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BobDylan

United Airlines nightmare

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Friday night we were supposed to fly out to Denver from O'Hare. The plane boarded an hour late. When passengers boarded, we were told there would be another delay of "10 minutes or so" due to mechanical difficulties/faulty wiring. That 10 minutes turned into 3 hours. The flight was cancelled.

 

They gave us $7 meal vouchers for dinner, but most restaurants were closed. We ended up using the vouchers at an adult club (the only open place that would accept them). The next morning, our plane was to board at 9 AM. They told us which gate to be at the previous night. Naturally, they gave us incorrect information (as well as the entire staff of the plane). Due to this, the plane the next morning boarded an hour late. When boarded, they told us of another delay. About an hour later we finally got off the ground. 40 minutes into the flight, we had to head back to O'Hare because of more mechanical difficulties.

 

On approaching the landing, the tail end of the plane caught on fire and our landing turned into "emergency" landing status. We landed surrounded by fire trucks. When the fire was put out and we arrived at the gate, they did not let us off the plane. I forced my way off and gave up on the vacation (The four day vacation was now turning into 2 because of this). At that point they had told us the plane would take up to 6 hours to fix and it was no guarantee. There were no seats open on any other plane. If we did not live in Chicago, we'd have had to stay over night again. At this point, I don't know if the other passengers on our flight have arrived in Denver yet.

 

Anyway, when leaving, we followed all procedure and were told our luggage would be delivered to us that night. (The over night stay in the hotel we were, naturally, not given our luggage.) It's now about 1:30 on Sunday and we still do not have our luggage. After a long conversation on the phone with United (who's customer service is in India) we've been told our luggage is in Denver and that we may not get it until the middle of the week. I have a good portion of my clothes, all my toiletries, and some medication in my luggage.

 

I've left out some "other" details because this post could have went on for awhile. For instance, there were two children on our flight--one a diabetic--with no adult supervision or any idea what to do. They did not live in Chicago and had no options. After we got off the second plane, the supervisor talked two two passengers (I happened to be one of them) and he said, "Call our 800 number" and walked away. I have his name written down. This could go on...

 

Anyway, does anyone have any advice on how to approach this? I plan to write United a letter seeking compensation for every penny we had to spend for their inconveniences as well as free flights. Should I seek anything else? And does anyone know how we can get our luggage back?

Edited by BobDylan

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Not to those extremes but I had a similar problem with United out of O'hare. The just flat out canceled my flight without telling me until i got to the airport and said they moved me to the next flight, which ended up being full and it was the last one out that night. Since I live in Chicago I gave up and got a refund for the tickets and the friend I was traveling with wrote some letters and made some phone calls and got us free round trip tickets for our next trip.

 

Im not sure about the luggage though. Youre more than likely gonna have to wait for it, Id ask for some kind of compensation for that though, Im just not sure how much.

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Besides trying to talk to United, I think you need to send a letter to your Congressmen and the FAA. At some point, someone is going to have to answer for these things. AND, as SOON as you get on the phone with someone in Customer Service, ask for a supervisor...I would just inundate them with letters until they get something done.

 

As for your luggage, there's probably nothing you can do, unfortunately.

 

Sorry Bob, that really sucks.

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One of the best ways to get serious restitution for things like this with airlines is to do the thing very few people do anymore - write a letter. Send it to their customer service address, but also as many other names of people as you can find in marketing, or any other department. I've done that after a couple nightmare experience, and got a lot out of it. Didn't make up for the pain entirely, but it helped.

 

Also, I avoid United at all costs. Worst run airline in the states.

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NSS: Not entirely true, there is US Airways.

 

Bob: Try to keep a log of what happened when things start going wrong. Put it all in a SHORT letter and send it to United Customer Relations. Keep emotion out of the letter. A phone call might also help too. Again, stay nice. The people handling your call didn't cause your problem - and their jobs are to fix it. The less you scream, the more they'll be inclined to help you.

 

If you need any more help regarding your situation and advice on how to get it in your favor, PM me. I do this more often than I like to admit for my travelers who end up in s***ty situations similar to yours.

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Clearly state what you want from them in terms of compensation. Be reasonable. It is the best advice I can give you. Asking for free tickets is a nice sign to them that you are willing to fly United again, and that should be one of their goals in settling with you.

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This article may be of some help. Good Luck man.

 

What Airlines Do When You Complain

by Scott McCartney

Friday, March 23, 2007

provided by

 

Mike Wallace of San Francisco was so mad about recent travel experiences and a lack of response to his complaints that he searched the Internet for email addresses at UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and fired off an angry letter to more than 60 company officials. No response.

