Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A United Nightmare - One of the many reasons NOT to fly with United Airlines

A United Nightmare - One of the many reasons NOT to fly with United Airlines

My husband Sean and I had a lot of problems flying with United Airlines in the past but, before canceling our United Plus Explorer credit card and never flying with United again, we decided to give them one more chance on our last London to Las Vegas trip. BIG MISTAKE.

Though the first issue wasn't with United, our problems started early on when we boarded the airport express subway to terminal 1 at the London Heathrow Airport. Everything was going fine til the subway suddenly stopped just before the terminal saying they were awaiting a place to pull up to. They apologized for the unexpected delay but it was awhile before they got us to our destination. What happened from there is why we'll NEVER fly United again.

When we finally got to our terminal, we had to run all the to United's ticketing/check-in area, arriving there around 8:24am. We tried to go to the counter to check Sean in, since the fact he wasn't a US citizen made it impossible to do online or at the kiosk, and drop off our bags that needed to be checked but an agent manning the kiosks insisted that we check in there. We tried to explain that it wouldn't work but she kept insisting that it would and wouldn't let us through without trying. She spent 5 minutes trying to help us before realizing and admitting we were right and finally allowing us to go to the ticketing counter.

It was 8:29am then, our flight was at 9:30am, and bags for international flights, at least with United, have to be checked in at least an hour before the flight. The agent at the counter was quick to get us checked in but then tried to charge us $100 each for our second checked bag. I told her I have a United MileagePlus Explorer account entitling me to 1 free checked bag (or 1 additional for a total of 2 for international flights where 1 is already included with the flight) for both myself and a guest. She wasn't aware of that policy so she asked me for proof which, luckily, I'd brought with me just in case the United agents were uninformed.

This is the baggage info I received immediately after booking our United flights:

I shouldn't have had to provide proof but I did. Even after showing her this, however, she didn't know what to do about it. She had to ask her co-workers who were equally out of the loop. She spent precisely 10 minutes sitting around working out what to do and looking flabbergasted before she finally said she'd go ahead and put it in for us but didn't bother apologizing for the delay, inconvenience, or hassle. Imagine if I hadn't planned for the worst and didn't have that photo. I'd be out another $200!

So after this ordeal was sorted, the agent told us we'd really need to high-tail it since our gate was a 15 to 20 minute walk away and we still had to get through security. We ran the whole way to security.

Finally trough security, we had 30 minutes before our flight's departure and probably a 15 minute walk ahead of us. Instead, we then ran the entire way to our gate too. The gate was about to close when we arrived and we were dripping with sweat with a 10+ hour flight to Los Angeles (LAX), 9 hour layover (which wound up being WAY longer), and 1+ flight to Vegas ahead of us.

After landing in Los Angeles, we planned to get the most out of our 9 hour layover and use the once per year free admission to the United Club lounge area that comes complimentrary with the United Plus Explorer credit card. (As a cardholder of the United Plus Explorer credit card, you're given free admission to the lounge once per year.)

Inside the Club, things weren't quite as fancy or luxurious as I'd expected. They had a lot of cozy chairs to sit on but none that reclined and nowhere to lay down. They had a bar but you had to pay for the drinks. (I'd been under the impression that at least some alcoholic beverages would be included with admission into the Club.) They had a lot of snacks but cheese was the closest thing to food available. It was nice but anyone who's walked by and wondered what they're missing shouldn't be jealous. It's not much more than you'll receive on your flight. See for yourself!

I'm aware that some of the United Club locations have more amenities (such as showers) than others but I can't help thinking it's all a bit overrated for those who actually pay for it unless it's a one-off type of thing and they're really in need of something unattainable from other areas of the airport.

Anyway, Sean and I quickly chose comfortable seats in the darker tv room and scooted our seats closer to one another to relax with some snacks and then get some rest.

It was 10:20pm when we exited the club. Our flight's departure time was 10:50pm but our gate was literally just around the corner from us, about a 3 minute walk away. We had PLENTY of time. We could've crawled to the gate if we'd wanted to. That's when we got screwed again though. The security check point we'd come through earlier that day was adjacent to the corridor we needed to walk down to get to our gate. As we approached, however, everyone at the check point stood motionless, staring in our direction. It was freaky! We proceeded towards the corridor but were suddenly stopped by a TSA agent who said no one was allowed in or out of the terminal we were in, even to go to the adjacent terminal where our gate was. I explained to her that we needed to get to our gate because our flight would be departing in half an hour but she told us no flights would be departing til whatever issue was at hand was resolved. She assured us that our flight would not leave without us and that the entire airport was aware of what was going on. I asked her just what WAS going on and she stated that she didn't know but that the police had ordered that no one be let in or our of their respective areas til they'd found a person they were looking for in our terminal.

