Will "the Mighty" Strohl

Do Not Fly United Airlines, Unless You Like Nightmares

My Grandfather had cancer for a while, but more recently, his illness took over to the point where he wasn’t going to live for more than a week.  At the time, we thought he wouldn’t make it past the weekend.  As many family members do, we immediately made plans to fly out and spend some time with my Grandfather before he passed.  We used RezHub for the flight, as we couldn’t find a cheaper flight anywhere else.  (And I am not just saying that because I work there. It was literally the cheapest flight we could find.)

As fate would have it, our cheap flight was through United Airlines.  (Their name is not linked, because I do not want to give them the traffic.)  We chose United not only for the cheap rate, but also due to their bereavement policy.  This was certainly not a planned trip, and it wasn’t a vacation.  We called their customer service line, and were told that we would just need to furnish a death certificate, or the obituary, and they would refund our tickets.  That sounded good to us!

The United rate continued to be the cheapest, until we showed up at the gate and had to pay for everything we took for granted at our favorite airline, Southwest Airlines (who doesn’t offer bereavement flights).

Flights to San Diego

United Airlines: tape on the wing The first flight to San Diego sucked. We had a crappy flight and plane for our first leg of the trip to Denver, CO.  The takeoff and landing were very rough, and we experienced all kinds of suspicious sounds throughout the duration of our flight, including taxiing.  When they would open or close the baggage area beneath us, you could clearly hear the sound of a drill being used to open and close the compartment(s).  The part of the nightmare ended once we walked off of that flight.

We were told that their main hub is in Denver, which I could not confirm on their website.  But if that’s true, my anger over being delayed for over an hour for them to do “routine maintenance” on a plane that had been sitting there all night and day is well-grounded.  This is especially true if you consider this quote from their customer commitment on their own website.

At United, the only acceptable customer experience is one in which you arrive at your intended destination safely, comfortably and on time. When events and obstacles beyond our control, such as severe weather or Air Traffic Control delays, prohibit us from achieving this standard, we strive to minimize customer inconvenience however possible.

United Airlines Customer Commitment screen shot We did not arrive comfortably at Denver due to the condition of the plane, and we were very uncomfortably seated since we were not prepared to pay an extra $55 each for an additional 5-inches of leg room.  (Yes! That’s a friggin’ upgrade option!)  On top of that, their television system was not working for the 3+ hour flight.  Keeping the above quote in mind again, what appeared to be an avoidable problem (remember, “routine maintenance”?) turned out to not allow us to arrive "on time” to San Diego.

The second leg of our flight to San Diego consisted of a much better flight experience in terms of the quality of the plane.  No unexpected noises, and the takeoff and landing were just fine.  No complaints there.

During Our Stay in San Diego

We had no issues once in San Diego.  We received our bags with everything accounted for, and in the same condition as when it was packed by us.  No complaints there.

While we were in San Diego, we found out less than 24 hours before our departing flight was scheduled to depart that my Grandfather had less than 48 hours left to live.  This was a final determination by his hospice doctor.  There was no doubt this time.  He was going to pass.  Once we found out that we could make arrangements to stay another week to help with his funeral, we did so.

We called United and made arrangements to change our flight to the following week.  We are not made of money, so we made sure to talk to them about the situation with my Grandfather and our intentions to take advantage of their bereavement policy.  They were very nice.  We were told that due to the way their reservations system works, they would have to first cancel the original return flight, and re-book it for the new day.  Furthermore, we would have to pay a $150.00 fee per ticket to change the flight, but it would also be refunded with the tickets, once we got back and placed our bereavement request.  That sounded incredible! 

United booked our flights, and sent us a confirmation of our new flight via e-mail.  We were so happy that everything was working out!

Flights Back to Orlando

We spent the next week taking care of my Grandfather, then his funeral arrangements, and the family members that arrived for the funeral.  But finally, the day came where we’d have to fly back home, and it did.  We arrived at the check-in counter and placed our bags on the scale.  We gave the attendant our confirmation number that was sent to us the week prior.  To our surprise, we were told that the confirmation number was invalid!  What the [censored]?!!

The attendant was very matter of fact about it, and told us that the reservation number we gave her was cancelled.  Upon asking what we needed to do about this, she said that she could not do anything.  We’d have to call the reservation number to work it out.  So, we pulled our stuff to the side, and called.  This is when we found out that our return flight (of which we had a reservation number for) was never booked.  They simply cancelled the flight, and did nothing else.  Argh!!!

Needless to say, but we had to purchase a new ticket on a flight that had only 4 seats left.  We took 2 of them.  We got lucky there.  Once again, being concerned about finances, we brought the person on the phone up-to-speed on our situation with my Grandfather.  We were assured that everything would be fine.  Just purchase the new tickets, and then put in our paperwork for the bereavement refunds.  Okay…  Our scare was over for the moment.