 

A second email to all the addresses he could find that used @united.com and @ual.com did get some attention. In all, after corresponding with United a dozen different times about being stranded at airport hotels on two different trips because of United flight problems, Mr. Wallace and his wife got some measure of satisfaction: business-class upgrades for some future trips and a $400 voucher.

 

"It's a series of systems, policies and nameless, faceless people in place to wear you out. Most people just give up, but I pursued and pursued and pursued before I finally got something," said Mr. Wallace, an environmental consultant and elite-level United customer.

 

A United spokeswoman says the airline's goal is to "satisfy our customers the first time they call, write or email us."

 

After the aggravation of mechanical breakdowns, computer meltdowns, schedule changes, lost luggage, missed connections and long telephone or airport waits, many customers fire off angry complaints to airlines -- only to get less-than-satisfying responses.

 

But there are ways to get more redress, airlines and travel experts say. (This week, The Middle Seat focuses on how airlines handle complaints; next week, the column will look at the Department of Transportation's role in addressing fliers' grievances.)

 

A common mistake: Telling an airline you'll never fly them again. If so, then the airline no longer has an incentive to try to win back the customer, some airline officials say.

 

Another tip: Always tell the airline what you want in compensation, and be realistic. A one-hour delay won't get you anything, but if the airline canceled your flight because of a mechanical problem, forced you to spend the night in a cheap motel and miss your important morning meeting, then lost your bag the next day, you can ask for something meaningful, like a free ticket.

 

"Sorry doesn't cost the airline anything, and there's no reason for them to give you anything if you don't ask," says Joe Brancatelli, publisher of business-travel site JoeSentMe.com.

 

 

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Federal rules require airlines to reimburse customers for lost luggage and compensate them for bumping them from overbooked flights. After that, as with most any business, consumers are on their own seeking redress for bad service.

 

There are differences in how airlines handle customer complaints. United and Continental Airlines, for example, still have phone lines to field complaints. More than 200 Continental employees are trained to resolve problems and compensate passengers on the spot, a spokeswoman says. Most other carriers don't take complaints by telephone -- mail, fax or email only. Once airlines respond to a written complaint, you typically can't talk to the customer service agent to appeal, either.

 

In general, most airlines pay more attention to complaints from top-tier frequent fliers, especially customers who spend lots of money each year with the airline. Airlines track customers not by miles flown but by dollars spent, and high-dollar customers get more generous compensation when they complain.

 

But airlines say all complaints do get heard, many get investigated and all get a response of some sort, even if it's only a formulaic apology. Most carriers say they track complaints and compile monthly summary reports for executives, and many say they forward the complaint to the employee involved and supervisors. The most efficient way for them to field complaints is by email -- letters get scanned electronically into computer systems, and airlines generally respond quicker to emails than to mailed letters.

 

Automation is changing the airline complaint business. Many carriers now have systems that flag flights with lengthy airline-caused delays or nightmarish conditions, then generate letters of apology to passengers, some with offers of additional frequent-flier miles or vouchers offering discounts on future trips.

 

There's a lot more airlines could do in the future, too. New systems are under development that will track passenger experience in airline computers. If airlines spend the money to install the systems, reservation computers could flag previous bad experiences. When you check in, the agent could apologize for the six-hour delay on your last trip, or your lost baggage, and offer a free upgrade or coupon for a snack or drink.

 

Carriers say customers don't need to send complaints to the offices or emails of high-ranking executives -- complaints routinely get forwarded to the complaint department no matter how they come in. Some travel experts question that, suggesting that a slew of complaints to a CEO might catch the eye of an assistant doing the forwarding, and the trend might get mentioned. But there's little follow-up at airlines -- executives rarely follow complaints and inquire if they were ever resolved.

 

American Airlines has 100 customer-service specialists to field complaints, but only those via letter, email or fax -- they don't take phone calls. Less than 5% of customers who complain send a second complaint saying they aren't happy with the response, something the company tracks closely, says Kurt Stache, president of American's frequent-flier program who also handles customer service.

 

One who did send a second angry letter over a nightmare trip was Patrick Swan, whose wife, Chelly Bouferrache, had a laptop computer stolen from a bag that American lost during their honeymoon trip to Europe. The Alexandria, Va., couple endured late flights, missed connections and a night in an airport hotel.

