Dear United: What gives?

Below is feedback sent to United a little over two weeks ago about a trip that took place on August 10, 2012.  The customer has not yet received a response, so he gave me permission to share his issues via my blog and social media.

In 300 segments of travel in the last couple of years, I have never seen a worse performance by an airline as I did last night, starting with the operations team that decided to board Charlotte NC (CLT) and Charlottesville VA (CHO) at the same gate – A1E and A1F.

But perhaps that would have been acceptable if the gate agents had a clue what they were doing. Starting by calling the boarding for Charlottesville, they had scanned the boarding passes for four or five passengers before they realized that they were BOARDING THE WRONG FLIGHT! They had to send someone down the hallway to bring these passengers back. And then they started calling Charlotte.

While I don’t want to add a racial component here, the fact that neither of these two GAs were primary English speakers certainly didn’t help.

All of this on top of several other late flights being screamed and shouted at the same podium and the one next to it.

What the h*** is going on at United Airlines these days?

Below is a list of issues the customer encountered:

– Cancelled flights (they cancelled two of the afternoon’s three ATL-ORD due to weather)
– Unhappy passengers (the one flight that did go still left 20+ standbys behind)
– An “almost-a-mechanical” on the runway. Quote: “We’re being rerouted and need to update the computer, but it shouldn’t be more than a few minutes,” then the cockpit didn’t give us any further info for 25 minutes. By that point, I had signalled the FA to call and ask what’s up. The Captain said that they had a mechanical issue that took them a little while to resolve but “it’s all good now and we’ll be on our way in a few minutes.”
– And I-don’t-know-what was going on with the baggage carousel at Charlotte. They couldn’t open the door to the belt or something and so it took a half hour for me to get my bag, which was thankfully the first one on the belt.
– There were eight passengers from an earlier flight that didn’t get their bags. This was at 12:15 AM while I was watching them fiddle with the carousel.

So United, what is going on?  And why has this customer waited 17 days and counting for a response?

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Follow up to when Beth Effect strikes 29 June 2010

Below is the US Airways Customer Relations response to my mechanical delay, baggage misroute/delay (it was misrouted to LaGuardia, not JFK), and return flight tarmac delay.  Is it me, or does 8000 miles come across as too little compensation?  Please post your thoughts.

Dear Dr. Smith:

Thank you for contacting Customer Relations. I’m sorry your flight was delayed/canceled from Charlotte to LaGuardia.

Please accept my apology for the disappointing service you received on Flight 1630. Our customers deserve a pleasurable experience each and every time they fly with us, and I am sorry this trip did not meet your expectations. Your comments regarding our service are important, and we appreciate your taking the time to tell us about your experience. Through your feedback, we will be able to isolate and correct the problems you described.

We would appreciate another chance to earn your business. I have authorized 8,000 Dividend Miles to be added to your account as an invitation for you to travel with us again. Please allow 10 to 14 days for the miles to post in your Dividend Miles account. Your comments regarding your luggage not arriving with you have been documented and will be shared with the John F. Kennedy station manager. We are sorry that you had an unpleasant experience on this trip.

We have sent notification to the maintenance department regarding the temperature on your flight. The maintenance department appreciates your feedback and will look into this issue.

We appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns and hope you continue to choose US Airways as your preferred carrier.

Sincerely,

xxxxx
Representative
US Airways Corporate Office

Geni Gore
Representative
US Airways Corporate Office

Follow up to Dear Delta Customer Care

Dear Dr. Smith,

RE: Case Number xxxxxxx

Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding the service provided while
traveling with us.  On behalf of everyone at Delta Air Lines, I
sincerely apologize for our flight disruption and the unsatisfactory
customer service you encountered.

I understand the frustration you experienced when your plans were
disrupted due to the delay of our flight for mechanical reasons.  I was
especially dismayed to learn that this delay caused you to miss your
connecting flight and arrive three hours later in Daytona than
originally scheduled.  In addition, I am truly sorry for the
inconvenience you were caused when our staffing was inadequate.  Our
goal is to assist passengers in the timeliest manner possible.  During
such circumstances, we expect to provide timely information to our
passengers as they are traveling.  With that said, our team is required
to make announcements at 15 minute-intervals on the status of any flight
irregularity.  Feedback like yours will help us to improve our airport
process and overall customer experience.  Be assured I will be sharing
your comments with our Airport Customer Service leadership team for
internal follow up.

Furthermore, as our Gold Medallion, you are in the best position to
point out areas that need attention.  I apologize for the disappointment
caused when our gate agent refused to print a boarding pass for your new
connecting flight.  Your comments serve as an excellent reminder that
the actions of employees can make a significant difference in passenger
preference.  I recognize your dissatisfaction with the way this
situation was handled, as I understand it is our handling that makes the
greatest and most lasting impression.