Luckily, there was another attendant there who had witnessed everything, and as as result, he chose to not charge us for our baggage.  We didn’t even ask.  We were very thankful for that, and even more so since we were coming home with 2 more bags than we arrived with.  That saved us about least $75 each.  Excellent!

Everything was uneventful while waiting for our flight to board.  We chose to hang out at a bar, where I did some work while waiting.

The flight to Denver was uneventful as well.  We enjoyed a nice plane, and seats in the “5 extra inches of leg room” section.  Score!  I don’t think we paid for that either, but we wouldn’t have had a choice anyway.

While waiting during our layover in Denver, we were called to the gate.  For whatever reason, the attendant wanted to move us up 1 row.  As it turns out, we were slated to be in the last row of the plane, and she had stand-by people waiting.  She moved us to the next row up to give us reclining seats on our flight to Orlando.  That was nice, and appreciated.  The stand-by people were stuck with the stationary seats… Nanny-nanny, boo-boo!

This flight was also uneventful, except for the weather.  We experienced the expected air pockets and turbulence due to some bad storms.  But what can you do about that?  It happens.  No problem there.

We landed and everything went as expected.  We had all of our belongings, and the landing was nice.  All we had to do was get home. 

Once We Were Home

One of the things that the reservations people kept telling us was to not delay on submitting for our bereavement refunds.  They kept telling us to do it the very next day after landing to make sure everything went through smoothly.  Taking the advice seriously, that’s what we did.  We faxed in our information that very next day, and followed-up with a telephone call.  We were told everything would be fine.  Just wait 7-10 days for our refund deposits to post.

We waited the 7 days and called them back.  We had only received four small deposits, 2 each of $9.90 and $10.40.  There was no sign of our tickets being refunded.  The only thing actually refunded so far was our cancelled flight.

We are now 16 days later, and we still have not received the promised refund.  We have two times during the last week, where we were told to just wait a bit longer. 

This morning, we called again, and were told that the ticket refunds were approved and sent out, and should show by Friday.  I called my bank to see if they saw the deposits pending, because they can sometimes see that before we do.  They saw nothing.  Great… (Sarcastic, of course.)

When we called back again after that, the refund department had changed their tune completely.  They now decided that they would not refund our tickets.  What the [censored]?!!  We even spoke to the supervisor of that person.  I am burning up with anger here!!!

United Airlines Customer Commitment

United has a 12-point customer commitment outline (screen shot above) that outlines what they promise to their customers.  Here is my review of those 12-points:

  1. Offer the lowest fair available FAIL!
    The fare was lower, but the fees make up for the low fare.
  2. Notify customers of known delays, cancellations, and diversions FAIL
    We were indeed notified, but never told why until we were in the air.
  3. Provide on-time baggage delivery PASS
  4. Provide a fair baggage liability limit PASS
    Our luggage was received in acceptable condition.
  5. Allow reservations to be held or cancelled FAIL
    Unfortunately, this does not account for bereavement situations, and the fee to cancel is outrageous.  Sure, cancel your flight, but you’ll regret it.
  6. Provide prompt ticket refunds FAIL
    Ha! Only if they choose to do so, and even then, strings are attached.
  7. Readily, capably and respectfully accommodate travelers with special needs PASS
    We are fortunate to not have any special needs.
  8. Meet customers' essential needs during long on-aircraft or in-airport delays, diversions and cancellations PASS
    I could complain here, but those complaints would be tiny.
  9. Treat involuntarily denied boarding customers fairly and consistently PASS
    Thankfully, we had no problems with this.
  10. Disclose up-to-date travel itinerary, cancellation policies, frequent flyer rules and aircraft configuration to our customers PASS
    No complaints here.
  11. Work closely with our regional flying partners to deliver responsive customer service PASS
    I do not think that our customer service issues have anything to do with this.
  12. Respond quickly, appropriately and courteously to customer questions and complaints FAIL
    I think this blog entry outlines this failure pretty well already.

If this were a report card, they would be given a 41%.  I guess it could be worse though, because 5 failures out of 12 possible passing ratings could have been 6 failures.  I gave them the benefit of the doubt on one.  That’s a failing grade pretty much everywhere I can think of.  Good thing this is not school… We’d have to repeat this experience together.


This is not over yet, but needless to say, this is our final straw.  We had already decided that they were not going to get our business, but now they are officially boycotted!  DO NOT FLY UNITED AIRLINES!!!  Honestly, I am clueless to how they make any profit whatsoever.  New customers are important, but repeat customers define the success of a business.  They lost one today, and everyone I have spoken to about them agree that they already do not use them.  How about you?

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