Tuesday, March 8, 2011

United Airlines loses a customer

Not that I was a frequent flier anyway, but I definitely won't be after the weekend I had.

On Thursday, I was set to leave Boston for Cedar Rapids, Iowa (final destination: Iowa City).  I arrived at Logan on time and ready to get my trip on.  I'm not a fan of flying, mostly because I'm just not a fan of complicated traveling, but I've being flying a lot recently and wasn't in a bad mood about it.  Additionally, I love hotels, and so I knew there was a room at the Sheraton in my future, which cheered me considerably.

I had booked a flight to and from Iowa on United Airlines.  I had waited until the last second to book the flight, and flying to Iowa is extremely expensive, so my options were incredibly limited.  The United flights would cost $500, but they would get me in and out of Iowa at reasonably times.  I figured hey, I'll be reimbursed, and the times of these flights are perfect.  The Thursday evening flight gets me to Iowa City a little before 10pm, and I can relax and get lots of sleep.  And the Saturday flight doesn't require me to wake up at some ridiculous hour, and I'll be home by 5:30pm in time to get rest before Sunday and Monday, when I would be at BU.  Tadah.

I checked in on Thursday afternoon and found that my 5:25 flight had been delayed until 6:13.  Crap--I only had a 58-minute scheduled layover, and according to my phone, the flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids would be on time.  After getting through the terminal, I asked a couple of reps what the hell I should do.  They printed out my boarding pass for the Cedar Rapids flight, although I'm not sure why it didn't print out when I selected the option to check into the flight while I was checking into my Chicago flight, and then they reserved me a seat on the very next flight to Cedar Rapids, all the while reassuring me that we would make it with about 15 minutes for me to make the connection.  They also gave me the information about which gates I needed to run between.  I explained to them that I needed to make the connection, because the next flight didn't leave Chicago until 7:30am in the morning, and I wouldn't get to Iowa City until 9:15.  I needed to be in a breakfast meeting at 8:30.  Obviously, they couldn't schedule another flight, but they didn't offer to do anything for me.  No hotel, nothing.

The flight, however, did not leave at 6:13.  We weren't even boarding at 6:13.  The plane arrived from Chicago around 6:20, and we were only able to leave around 6:40, almost an hour and a half late.  Even with the flight attendants asking non-connecting-flight-chasers to remain seated, it was a struggle to get off the plane when we landed.  I missed the connection by approximately 15 minutes.

Fortunately, I have a great friend in Chicago, who insisted on picking me up and letting me spend the night (and I am currently working up a thank-you card for her and her family). In the morning, I took a cab back to the airport.  The driver, who was totally awesome, told me that United was at Terminal 1, but I was confused because my ticket very distinctly said that the flight would leave from Terminal 2.  The driver brought me to Terminal 1, where I asked one of the United employees who was running the curb-side check-in.  He looked up my ticket, told me that yes, I needed to go to Terminal 2, and then checked my bag for me.  He did not print me a boarding pass, and even said that I would have to print it inside.*

In Terminal 2, the shit really hit the fan.  Up until this point, United hadn't been going out of their way to show me that they value their customers, but the problems I experienced were really problems caused by O'Hare (there's so much traffic at that airport, it's common for people to miss their connections; my flight from Boston was on a plane that had presumably been coming from O'Hare).  But when I went to Terminal 2, that's where United absolutely failed me, and lost a customer.

To my dismay, there really weren't any United service desks in the terminal, since, as the cabbie pointed out, United is in Terminal 1.  But there was a United Star Alliance desk, so I figured I would go there any ask what I should do.  The employee behind the desk was obnoxiously rude and inappropriate.  He told me at first that he wasn't on duty/didn't work for United.  He then tried to check me in using the self-check-in system, after some grumbling.  It wouldn't let me check in, and he got angry because apparently the guy at curb-side was supposed to print my boarding pass.  He kept commenting how "fucking stupid" either the curb-side guy was, or maybe how "fucking stupid" I was; it was hard to tell who he was referring to.  He then told me that it was stupid that I paid $25 to check my luggage.  First of all, I know it costs $25 to check my luggage, since that's pretty standard for a lot of airlines, and I'd done it before.  It's not as if I could have checked it for free.  Second of all, I had to check my luggage; my suitcase is very large.

