04 Jan 2016

United Airlines are the worst

I’ve lived in the U.S. for the last 15 years. Having always lived close to a Delta Hub, I’ve always flown Delta. I’ve never really had any serious problems with them. Last year I moved to Seattle. Seattle is also a Delta Hub, so I figured I’d continue flying with them. Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t yet understand, flying Delta out of SEA is often far more expensive than the alternatives (sometimes >50% more!!!). I recently had to go on a work trip to Washington D.C. United was the far cheaper airline, so I booked it. It was mostly uneventful, except for the fact that they gave us a single drink, and not so much as a peanut for a 5+ hour flight! And to think I used to complain about Delta’s pretzels…

How on earth can they justify giving you a single drink for a 5+ hour flight that cost $1,200! I’d rather they charged me $1,210 and gave me a sandwich.

Anyway. We recently planned a family trip for Christmas to Puerto Vallarta. Again, Delta was a complete rip-off, coming in at almost double the United flight, so again, I reluctantly booked the United flight.

I have a 2 1⁄2 year old. Traveling with him has always been uneventful. Except now, he’s potty trained, and needs to go to the bathroom quite often. I’m used to always boarding first during the “those who need extra time” announcement. This is really useful, as I can board early and quickly take my son to the bathroom before takeoff. We had a two leg flight to PVR: SEA-SFO, where we boarded early, and had no problems, followed by SFO-PVR.

I waited in line to get a gate check tag (for the stroller). There were two employees at the counter: The first was taking care of the only customer ahead of me, and the second seemed to be playing sudoku. Despite the long line, they didn’t call for help. We just all patiently waited. I finally was called up after about 20 minutes, and this went down:

united employee: “This is gate 74. SFO-PVR is at a different gate”

me: “Um… The monitors show gate 74. Can you just help me?”

UE: “No. You need to go to the correct gate”

me: “I can see the monitors from here. They still show SFO-PVR as gate 74”

UE: “The monitors will update shortly”

me: “What gate will it update to”

UE: “I don’t know. Please wait for the monitors to update”

me: “Can you just give me a gate tag, I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes”

UE: “Please go to the correct gate”

Brilliant. Thanks United. Anyway, I wait for the monitor to update, go to the correct gate, and wait again for a gate check tag. It’s finally time to board, and we’re stuck with one of those arrogant “I’m in charge, do as I say because I’m wearing a badge” kind of guys at the gate. He announces “Early boarding for those who need extra time such as people in wheelchairs.” Denisse, my two year old son and I approach the gate….

UE bossman: “What are you doing. You have to wait until I call your zone.”

me: “Um… you just announced early boarding for people who need extra time.”

UE bossman: “Yes, but I said that was for people who are in wheelchairs.”

me: “No, that’s not what you said. You said early boarding was available for people who needed extra time, and followed up the statement with an example of someone who needed extra time, such as someone in a wheelchair.”

UE bossman: (looking really confused) “You cannot board. You’re not in a wheelchair. I specifically said you had to be in a wheelchair to board early.”

me: “No you didn’t, and you don’t seem to understand what I’m saying… Whatever.” (I turn around and start walking away)

UE bossman: “Please sit down until your zone is called. You’re slowing everyone down.”

While waiting for my zone to be called, I hear the guy yelling and complaining at people “People, get your passports out, and have your boarding passes ready, and things will go much quicker.” He yells this out at least 5 times, getting louder and angrier each time. Finally, it’s our turn to board. I was carrying our son in one arm, with three carry-on items in the other hand. Denisse, who is 7 months pregnant, has the stroller (folded away with the gate check tag), her backpack, and all three of our passports and boarding passes.

UE bossman: “No, no, no. I told you clearly to each hold your own passport with the boarding pass in the photo page.”

me: “My two year old cannot hold his own passport, and I’m holding a child and three carry-on bags. So I can’t hold my own passport either.”

UE bossman: “You’re slowing everyone down. We’re going to have a late departure because of people like you.”

me: (as I walk away towards the plan) “Yep. Precisely why we needed extra time.”

You’d think this would be over, but it isn’t.

On my final day in Puerto Vallarta, while at Dinner, I got an email saying that my flight had been cancelled. It had a footnote saying to find my own way home, or to call if I wanted United to try to book me on an alternate flight. Seriously? An email? Why don’t they automatically book me on another flight. What’s the probability that I’ll not want a return flight?. Luckily I have a smart phone with international data plan. Otherwise I would have been screwed the following day at the airport. This was to travel on the 31st December, and they were telling me at 9pm the night before a 3pm flight…. When a plane carrying 150+ people gets cancelled, it’s first come first serve to find an alternate way home, so I rushed out of the restaurant (skipping the last of my dinner and missing the churros I’d barely ordered for dessert) to try to figure this out. The website said that United had zero available flights for the next 4 days, and asked if I could fly back to Portland and drive the rest of the way (Are you kidding me!!!!). I called, and had to inform the CSR that Delta had seats on a similar flight. Just as they were about to book the Delta flight for us, we got disconnected. They never booked the flight, and they didn’t call me back (they have my info and number…. why aren’t they proactive!). I called again, and after 25 minutes on hold, it hangs up. Finally, on the third time through, they agree to book me on a Delta flight, and order is restored!

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. The first leg of my flight got delayed by a bit, and guess what, Delta actually called me (in addition to emailing me) to inform me of the delay. Delta also booked me a backup flight from LAX-SEA just in case I missed the connection. Now that’s how an airline should operate! I was no longer worried about missing my connection, as I knew I would make it home. Delta then had employees personally escort us between planes to ensure we made the connection (we skipped the lines at Customs etc..). Now I know why United is cheaper. Because it’s an awful, awful airline. They don’t even get the basics right. Delays happen, and flights get cancelled. I understand that, but it’s up to the airline to have a strategy to deal with it. United has no strategy at all.

The following day, Delta emailed to apologize for the flight delay (It ended up being a delay of about an hour, and I didn’t miss my connection). How about United? Nothing. Zip.