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Travel Fiasco with United Airlines

Still in Beijing. Loads of fun with airline offenses. Here’s the account:

I used 30K miles to upgrade to business class. One way only. They could not upgrade the flight from SLC to SFO, so they put me on standby for that link. And they unbooked my economy fare seat. That was the sign of things to come.

After fixing the confusion with the seat to SFO, United then sent my bag only as far as San Francisco. According to their automated bag claim phone line, they have not located it yet. I am now on day 2 without clean clothes, deodorant, and so on. I bought some clothes in Beijing, but not enough for this kind of delay. To talk to a real live agent, United has a hold time of over 30 minutes–so far. Thank goodness for Skype, or this would cost a fortune. Incidentally, is there nothing more offensive than “we truly apologize for the delay” messages in these situations?

What’s more is that the business class seat that I upgraded into for 30K frequent flyer miles (did I mention how expensive that is?) had bedbugs! That’s right, bedbugs. I got to the hotel, with no clean clothes to use, and found that my body was covered in small bite marks. Not sure whether I had come down with some horridly debilitating pox, I went to a doctor who diagnosed the marks as bites from bedbugs. Could there be anything more disgusting? (Okay, wearing the same socks for three days is getting there…)

I flew United because I was considering switching from Delta, on which I am a Platinum level member of their frequent flyer program. United failed miserably with me.

Delta, I’m sorry I ran around on you, and I promise I’ll never do you wrong no more. Will you take me back?


10 Responses

  1. Sounds like a crappy flight. You should have got me on IM – I’ve got a United 1K lost baggage number – it gets you to the front of the queue.

    I’ve heard similar about all airlines – that being said I am constrantly amazed at the number of Novell people who fly Delta who lose baggage and get misconnected.

  2. See what happens when you fly “open source” airlines? All sorts of bugs creep into the code and your data ends up in San Francisco!


  3. Let’s United 1K’s boycott United for the month of November 2006. Let’s send am message to Mr. Tilton and his high-living execs that we have had it. For all our air travel in November, let’s select another airline.


  4. You may care to edit out my poersonal details please and 1K number if you decide to publish this. Included for authenticity.


    Enjoyed your blog about the indifference of United.

    I have been a 1K (been…) the past few years and after recent experiences decided to write to United

    The emails are enclosed FYI.

    Since the email to United, I have received only an automated reply, which seems the best that the slimmed down, post bankrupt chapter 11 Airline can muster.

    Thought my emails might partner your blog nicely for a reply – please just mask the name address and 1K number.



    Thank you for contacting United. This message is an automatically
    generated response to let you know we have received your email
    communication. At 1Kvoice, our focus is on post-travel customer problem
    resolution, comments and suggestions regarding our service.
    A member of our team will personally review your
    correspondence, and respond as soon as possible.
    Please note, if your message involves future travel plans with United,
    please contact our 1K Reservations 800-756-1000 so a United
    representative will be able to immediately respond to your travel
    needs. Below are telephone numbers for your reference for
    non-post-travel concerns.
    We appreciate that you have taken the time to provide feedback, and
    please know that as a 1K member, your comments are highly valued.
    Thank you for your business and for choosing United Airlines.
    United Airlines
    Customer Relations
    If your bag is delayed or damaged while traveling in the U.S., please
    call 1K Reservations 1 800-756-1000 where you will be connected to a
    Premium Baggage Service representative who will assist you immediately.
    Service Center: 1 800-325-0046
    Email Mileage Plus: http://www.united.com/page/specialpage/0,1451,2073,00.html
    · Domestic Reservations: 1-800-756-1000
    · International Reservations: 1-800-JETAWAY (1-800-538-2929)
    · Mileage Plus Award Reservations: 1-888-467-2768
    · International Award Reservations: 1-888-674-4680
    Reservation phone numbers outside of the U.S. or in Canada may be found
    at http://www.united.com by clicking on “Customer Service”, “Reservations” and
    “United Worldwide Contacts”.
    P.S. We invite you to visit our exclusive site for 1K members at:

    From: “LIST, PWPostOffice”
    Subject: RE: UAL Service
    Date: January 2, 2007 13:08:33 EST

