there are few flights. My horrible experience with United Airlines should be instructive to all. My first call to United was answered by a man who asked for my confirmation number. I was calling from the office, and the number was at home, so I explained I didn’t have it. Instead of offering to try to help me locate the reservation (by flight time, departure airport, and my name), he said he would call me back! I explained that it would take a while before I had the confirmation number, so I would call again.

When I called back, I could hardly hear the woman who answered the phone and she kept asking the same questions repeatedly. I hung up.

Persisting, I called a third time. I asked the reservationist where she was located. “The Philippines,” she said. That explained the poor telephone connection earlier—I had been talking around the world. Anyway, the woman explained that until the United website declared a weather alert, she couldn’t help me unless I paid an additional $450 for a new ticket. I hung up.

I headed to the United website. A little digging revealed the weather alert WAS on the website. I also searched other airlines, just in case. I found I could purchase an entirely new reservation from American Airlines on dozens of flights for less than the $450 United wanted to change a ticket!

When I called for a fourth time, I asked to speak to someone in the United States. “We don’t have the ability to transfer calls,” I was told. Exasperated, I decided to give him a try. Over protests, I told the reservationist there WAS a weather alert online. I instructed him how to find it, and that was the key to his moving my flight to Tuesday as I had requested. I guess United passengers need to be prepared to school its agents as to how to find things on their own website!

On Tuesday I headed to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for my new flight, arriving very early at the airport. I noticed a flight leaving 2 hours earlier than my scheduled flight. Catch 22: there were no United agents anywhere around. Knowing that calling United was not a good option as explained above, I entered the United Club to see if I could get help there.

The lady behind the desk reluctantly moved me to the earlier flight. I had to beg her, using the excuse that I could not find a pay phone at the airport. “Everyone has cell phones now, so all phones in the terminal are gone,” she explained with an attitude. After she changed the flight, she said, “We don’t usually change tickets except for United Club members. But your new, earlier flight is probably the last one that will leave on schedule today because of bad weather.” We thanked her, even though dealing with United Airlines had proven to be a very painful experience.

When you book a cheap ticket from an airline with infrequent flights to your destination, remember the hidden disadvantages if there are flight delays. When an airline has few flights, it has limited ability to accommodate passengers from cancelled flights on another of its upcoming flights, because there aren’t many of them, if any at all.


  1. My only experience with United (I will not fly on this airline again) happened many years ago (pre-Hong Kong reuniting with China) when my flight from Seattle to Hong Kong was delayed till the next day because of navigation equipment failure which could not be repaired immediately. That meant that I missed entering China from Hong Kong with a group using a group visa, having to secure a Hong Kong hotel and an individual visa to enter China, and missing the first day of my China tour. (This was pre-cell phones and Internet also.)On my return from Hong Kong (on a Saturday with a return to work on Monday), I was bumped at the airport because of an oversold flight, put up in a hotel room overnight and put on a Sunday flight. I was offered a $400 voucher, but I refused it saying that I would never flight United again. I finally was awarded a voucher for $400 cash. On my return, United refused to honor the cash award, and my travel agent had to go the president of United to obtain it.

    1. Unbelievable! But I know you, and I know it’s true. Apparently, United hasn’t improved much with size.

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