You can see the TSA agent who'd stopped us on the far right with her arms crossed:

We saw the police rush down the terminal and return several minutes later but it didn't seem they'd found who they were looking for. They finally reopened the terminal entries and exits and Sean and I took off running.

We were at our gate a moment later but there was no one there except for one other female passenger. It was 10:43pm and the plane was at the gate but the gate door was closed and there wasn't an agent in sight. An agent by the name of A. Ruiz finally showed up but wouldn't let us on the flight. We explained the situation to him and he said he was already aware but had not received instruction to delay the flight so he couldn't let us on since they had to prepare for takeoff. Apparently there were 6 total passengers in our situation. Same deal for all of us. I told him it wasn't right, that TSA had assured us our flight wouldn't leave without us, that they shouldn't leave when they know their passengers can't get to the gate, and that we'd been waiting for our flight all day. He said there was nothing he could do. He said there were no more flights to Las Vegas that night but that he could rebook us for a flight the next morning. I told him we had an event that we'd paid a lot of money for the next morning and that we couldn't afford to miss it. I tried everything but he just stopped listening and said he had to close out the flight so everyone on the plane would be able to make it to Vegas on time. Seriously?! He told us to go to their customer service desk and stopped responding to me except to occasionally tell me that he was closing the flight.

A minute's walk away, we reached the customer service desk where we spoke to a Ross McKinley. Minus the "having to close out the flight" line, mostly everything we were told there was the same. We explained everything over again but were told again that all they could do was rebook us for a flight the following morning. We told him it'd be too late and that we'd miss the event we'd paid a lot of money for. He said there was nothing that could be done. I asked if they could provide a rental car in place of our flights so that we could drive ourselves home. He said United doesn't have affiliations or deals with rental car companies and that it'd be impossible. We were then directed to TSA to ask them to help or compensate us since they'd told us our flight would be held for us which, according to the gate agent and customer service representative, was only the policy if the gate agent received such an order or 8 or more people were missing the flight because of such an event.

We got back to TSA and spent another 10 or so minutes arguing with them about why they'd told us that our flight would be held. They said no flights should've been permitted to leave and that they should've waited. They said they don't know why United chose not to wait but that we'd have to take it up with them. We explained that we had and that we'd spoken to the gate agent and customer service representatives to no avail already but they insisted that TSA was not in the wrong for holding us up, that they were just doing their job and following the orders they were given by the police, that it was between us and United if United decided to allow our plane to takeoff without us, and that our best bet was to go to the United ticketing counter and ask for a manager.

We had to go back outside the security check point to reach ticketing. We stopped at the first United counter we saw after that. It was the United Premier Access ticketing counter. At first, we didn't see anyone there so we thought it was closed but then we noticed a couple of agents sitting down on the checked baggage conveyor belt behind the counter and chatting. They stood up a moment after we arrive at the counter and we explained everything to them again after which they simply said we'd need to speak with a supervisor, that they didn't have a supervisor present, and that we'd need to go around the corner to the main United ticking counter.

It's hard to see but these were the two United Premier Access agents sitting down behind the counter:

 We finally reached the correct counter to speak with a supervisor but first had to deal with an agent telling us twice to use a kiosk to check in. We told her we weren't trying to check-in and that we needed to speak with a supervisor. She asked why so we gave her a summary and she went to get her supervisor, Charles Hayes. Charles was assisting another customer off and on so he only half listened to everything we had to say while typing on his computer, trying to help the other customer rather than handling one customer's issue at a time. I tried waiting for him to finish with the other customer but rather than getting back to us he finally just sent us a few windows down to speak to his "ticketing team leader" Hilda Jimenez saying she could help us instead. He relayed the message that we didn't want a simple flight rebooking for the following morning but left the rest of the details and explanation as to why in our hands. Yet again, we were forced to explain the situation and told there was nothing that could be done aside from taking a morning flight. Yet again, we explained why that wasn't good enough til Jimenez finally had to bring over another ticketing supervisor, Cathleen Lopez, to whom we told our story for the last time that night. After the redundant "your only option is an early morning flight tomorrow" speech, she heard us out, addressing our concerns to what she claimed was the best of her ability. We told her we'd spent a lot of money on an event we'd be missing the following morning and asked if United was prepared to compensate us for that. She said United wasn't responsible for us missing our flight so they wouldn't compensate us. We, of course, disagreed but debating with her for another 5 or so minutes about it got us nowhere. We asked for a rental car instead as it was the least they could do for us to get us home for our event. We were again told that it'd be impossible since United doesn't have agreements with rental car companies. I asked if we could rent a car with our own money and be compensated by United afterward. She said it was highly unlikely but that we'd have to contact customer care online to see if there was anything they'd be willing to do to compensate us for our losses after the fact. After our prior dealings with United's online customer care, which we then related to Lopez and you can read about here:

we didn't like our odds. Finally, we got her to check if there were any earlier flights than theirs but it turned out the 6:10am United flight was the earliest. As to not be out any additional funds, we finally had to cave in, opt for the 6:10 flight, and just hope we could make it to our event the next morning if we rushed. In her attempt to make all things right for us, Lopez upgraded us to Economy Plus seating so we'd have power outlets and slightly more leg room for our 1 hour flight. In the meantime, I desperately needed to wash airport and airplane off of me. I felt disgusting and needed a shower and a bed for at least a couple of hours. I agreed to save my other concerns for online customer care later but asked that they at least provide hotel accommodation for us in the meantime. Again, we were denied and told that since it wasn't considered United's fault that we missed our flight United wouldn't be able to provide us with hotel accommodation either. What happened to owning up to fault and taking responsibility for actions? What happened to valuing and wanting to go the extra mile for your customer? How can you decided to leave your passengers behind but not be prepared to accommodate their needs after? How inconsiderate can a company that runs on consumers be towards those consumers? It was insane. They wouldn't even provide transportation TO a hotel! I asked what we were supposed to do, where we were supposed to sleep, and how we were supposed to shower. She suggested a group of chairs a few yards away from her counter, saying we could spend the night there.

The chairs we were directed to:

Wow.. What about our personal belongings? She just expected us to stay up all night in some chairs or risk falling asleep and leaving our things unguarded? Finally, we got her to hand over a voucher for "lowest hotel rates for airline passengers" as if that would help.

Our flight was in 5 hours and we didn't have transportation. We weren't about to pay out of pocket for a hotel we'd have to pay for transportation to and would only have a couple of hours at. Also, where were our checked bags? We'd forgotten all about that. Apparently, they'd sent our checked bags on the flight back to Vegas without us. Those bags would be rotating around the baggage claim drop til a United agent realized no one was coming for them or someone else picked them up and took them home. Very reassuring. I was trying so hard not to scream or cry at this point but I finally just had to take the hit for the night, walk away from the counter, and follow up another day, hoping it would get us further than it did the last couple of time.

Sean and I finally managed to find an empty bench to lay down and collect ourselves on after that. It was cold but we cuddled up under a throw blanket with our jackets on, bags under the bench, and we were able to get a few good hours of sleep.

A few hours at 4:34am, we were rudely awakened and told to give the bench up to some handicapped lady who wanted to sit down. If only they knew what we'd been through and why we were sleeping on the bench in the first place! We only slept on that particular one because it was the only one we could find with outlets and I had to charge my phone if I wanted to be able to arrange transportation from the Vegas airport to our house since our flight had been delayed and I'd had to reschedule everything! There were about a dozen other free benches nearby but we were woken up and being forced to move, still half asleep, because handicapped lady wanted the particular bench we were on.

We gave up sleeping at that point and went back trough security for the third time in the last day.

We were at our gate again minutes after that and sat there waiting til it was time to board. Finally, 6:10am rolled around and we were in the air!

During the flight, Sean found some interesting, fictional reading material in his seat-back pocket:

What felt like moments later, we were suddenly over Vegas and coming in for a landing! We could hardly believe we'd made it home when we got inside the airport.

Sean went to baggage claim to retrieve our bags while I went to the restroom but we were in for another slight disappointment. The good news was that the bags were being held for us in the baggage claim office. The bad news was that the office was unattended with the door wide open. Anyone could've taken the luggage! Sean stood around wondering what to do and whether to just take our bags and go when someone finally showed up. He asked her if he could take his bags and she simply asked his last name and helped him out with both his and my bags without checking that his name actually matched the baggage details or the last names attached to the bags or even noticing that he was removing bags under someone else's name (mine) as well! He could've given any name, grabbed any bags, and she wouldn't have known the difference! Well, at least we all know how to get our hands on free stuff if we want it now, right?

Anyway, I took a deep breath and walked with Sean towards passenger pickup where our friend was waiting to retrieve us. We'd had a REALLY rough time but Sean and I are both too optimistic to let the worst of times ruin things for us if there's any way we can help it. Besides, at least now we have a lot of words for all the future travelers, friends, family, and everyone we meet looking for advice on what airlines to trust..or not to.

Sign the Petition Against United


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