Lastly, as a gesture of goodwill for our flight delay and the lack of
customer service, I have added 11,500 bonus miles to your SkyMiles
account.  Please allow three business days for the miles to appear.

Dr. Smith, I thank you for taking the time to write about your recent
flight experience and the service you received.  As a loyal Gold
Medallion member, your business is important to us and given the
opportunity of serving you in the future, I am confident Delta will not
only meet but exceed your expectations.

Sincerely,

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Coordinator, Customer Care
Delta Air Lines/KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

DAB-ATL-TRI on Delta 7 August 2010

The return trip from DAB was interesting as well.  Thunderstorms were predicted for August 7 afternoon, so my boyfriend and I decided to try to get an earlier flight.  We pretended as if we were booking one-way tickets and the 11:48 am flight showed availability in first (A) class, I believe five or six seats, so we thought that there might be a chance we’d go standby and get upgraded, since we’re both Gold Medallion.  The 1:48 pm flight was a CRJ-200 showing only a seat or two open, so that was our other option.

We arrived DAB at 9:00 am, and no one was at check-in.  We used the kiosk to request earlier flights and picked itineraries with the 11:48 am departure.  My boyfriend’s kiosk printed a seat request card, but mine a.) told me our original 3:07 pm was overbooked and I could volunteer with a gate agent b.)  There was an issue with the 3:07 pm flight already and c.) to see an agent.  Finally two agents showed up and the male agent didn’t help at all, he just said they were booked all day and standby was all we could get.  The female agent looked at my record, printed the seat request card which said, “Flight Coupon Required” which kind of made me nervous as I had an e-ticket, then tagged and took the bag I was checking.

Once security opened at 9:45 am (LOL), we passed through.  We checked delta.com mobile and it never would show us the standby list, but it did tell us there was a problem with the 3:07 pm departure.  So my boyfriend called and the agent said it was delayed.  Delta.com mobile also told me I was going to misconnect again.  Boarding for the 11:48 am flight started and towards the end of the process, I was called up and given seat 17B and my boyfriend was called up and given 26A exit window. I was like, “WTH?” and like the gentleman he is, he gave me his seat and he took mine.

This plane departed five minutes late and arrived about 10 minutes early.  I went to one of the interrupted travel scanners and printed a slip that showed that I was on standby for the 4:00 pm and confirmed on the 6:05 pm. My boyfriend also wanted to make sure which flights he was listed and/or confirmed on, so he went to a kiosk, which didn’t show him standby listed on anything, and wouldn’t let him list himself on a 2:40 pm or a 3:40 pm, so we went to Concourse E where he saw an agent.  She said Delta was upgrading their kiosk and website, so it was glitchy, but printed for him a seat request for 2:40 pm and a confirmed exit row 26A on the 3:40 pm.

We had an hour or so to kill before his 2:40 pm flight, so we ate at One Flew South, the upscale restaurant at ATL.  It came highly recommended and it was excellent. It was a fantastic meal, service, and we were in there, ordered, ate, and out of there in about 40-45 minutes.  We had the breast of duck with portabella ravoli and white asparagus. I highly recommend the restaurant.

We went to my boyfriend’s gate and the flight was boarding. He had cleared standby, so we said goodbye.  I went to the C Concourse Sky Club to pass the next hour and a half.  While there, I tried to scan my interrupted travel slip at the kiosk to see if perhaps I was really on the 4:00 pm and it did not show me standby listed at all.  So I went to the website and it was equally screwed up.  It showed that my 6:05 pm flight was delayed until 10:05 pm, but with an arrival of 7:20 pm (LOL), and prompted me to select alternate flights.  In all reality, the 6:05 pm was not delayed.  Then I checked the standby list for the 4:00 pm and I was #3 of 4 with 11 seats remaining, so I figured I was good to go after all.  But Delta’s technology “upgrade” was definitely causing glitches like the agent said.

Another interesting note about the club: the man seated across from me in the cubicle section was watching porn on his laptop when I arrived! Thank goodness he had on a headset and he didn’t see the look of shock on my face as I walked by to sit at my cube!

The 4:00 pm standby flight was a little delayed, so I went to my gate around 3:50 pm and saw I was #2 with five seats remaining.  Finally the agent said we were all cleared and I boarded with seat assignment 5B.  The flight was fine. Service by request and the flight attendant actually came and asked each one of us if we wanted something.  We only landed about five minutes late.

I went to baggage claim and of course, my bag was not there.  It did arrive on my original 6:05 pm flight and was delivered to me about two hours after arrival.  When I took a look at the baggage tag, it said DL 1699, the 11:48 am, and DL 5183, my original 6:05 pm flight.  It was also marked Sky Priority and Standby, and apparently it was not redirected to the 4:00 pm as per my standby record, even though it arrived in ATL around 1:15 pm.