    Tuesday, January 2, 2007.
    United Airlines
    By email to 1kvoice@united.com
    Dear United.
    I am compelled to write and give you feedback about United’s overall service and our Family’s recent travel experiences with United.
    At the start of last year our household had a 1K and 2 x premier Executives. This year we will have just one Premier Executive.
    2003 – 1K Level reached
    2004 – 1K level reached
    2005 – 1K level reached
    2006 – about 64,000 miles. Why?
    During 2006 I became dis-satisifed with various aspects of United Airlines service. Over the last year I have noticed a change in the
    attitude of United staff from one of determination to work out of chapter 11 by providing customers good service in exchange for their
    loyalty, to that of a seemingly casual disregard to providing customer satisfaction. The food has got worse, corners have been cut and
    now, with the exception of larger seats, even first class frequently feels like traveling coach on other airlines. We supported United during
    it’s difficulties – which came at a cost. It has not felt like that same loyalty is being returned.
    So, over the course of 2006 we began trying other airlines and found that the level of service in most cases was comparable or better than
    the attention I received at United. Another attraction was the more competitive fares I was receiving. Result = United got 64,000 miles from
    me in 2006 rather than 100K. We also purchased other tickets for family outside United.
    I will cite some specific examples that demonstrate why we are dissatisfied:
    1. A systemwide upgrade was not honored (April 2006) (Confirmed at booking/payment time not standby gate basis). On the return home
    to AKL via IAD-LAX-SYD, despite a confirmed upgrade, my Mother-in-Law was made to fly coach from IAD-LAX. She had originally found
    a cheaper ticket with another airline, but with our persuasion booked with United to fly a longer route AKL-SYD-LAX-AID instead of AKL-
    LAX-IAD and I used 2 x system wide upgrades to make the journey more comfortable.
    Response? After that experience I just spent $3500 for her and her husband to fly Air NZ AKL-HNL non stop with Air NZ this Christmas for
    the family vacation. No problems. No Sydney connection needed.
    2. Late flights Washington Dulles to Edmonton via Chicago (October 2006). Late arrival in Chicago meant a missed flight and had to
    overnight in Chicago. Worse still we missed the connection by only one minute due to a rude United representative not wanting to assist
    with the shuttle between terminals nor call the gate agent. I know it sounds like a 1 off but I am determined to avoid O’Hare at all costs now
    given the frequent late arrival of your flights from Dulles and the attitude of United staff.
    3. Award Airfare not honored (December 2006). On 12-23-06 my mother flew MEL-SYD-HNL for a family holiday using UAL award travel
    booked by UAL with Air Canada. The return portion HNL-SYD-MEL was also with Air Canada on December 29. Subsequent late arrival
    by Air Canada had her arrive in Sydney late. Neither Air Canada or United would assist with a rebooking on the final leg home and she
    had to purchase a one way ticket with Qantas between Sydney and Melbourne to return home.
    4. Terrible service IAD-SFO-HNL. December 22, 2006. We upgraded using systemwide upgrades. Good seats, lousy food and poor
    service. Chatty United staff at the front of the plane happy to talk to each other and hang out up front but not do the customary work such
    as filling drinks, glasses, hanging coats proactively and the other small things we have come to appreciate. We know United has a
    “system” and this flight, like others in the previous months serves as a reminder to us that the investment in customer service training for
    your staff seems to have slipped. Another cost cut?
    Upon arrival we experienced a Six hour wait at SFO on December 22. Subsequent late arrival cost us $137 in extra rental car costs. The
    wait could have been avoided. We were told by United that the certification for the over wing exit slide would expire the next day whilst in
    Hawaii and that United had decided to complete the maintenance in SFO. The maintenance ended up taking from 2PM to about 10PM.
    Our departure was schedules for 4.30PM and the original plane schedules was assigned to the earlier flight to HNL which I believe was
    supposed to depart around 2.30PM. Why are United leaving such maintenance items until the last minute? The alternative evening flight
    which we investigated switching to was also delayed due to engine difficulties.

    From: Shayne
    Subject: UAL Service
    Date: January 2, 2007 11:45:09 EST
    To: 1kvoice@united.com
    1 Attachment, 5.9 KB Save
    On top of this two of my golf clubs and one of my wife’s expensive italian shoes were missing after a TSA checked baggage inspection.
    TSA frequently take items and I am sick of it. Although that is not directly United Airline’s fault it reflects badly on you as one of your
    “service” providers present to us as little more than thieves and second class baggage handlers and crowd controllers.
    5. Award Booking attempt (December 20, 2006). I was told that the United link with Air NZ was broken and therefore Air NZ had instructed
    United not to book any award travel. I requested help to manually make a booking, which was checked with a supervisor and was then
    told there was nothing they could do. To make matters worse it is now 80,000 miles for a long distance airfare, instead of 60,000 miles.
    The list could go on and on, but the above is a sample of our experiences and the ones that stick in our throat as my Mother had to buy her
    own ticket home when the award didn’t work, my Mother-in-Law did not get all of her systemwide upgrade to work as it should have, we
    have been treated poorly and we have lost confidence in United.
    At the present time, we are resolved to flying other airlines for the year and make the change to put our 100,000 miles elsewhere. I am not
    convinced my concerns in this letter will be adequately addressed, but decided to give United Airlines an opportunity that the many who
    just walk from United will not.
    Mileage Plus number XXXX.
    Email shayne

  5. Simple; there is a BIG tax break for buying your own airplane (or other capital equipment) for business use. I now charge all my new airplane’s expenses and other biz on my United MP Credit Card and get 12>15K MP miles per month for NOT flying United. Get there faster and treated well. Take a big bottle of shamppo, too!

  6. Quit whining!

  7. …and, it seems all live customer telephone service has been outsourced to India, handled by employees with little knowledge of airline service.

  8. I flew from Denver to Copenhagen on 6 Jan. I’m on my second day with no suitcase and a $200 allowance from SAS to purchase necessary clothing items for my business meetings. Have you ever shopped in Copenhagen????? I got a sweater for $60….my overcoat is in my suitcase as well as my suit, shoes, etc for an important meeting tomorrow….with NO HOPE of my baggage arriving before tomorrow. I’ve called the 1K desk and have been on HOLD with SAS for over half an hour! No one seems accountable or willing to commit to paying for appropriate clothing I need to conduct business. I am disappointed in the response and service I have gotten thusfar in determining where my suitcase is.

  9. i just saw your blog.
    about your bedbugs on the united flight… i just flew from san francisco to tokyo on united business then connected to a flight to singapore last week and am afraid that i’ve encountered bed bugs on one of the flights. arms and legs full of red itchy spots. did you contact united?

    • Indeed I did. Their handling of it was worse than disappointing, and I have avoided United ever since. Their India-based “customer service” rep made no accommodations, and even went so far as to imply that I was out of line to expect them to take any action about it: “I’m giving you an answer, you just don’t like the answer I’m giving you.” (I tend to keep calm in dealing with customer service reps, so that reply was not a reaction to a an irate customer.)

      After trying out American Airlines, I’m back to being a regular with Delta.

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