A letter to United Airways:
Customer satisfaction: I used to think that it meant something in the airline industry. I was always under the assumption that being in the business of getting someone from point A to point B actually involved getting that person from point A to point B. As it is, satisfaction is the word furthest from the list of terms I would use to describe my experience with your airline.
At this point, allow me to expand on my experience so that you may better understand my urgent need to write to you. I was to go to Springfield, IL on a business trip. I was to leave Philadelphia on Wednesday, and return on Thursday. I should have known right away that I was in for an adventure from the moment I arrived to catch my 6am flight out of Philadelphia to Chicago. I started with the self-check in, only to find that my flightplan had been changed. I was no longer leaving at 6am to go to Chicago, but instead was to take a 3pm flight to Washington Dulles. Due to the brevity of my trip, I did not find this acceptable and asked an agent for clarification. I was told that the flight from Chicago to Springfield had been canceled, but was offered no reason for it. I inquired about other flights, and was finally booked on a noon flight from Chicago to Springfield. It seemed that I would at least arrive in Springfield at a decent time.
The return trip is where I am sad to say, the service I received suffered. To be more precise; it plummeted…from mediocrity to levels so low that I do not even have words to describe them. I wish that I could at least say that I was the only one affected, but that was not the case either.
My flight from Springfield to Dulles was to leave at 6:05pm. I arrived early since it was beginning to snow, and I wanted to ensure that I had enough time to return the rental car and check in. I overestimated the time I needed to check in due to the small size of the airport and the fact that the Springfield to Dulles flight was the ONLY flight of the day. I sat and waited at the gate as more fliers arrived. Since we all saw a plane parked at the end of the gate, we had assumed that we would leave on time. No announcements were made to make us think any differently until 6pm came and went, and nobody offered to board us on the plane. It turns out, that the plane (a United plane, no less) was not for us…it was just sitting there idle. It was finally announced that the United plane that we were to board was ten minutes away, and they were going to move the current plane from the gate. Those ten minutes came and went, and no plane. Someone finally got up to ask about the status, and was told that the plane was indeed on its way, and that there were Air Traffic Control issues. I could understand ATC issues at a busy airport, but not in Springfield, and not when there was only a single flight for the entire day.
We were finally able to board at 9pm. We still had to wait for the crew to de-ice the plane before we finally took off at 9:30. Mind you, I had a connecting flight from Dulles to Philadelphia that was to leave at 10pm…so obviously I was not going to make it. The majority of the people flying to Dulles had connecting flights, and as we landed, the horde of us went to the customer service desk to try to get this situation resolved.
While standing in line and during my conversation with the CSR, I found your airline to be unwilling to offer ANY kind of help to anybody. People had missed their flights, people were sick, people had surgeries….people needed to get home, but United did not seem to care. They cited that ATC issues were not their problem, and the best thing they could do was to get us on other flights the next day. When we inquired as to what to do overnight, the CSRs rudely said “get yourself a hotel”. I would possibly have paid more attention to names and ID numbers, but after hearing this be told to the fifteen people in front of and including me, I was much too infuriated to care. I was told to get a hotel at my own expense, and was given the option of being standby for a morning flight or to be confirmed for a 1pm flight the next day. I chose both options, since I was fairly certain I would not get the standby due to the queue of others that accepted the same terms.
Upon arriving at the hotel after a rainy twenty minute shuttle drive, I was offered a room at a “discount” rate that still seemed very much like an average room rate. At any rate (haha, see what I did there?), I went to my room and finally took a much needed shower. I went to bed at about 1:00am, and asked for a wake-up call at 5am since the shuttle from the hotel left at 6:00am.
I arrived at Dulles at about 6:30am and anxiously found the United terminal where my standby flight was supposed to leave from. At this point, I did not think that United’s customer relations could get any worse; I was wrong.
The Philadelphia flight was called once, and then again in about ten minutes. The gate that the flight was leaving from was servicing two flights, and one attendant was handling both “sides” of the gate. The final call for the Philadelphia flight was called, and there was still about 40 people in the line. Two minutes later, the gate attendant announced that the Philadelphia flight had boarded and the gate was closed….AS THERE WERE PEOPLE STILL IN LINE. A younger couple, with child, cut out of line to speak to the attendant. They said that they were booked on the Philadelphia flight, and asked to be boarded. Now, mind you, they were IN LINE for the gate boarding. The attendant snuffed them off and told them they should have come up sooner, and that she would not help them. Granted, perhaps the attendant has supernatural mind reading powers and expected this couple to magically know that even though there is a line, the gate would be closed. This is, in one word: unacceptable.