After going on about how I had done everything all wrong, the employee ended his profanity-laced tirade by directing me to go back to Terminal 1 to check in, which I did.  Awesome.

My flight home wasn't much better.  My flight to Chicago from Cedar Rapids was delayed because the plane was delayed coming out of Chicago.  It was further delayed because of de-icing.  We landed in Chicago with about 15-20 minutes to go before my connection to Boston, but we had to sit on the tarmac because there was no gate for us (and then the plane leaving our gate had to de-ice at the gate).  Even though I used my phone to determine that the flight to Boston was still scheduled to leave on time, the flight attendant reassured the passengers that several connecting flights were also delayed (she referred to specific flight numbers, including the Boston flight).  After waiting for approximately 35 minutes, we finally got a gate, but all of us found that we had missed our connections.  We then went to the nearest United customer service desk.  Although I was one of the first people in line, and there were always between 3 and 5 United employees behind the service desk, I had to wait 20 minutes to be helped.  Not that it took them 20 minutes to help the people ahead of me.  There was one man being helped when we all arrived, and after a rep finished helping him, she didn't help anyone else.  No one in line was helped for 20 minutes.  And there were 20 of us in line.

Fortunately, I was put on the next flight to Boston, even though it was overbooked.  That flight was delayed because of weather and de-icing, but the flight was otherwise uneventful.  However, when I got home, I realized something very interesting.  When I flew to Iowa and got stuck in Chicago, they put my luggage in the O'Hare baggage claim.  The tag on my luggage only had the call letters for O'Hare and not Cedar Rapids.  As I mentioned before, I had to get my boarding pass to Iowa after I complained to the service reps; even though I did say I wanted to check in for the Cedar Rapids flight, the system did not do so.  That is, if I had arrived in Iowa that evening, my luggage would not have.  On my flight home, I received both boarding passes right away, and my luggage had a tag with both ORD and BOS on it.

So, to summarize:

Flight to Iowa:
- delayed, no reason given
- delayed twice as long as originally announced
- did not receive a boarding pass for my connecting flight when I originally checked in
- luggage would not have made it to Iowa City
- missed my connecting flight
- next flight to Cedar Rapids would not get me to Iowa City in time
- no offer of compensation, no offer of a rental car, no offer of a hotel for the night
- confusion about terminals
- curb-side employee did not print my boarding pass or give me accurate information
- Star Alliance employee rudely and inappropriately made a minimal attempt to help me

Flight to Boston:
- delayed, weather
- delayed longer than originally announeced
- sat on the tarmac for 35 minutes after landing
- crew incorrectly informed several passengers that their connecting flights were delayed
- missed connecting flight
- had to wait 20 minutes before customer service employees would assist us

So, I will never fly United again.  If I attend the University of Iowa, I will fly Delta (not only will this mean I don't give United my money, it also means that I'll be able to connect at another airport, avoiding the problems that O'Hare inevitably creates).  If I attend UChicago, I will fly JetBlue or Southwest.  Not flying United ever ever ever again, the assholes.

* For those of you who are much more familiar with O'Hare, but maybe not Logan, there's some confusion about the terminals.  While it seems self-explanatory that I should have just gone to Terminal 1, where United is, because my flight was leaving from Terminal 2, it was confusing.  At Logan, you can't move from terminal to terminal without having to go through security again, whereas at O'Hare, you can go to any of the three terminals without having to exit and re-enter.  I didn't know that I could check in and go through security in Terminal 1 and then fly out of Terminal 2 because you can't do that at Logan.  The reason why my flight was leaving from Terminal 2 and not Terminal 1, I think, is because Terminal 2 has ground-level gates; the plane we were taking was very small and we entered it from the tarmac.

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