I generally do my best to avoid having to “Fly the Unfriendly Skies”. Two recent Flights from Hell on United only confirmed that things don’t get much worse. Even if they were giving it away, I would steer clear in the future…
The night before my UA flight from San Francisco to San Diego, I received an e-mail, inviting me to check in for my flight online. I logged on to the site, only to discover through a one line message that due to technical reasons, my flight would not be operating. Instead of a direct flight at 1:45 p.m., I saw that I was now booked on connecting flights through LAX, i.e. two flights that would take far more time to get me to San Diego than the direct one that I had reserved. I called UA and asked why I had not been informed of the problem and consulted before being rebooked on flights that didn’t suit me. I was told that this was because they had no contact information for me — patently untrue since they had my e-mail address (which they used to send me the invitation to check in for my flight!) and even my telephone number (that had been provided by Expedia). I asked to be put on a direct flight and was offered flights at 7 or 8 in the morning. That didn’t suit me at such short notice and when I said that was completely unacceptable, I was transferred to a lady at the international desk since I had bought my ticket abroad. She was able to find me a seat on a flight at Noon, the only available seat on a direct flight other than the ones early in the morning. While she found me a palatable solution, the delightful discovery of my changed travel plans wreaked havoc on my last day in San Francisco — I had to cancel dinner plans at the last minute since I only discovered the change just before dinner and spent almost two hours on the phone trying to sort out the arrangements with UA. I also had to cancel an appointment the following morning since I had to get to the airport almost two hours earlier than planned.
My return trip was even more exciting. The night before my flight from San Diego to Los Angeles, I checked in online with some trepidation, wondering what surprises were in store. Everything seemed fine and I checked in for a flight that was supposed to be operating normally, despite severe rains that had disrupted travel in Northern California and that were fast approaching LA and San Diego. The next day I got to the airport well in advance and was told by the woman at check-in to just go to the gate where I would be told when I would travel. She checked my luggage on my flight, but would not tell me when I would travel, just “get to the gate quickly and speak with the agent.” Apparently there were problems with the weather, but nobody explained anything and it was bedlam. The gate agent said she would put me on the next flight (a flight scheduled before mine, but that due to the delay, would leave even later than my original departure time). I asked about my bags, which had been tagged differently, and she very dismissively said that of course they would be on the flight, and stalked off. This didn’t seem right, since she hadn’t even bothered to see my baggage stubs, so I asked the next agent, who actually bothered to check. She said that the bags were not on the flight and they would do their best to get them on, but couldn’t guarantee anything. I told her that I had an international connection out of LAX on another airline, so my bags should travel with me. She was rude when I told her that it wasn’t logical to travel without my bags and said, “That’s the way we do it in the U.S.”
The “next flight” to LAX left even later than the announced time and was only half full. I hoped naively that this would mean that there was room in the hold for my bags. (I should mention here that we had a charming stewardess on board, who told us with barely masked glee that there would be no drink service since the flight was short and it would be bumpy. She announced a few gates for connecting flights when we arrived at LAX, but couldn’t resist adding, “Don’t ask me any questions, I don’t have any information.” By now I don’t need to add that we were neither greeted nor thanked.) When I arrived at LAX, no surprises, my bags weren’t there. After waiting a long time by the conveyor belt, I spoke with a UA baggage agent, who told me that they would be on the next flight, expected in 15 minutes. That there was another flight in 15 minutes surprised me, since I had just experienced first hand the chaos reigning at UA in San Diego. I asked, “Are you sure the plane has left San Diego?” The response was, “Of course, otherwise how would it be here in 15 minutes?” Needless to say, he wasn’t right because a few minutes later, the monitor showed that the flight would be further delayed by another 45 minutes, so of course it had not even left San Diego! I continued to wait around the baggage area and another San Diego flight arrived and my bags weren’t on it. My bags finally came on yet another flight (and no, it wasn’t even the flight for which the bags were tagged) and each bag appeared on a different belt in different parts of the baggage claim area!!! So despite having left a big margin (three and a half hours) for my connection at LAX, I was now in danger of missing my international flight due to UA’s utter ineptness. There was no guarantee that even if I missed my flight, I would find a seat on another AF flight later that evening. I virtually ran to the Air France terminal — a good 15 minutes away — but it was too late. My flight had closed and I had to pay Air France a $60 change fee.
An airline like this (if you can even charitably call an airline and not just a transportation company) that treats its customers like crap deserves every financial woe it has experienced. Too bad that U.S. bankruptcy laws allow airlines like this to write off their debts and start over again. This company should just be buried since it is incapable of functioning in an increasingly competitive, customer-oriented world. As for its employees, they should be made to work at minimum wage jobs in order to understand that their salaries are indirectly paid by their customers and that it is in their own interest to treat their customers well.