I waited at the airport for the next few hours for my 1:00pm flight in furious agony at what I had just witnessed. I tried to make myself feel better, saying “at least I’m not the only one”, but somehow that thought made me more angry. At the very least, my flight was showing as “on-time”.
As 1pm came and went, the flight did not board, and the screen updated to say that my flight was to leave at 2pm. Since I was already here, the extra hour was not that big of a deal. At 2pm, the screen updated again: “Flight to Philadelphia – 3:00pm”. As it can be deduced from this entire experience…3pm came and the flight still did not board. The screen updated one last final and fatal time: Canceled. No reason was provided, other than “Operations”. I was horrified as I took my place in the customer service line once again.
During the half hour or so that I stood in line, a gentleman took the initiative to find out why the flight had been canceled. He had found out that United did not have a pilot for the flight. He also mentioned that the entire day had been similarly disastrous. A flight with a pilot, but no crew. Another flight had a pilot and crew, but no plane. Then my flight had a plane and crew but no pilot. Operations problems…..I think the problems lie much deeper than an operations error.
Upon finally reaching a representative, we discussed various options for getting me home. There were flights the next day, and there were flights from another airport, but I would not make them because it was coming up to rush hour. At this point, I had experienced enough of United, and asked for a refund on my ticket. The representative then asked for my baggage tag so that they could arrange for my baggage to be waiting for me at the baggage claim office on the first floor of the terminal. I immediately asked if the baggage could just be delivered to me in Philadelphia, and she said that “no we don’t do that”, when I know for a fact that every airline does so…I have had it done before. She was insistant that they would simply not do it, so I agreed to pick it up downstairs. She checked my baggage status, assured me that it would be waiting for me, and then dropped another bombshell: she could not give me a refund…I would have to go to the OTHER United customer service desk. I obliged from lack of options, and made my way to the other customer service desk to receive my refund. With that finally settled, I was free to catch a train or rent a car to finally get home.
I went downstairs to the baggage claim office to pick up my bag. The representative there checked my tag number in the computer and told me that it had not arrived yet. She told me to give my tag to one of the workers in the orange jackets at the baggage claim gate. The gentleman there told me that they had not unloaded that particular plane yet, and that it would be about an hour before I was reunited with my baggage. An hour later, at 4:30pm, I inquired again about my bag. I was told by the same gentleman that they were understaffed and the large amount of canceled flights meant that I had to wait a bit longer. I checked the Amtrak schedules (there was a train leaving at 6:30 that I had the possibility of making), and reluctantly agreed to wait. An hour later, I inquired again about the baggage, and was told that they had just unloaded the plane and my baggage should be on the conveyor belt shortly. I waited again as people got their bags and left, but still no sign of my baggage. I inquired again, and asked him to look up the status of my baggage, and he said that my baggage was scanned and should be out. It was not, so I made my way to the office to see a supervisor. She informed me that the bag had indeed been checked and should be on the belt. I assured her it was not, and this was verified by the baggage handlers. She looked up the status again, and said that the baggage was indeed scanned….in Philadelphia…at 10:00am this morning, a fact that everyone seemed to miss, even though it was right in front of them on the computer screen. I had wasted an additional four and a half hours waiting for a bag that I was never going to receive. I had missed the train at this point, and my only option was to rent a car and drive home.
Finally, I was home. I missed a concert that I had tickets for; tickets that were not cheap in the least. I was two days late, tired, angry, and STILL had another day’s work ahead of me. I still had to return the rental car (which, by the way, ended up costing me double what my ticket refund was), and pick up my baggage from the Philadelphia airport.
So, I just wish to say: Thank you, United…you have managed to completely destroy my faith in airlines and in the very notion of customer service.
And to close it out…here are some cool links:
Think Guitar Hero is for geeks? Try this one out.
Apple vs Hackers…. hackers winning: http://www.engadget.com/2008/02/08/out-of-the-box-1-1-3-iphones-now-software-unlockable/