 

American paid more than $1,400 for the computer, even though its rules say the airline isn't responsible for electronic gear, and responded to the couple's initial complaint by offering them 10,000 extra frequent-flier miles each. Mr. Swan, particularly angry that American wouldn't take complaints by phone, fired off a second complaint asking for more. American said no. "We won't fly American Airlines again, except to use up 300,000 frequent-flier miles," Ms. Bouferrache said.

 

American says it ended complaint phone banks to save money, and because the phone lines often had long waits, further angering customers.

 

Ed Perkins, a travel expert at smartertravel.com, says if a second letter doesn't get the desired response, the only recourse travelers usually have is small-claims court. An airline ticket is a contract for service, and if the airline failed to live up to the terms spelled out in its "contract of carriage" (available on airline Web sites), you can pursue a claim in court. "You have to demonstrate some real loss, not just be mad that the flight attendant was snotty to you," Mr. Perkins said.

 

Indeed, some consumer experts say traveler expectations are often out of synch with the reality of today's low-fare travel. With airlines still struggling for survival, "no one should expect a complaint to be adequately responded to," says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.

 

Consumers are wise to protect themselves from potential problems -- avoid checking bags and connecting flights, if possible, or at least closely timed connections ripe for problems with delays. Don't book the last flight before a big meeting or a cruise-ship departure. Fly at off-peak times, give yourself plenty of time for security, and check complaint statistics and flight reliability.

 

Write to Scott McCartney at middleseat@wsj.com

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I still think that sending a letter to your Congressman and/or the FAA is a good thing to do too. Just shoot them an email. If the airlines won't do something about it, at least the governing bodies should know about it.

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QUOTE(NorthSideSox72 @ Mar 25, 2007 -> 04:48 PM)
Also, I avoid United at all costs. Worst run airline in the states.

I fly 3 weeks out of every month, and only fly united. I would say American and United are tops as far as airlines go. Delta, US Airways, Continental are by FAR the worst in the skies. Southwest is ok if you dont mind waiting in line like cattle.

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QUOTE(Queen Prawn @ Apr 1, 2007 -> 11:54 AM)
Great - I have 4 flights on Continental this week. Is it Friday yet?!

I've actually had nothing but good experiences with Continental. The only reason they aren't my top choice is that they simply don't go to where I need to go directly. From Chicago, they just go to 3 or 4 cities direct.

 

 

QUOTE(RockRaines @ Mar 31, 2007 -> 12:10 PM)
I fly 3 weeks out of every month, and only fly united. I would say American and United are tops as far as airlines go. Delta, US Airways, Continental are by FAR the worst in the skies. Southwest is ok if you dont mind waiting in line like cattle.

I also travel a lot, and have had nothing but trouble with United. I'll fly pretty much all those airlines you mention over United, except maybe Delta (who seem to have the least legroom of all of them).

 

I'd probably fly southwest all the time, if they'd just get rid of that cattle corral aspect. If they actually gave seat assignments, they'd be pretty much the ideal domestic airline, I think.

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QUOTE(NorthSideSox72 @ Apr 1, 2007 -> 01:09 PM)
I'd probably fly southwest all the time, if they'd just get rid of that cattle corral aspect. If they actually gave seat assignments, they'd be pretty much the ideal domestic airline, I think.

 

 

I LOVE Southwest. But then I get to use my Military ID to pre-board and pick any seat I want.

 

:D

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QUOTE(NUKE @ Apr 1, 2007 -> 01:54 PM)
I LOVE Southwest. But then I get to use my Military ID to pre-board and pick any seat I want.

 

:D

The way they treat you with the lines and the people sitting on the floor waiting in their groups is horrid, especially if you are a business traveler. Its too bad, cause I would much rather fly out of midway than Ohare.

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QUOTE(RockRaines @ Mar 31, 2007 -> 12:10 PM)
I fly 3 weeks out of every month, and only fly united. I would say American and United are tops as far as airlines go. Delta, US Airways, Continental are by FAR the worst in the skies. Southwest is ok if you dont mind waiting in line like cattle.

 

I've had nothing but good experiences with Delta. What the airline lacks with in flight "extras" (although its comparable to most other product out there), it makes up for in generally good service.

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QUOTE(Rex Kicka** @ Apr 1, 2007 -> 03:31 PM)
I've had nothing but good experiences with Delta. What the airline lacks with in flight "extras" (although its comparable to most other product out there), it makes up for in generally good service.

I don't care about the missing extras - it just drives me nuts that whenever I get on a Delta plane, I my knees are buried in the seat in front of me. Which gets really interesting if they try to recline. If you look at the Seat Guru site, you can see their leg room measures are consistently an inch or two less than the other majors. That allows them to get another row of seats on the planes, which obviously creates more revenue opportunities.