Virgin Atlantic VS 04 JFK-LHR Upper Class April 13 by J. Augusta

After my live trip report from TPA-JFK I headed to baggage claim to grab my bag (I actually requested Delta to not check my bag through to LHR as I wanted it to get tagged as an “Upper Class” bag on VS and thus faster delivery), which took about 20 minutes. I then headed to the AirTran to T4 to check in for my VS flight.

T4 was relatively empty at 3:30pm with only a few flights leaving (including a NW flight to Amsterdam) at this time- way too early for the body to adjust to a time change if you ask me. Check-in was a breeze, and my bag was specially tagged and a lounge invitation was presented. I headed to the Virgin Clubhouse to spend the next hour or so which was relatively empty 3 hours prior to the flight. The lounge at JFK is pre-security which is a bit of a pain, but is still fairly nice. It’s in the upper section of T4 which means it has an open ceiling and also a view of the main section of T4. Since I had mostly skipped lunch (thanks to the mayo ridden sandwich served by DL) I settled down and ordered some food from the VS lounge- along with a martini (or 2). I went with the cream of chicken soup (awesome) and a tilapia dish served with basmati rice and candied carrots. The food was excellent- although was slow to arrive thanks to my server messing up my order. People around me, however, had no issues. Around 5:00 I headed down to explore duty free and kill some time before the 5:25 boarding. Nothing looked good so I just headed to the gate.

T4 has a security lane for Upper Class and Business Class passengers so I made it through in about 2 minutes with plenty of time to buy a few bottles of water and walk around checking out the gates (to see if there was anyone headed anywhere more interesting). A Swiss flight was leaving, as well a KLM flight to AMS, and a DL flight to LHR. Other than that the terminal was quite empty. Boarding was prompt at 5:25 and I headed to the plane.

The plane was placed in service in January, 2006 (Thanks to the lettering on the plane itself proclaiming its service date as well as its name- which I forget) so it’s one of Virgin’s newest A346s. Upon boarding I made my right hand turn to settle into my seat for the next 6:30. For those who have never been on a 346 these things are MASSIVE. Looking down the plane one can barely see the back of this thing. I must say I find it much more impressive (and roomy) than any 777 I’ve been on. I settled into seat 5k, on the right side of the plane and ironically the same seat I’ve had for every prior VS flight I’ve had. It’s a great seat (not that I can compare it to anything). VS seats are 1-1-1 with the middle seat facing the left side for the first 8 rows and the right side for the remaining rows. This meant I had no one to stare at me in my herringbone shaped pod for the entire flight. Since I left the lounge early I was one of the first to board. I was immediately offered a sleep suit which I accepted and changed into. On my return to my seat I was offered a glass of champagne which I sort of spilled onto my suite thanks to the poorly designed drink holders. After a quick cleanup it was as if nothing happened and, slightly embarrassed, I accepted another glass of champagne.

The plane continued to fill up and I sat around, sipped my champagne, and enjoyed the boarding process. As with many other European airlines (including BA), VS tends to, IMO, “cheat” this flight out of a proper meal. They sell it as a sleep flight (even though it’s leaving at 6:25) and thus offer only a limited menu. Today’s offerings were an express salad with Caesar dressing served with Shrimp, or a Flat Iron Steak or Vegetable “pasty” (British food!) as the hot options. There was no choice in starter, and dessert was cheese or cheesecake by request only. Orders were taken while on the ground, and I went for the steak without dessert. Keep in mind one can eat a full meal in the clubhouse so I may be a bit unfair here, but the options on the plane are a bit limited.

We pushed back on time and had a relatively short queue (for JFK at least) before heading out 31R (at least I think that’s what our pilot said). One thing about the A346s- these things take up the entire runway when fully loaded! Once in the air the captain waited about 15 minutes before turning the seat belt sign off (most European airlines tend to be more lenient with the seat belt sign than their American counterparts) at which time the FAs came around to make people’s seats into beds and begin meal service. They also fired up VPORT the entertainment system. The only complaint about VPORT is the fact that they show literally about 20 minutes of adverts before the system is accessible. I felt like I was in a movie theater being forced to watch 30 minutes of previews- which is never fun knowing what you paid for the right to be there!