 

Though I dislike United, I do love the Economy Plus section. That extra 6 inches of room is great, and worth it, for the money (when you aren't automatically upgraded, you sometimes have the option to pay for it).

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QUOTE(NorthSideSox72 @ Apr 1, 2007 -> 03:46 PM)
I don't care about the missing extras - it just drives me nuts that whenever I get on a Delta plane, I my knees are buried in the seat in front of me. Which gets really interesting if they try to recline. If you look at the Seat Guru site, you can see their leg room measures are consistently an inch or two less than the other majors. That allows them to get another row of seats on the planes, which obviously creates more revenue opportunities.

 

Though I dislike United, I do love the Economy Plus section. That extra 6 inches of room is great, and worth it, for the money (when you aren't automatically upgraded, you sometimes have the option to pay for it).

Economy plus and red carpet are probably 99 percent of why I fly united. Delta just isnt very conveinent due to weird hubs and basically no service in the area I travel. They also do have smaller seats, which doesnt bother everyone.

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QUOTE(NorthSideSox72 @ Apr 1, 2007 -> 03:46 PM)
I don't care about the missing extras - it just drives me nuts that whenever I get on a Delta plane, I my knees are buried in the seat in front of me. Which gets really interesting if they try to recline. If you look at the Seat Guru site, you can see their leg room measures are consistently an inch or two less than the other majors. That allows them to get another row of seats on the planes, which obviously creates more revenue opportunities.

 

Though I dislike United, I do love the Economy Plus section. That extra 6 inches of room is great, and worth it, for the money (when you aren't automatically upgraded, you sometimes have the option to pay for it).

 

According to SeatGuru, they average 31" pitch in Economy. So does American, United, Continental and Northwest. Many American planes only offer 30" pitch. Their seats are slightly narrower, however, 2 tenths of an inch.

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QUOTE(Rex Kicka** @ Apr 2, 2007 -> 05:27 PM)
According to SeatGuru, they average 31" pitch in Economy. So does American, United, Continental and Northwest. Many American planes only offer 30" pitch. Their seats are slightly narrower, however, 2 tenths of an inch.

 

I thought American had 33" pitch now? Anyway, since I've moved to Texas I have flown mostly American and Southwest and American is BY FAR the best airline I fly. In fact, I'll even pay a little extra to fly them because every seat has more legroom. AND, they don't fly those Embraers out of here as much. I can't stand those planes...especially being 6'1".

 

Southwest has some major baggage handling problems. My wife flew back from Vegas yesterday and had to fly through Phoenix. It wasn't a quick changeover or anything, but they still managed to lose her bag anyway. But, the pisser is this. They couldn't find it. Ummm...isn't there a bar code on the luggage tag? Isn't that supposed to tell you where it is? Anyway, she did get it back today, but what a pain in the ass.

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QUOTE(Rex Kicka** @ Apr 2, 2007 -> 05:27 PM)
According to SeatGuru, they average 31" pitch in Economy. So does American, United, Continental and Northwest. Many American planes only offer 30" pitch. Their seats are slightly narrower, however, 2 tenths of an inch.

Comparing similar planes (MD-80/90) for example, AA has 31-33", and Delta states as 30-32". Also, many of American's planes still have the extra room they put in back in the late 90's when that was their marketing pitch. They reversed it on some planes, but not others. That 1 to 3" difference is important if you have long legs.

 

I'm also of course going on experience here, and it sure seems that Delta must have a lot more planes in the lower end of their range (again, probably due to some of AA's planes still having expanded seating).

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QUOTE(CanOfCorn @ Apr 2, 2007 -> 05:37 PM)
I thought American had 33" pitch now? Anyway, since I've moved to Texas I have flown mostly American and Southwest and American is BY FAR the best airline I fly. In fact, I'll even pay a little extra to fly them because every seat has more legroom. AND, they don't fly those Embraers out of here as much. I can't stand those planes...especially being 6'1".

 

Southwest has some major baggage handling problems. My wife flew back from Vegas yesterday and had to fly through Phoenix. It wasn't a quick changeover or anything, but they still managed to lose her bag anyway. But, the pisser is this. They couldn't find it. Ummm...isn't there a bar code on the luggage tag? Isn't that supposed to tell you where it is? Anyway, she did get it back today, but what a pain in the ass.

I hate flying those stupid Airbus820's or whatever those damn things are. They fly like crap.

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