My meal arrived about 10 minutes later (25 minutes in the air) with my salad (with Caesar dressing on the side), 3 rolls, and a main course all on the tray. Given the short flight I suppose I like the speed of this service (compared to the 2-3 hour Continental and Delta ordeal) so I’m a bit torn about the reduced menu. The meal was so-so, it was edible but not the best thing I’ve ever had by any means. I tried washing down the steak with a glass of their French red on offer, but the wine wasn’t drinkable so I left the wine and stuck with water. I ended the service with peppermint tea and had my bed made up. On VS the seats actually flip forward to create a flat bed. They then add a mattress cover and a duvet to create a mini-casket/bed type effect. This is the first time I actually used the bed and I was very impressed. It’s a bit firm but is REALLY nice to be able to lay down at 180 degrees. I tried finishing my movie (some Dean Cook comedy that was really bad) but ended up dozing off- I slept off and on for the next few hours which checking in on the flight progress on the interactive map from time to time. I didn’t get any real sleep (as I mentioned I have trouble with this) but at least was comfortable while dozing, and the cabin was nice and dark without much foot traffic (at least it wasn’t noticeable).

About 1:30 prior to landing breakfast was offered (one could pre-order before sleep if they liked)- options were fruit, cereal, bacon or sausage rolls, bread, and cake. I went with a croissant and some fruit which I washed down with some OJ and peppermint tea. I went to the bathroom to change out of my sleep suit and enjoyed the remainder of my flight watching the sky map.

For about the first time ever we had a very short approach and landed at LHR around 6:30- about 5 minutes early. We taxied for the next 15 minutes or so before parking at a gate at T3. The walk from the gate to customs took about 15 minutes, and I’m a fast walker. Upon arrival the general queue was madness- most likely the product of the Singapore A380 landing just shortly before us. Luckily we were given fast track and I walked to find a completely open section. I was through customs in about 2 minutes, walked down headed to the bathroom, and made my way to baggage claim which, at this point the bags were already coming off the belt (only about 20 minutes post-landing). Amazingly my bag was among the first 20 or so, so I grabbed it and headed through customs. All told this took about 20 minutes to deplane, go through immigration, grab bag, and go through customs. I headed to the trains to take the Heathrow Express into Paddington. I had to wait about 5 minutes for a train and then after the quick 15 minute ride I found myself in central London. I headed for the taxi stand and took a 20 minute taxi ride back to my place in Clapham. All said and done I was home almost exactly 1 hour after we arrived at the gate- and that includes walking to immigration, clearing immigration, waiting for baggage, exiting customs, walking to the train station, taking a train into London, waiting for a taxi, and riding to my place. That is record time in my book and a HUGE benefit to me as I was able to take a few hours nap before calling into my first meeting. They do have an arrivals lounge, but I decided to get home for sleep instead of checking out the lounge.

Overall VS has some great advantages. OK the food isn’t as good and the selection isn’t that great, but since one can eat in the clubhouse (which does have a nice menu) this isn’t a big deal. Service was much better on this flight, the flat beds were excellent, and the baggage delivery was nothing short of amazing. I go back and forth on my opinions of US and EU airlines and I think it’s down to the experience one wants. If you want a seamless flight, a quick meal, and a comfortable bed then you cannot beat Virgin. If you don’t sleep, enjoy the 3 hour meal and want constant, excellent service then you can’t beat the US carriers. It’s a personal preference, but a great experience nonetheless.

14 March 2009: SFO-CVG-TRI

DL 1836 SFO-CVG 11:34 am – 6:55 pm 737-800 Seats 1C and 1D

Wow, this flight was almost a mirror image of my outbound flight except for aircraft type, which is how it should be – consistent, reliable, and comfortable. We pushed back on time and were airborne by 11:45 am. Upon reaching 10,000 feet, we received our hot towel, beverage, and meal service. The meal choices were the same as the outbound, so we chose the ribs again instead of penne pasta with eggplant tomato sauce. It was just as good this time as the first time. That chocolate mousse cake is RICH. We also spent the flight watching satellite TV as we were not interested in the movies, and I worked on my trip blog (I will let you know when it’s posted nationally!) We had plentiful beverages served throughout the flight.  During the last hour, the flight attendant came around with the snack basket and more beverages.  We landed about 10 minutes early and John walked me halfway to the A concourse! Our inbound plane was his LGA outbound plane, lucky guy!

DL 6138 CVG-TRI 8:05 pm – 9:08 pm EMB 145 Seat 12A

Not sure why as it was about half full, but this flight departed about 20 minutes late. However, flight time en route was only about 35-40 minutes, so we still managed to arrive a few minutes early. The flight attendant offered a water only beverage service “due to the short duration,” but it was better than nothing! The funny part about this segment was our arrival at TRI. There was a crowd of about 75 people at baggage claim, which is a rare sight at little TRI. It seems that there was an NAIA track and field event being held locally and of course, the start of NASCAR week, which meant more inbound travelers than usual on a Saturday evening, and three flights (DL, NW, and US) had arrived around the same time. Now that was some “excitement” for sure!