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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Day 4: Travel to Richmond, VA

This is my first WordPress for BlackBerry post! I hope it works!

I redeemed 25,000 miles for my trip to Richmond so I wouldn’t have to drive 10 hours roundtrip for a 12-hour conference. The only available outbound was the last itinerary of the day, so I booked it with the intent of standing by for an earlier option. However, today nothing earlier was for sale. I arrived at TRI and discovered my outbound was already delayed. As I was coming down the escalator toward the gate, the agent invited passengers on my flight to take the delayed, earlier flight if no luggage was checked, so I took it. Although it departed an hour and 15 minutes late, it was a good decision, as I would have misconnected otherwise.

My connection ended up taking a delay because the crew was on another flight that was diverted due to the storms. However, Delta found another crew. We departed 49 minutes late and arrived only 17 minutes late. I was very lucky.

TRI-ATL-LGA, LGA-PWM-LGA, LGA-ATL-TRI on Delta, June 2-6, 2011

This is going to be very brief. I flew six segments on Delta and Delta Connection June 2-6 and all of the flights were consistently good, even the flight with the mechanical delay at the gate (ATL-LGA on June 2, a 757-200). The pilot kept us updated every 20-30 minutes, the flight attendants served us snacks and drinks, the plane was kept cool, and we had full use of our portable electronic devices. A few passengers asked to deplane to try to get on another flight and were accommodated. The pilot went back to coach at one point and spoke to some who were getting restless, which I thought was a nice move. I believe his gesture and explanation caused some of them to stick it out. We were at the gate about two hours, from boarding until pushback. Once we departed, we received Delta’s consistently good service in the air. I am glad that the pre-flight safety check yielded a leaky hose in the hydraulic system BEFORE we took off, the TOC (Technical Operations Center) had the part(s) needed, and the mechanics repaired the leak quickly and safely. I received a survey about the delay a day or two later and completed it, saying the delay was handled as well as could be expected.

TRI-ATL-LGA Roundtrip on Delta 24-26 Sept 2010

This was a 25,000-mile award ticket and I was upgraded both ways as per Delta’s new award ticket upgrade perk for Gold and higher frequent flyers (stolen from Northwest). I checked in both directions using Delta’s new iPhone/iPod Touch app.

The flights were typical, very good. The flights between TRI and ATL are by request only service. The flight attendants both directions did come through the aisles seeing if passengers wanted or needed anything.

I discovered the first flight of my itinerary was delayed when I went to check my itinerary on delta.com. So I rushed to get ready and headed to the airport. I called Delta on my way to see if I could get on the earlier flight and I did. Just as soon as I hung up, Delta both called and e-mailed me with my changed itinerary.

On my ATL-LGA flight, I was on a refurbished Northwest 757-200 (N) 5500 series. It had the new leather seat covers, but still had the foot rests. I also had Gogo Inflight Internet, but no IFE or power. The in-flight service consisted of the snack basket and beverages only since it was after 8:00 pm.

On my return LGA-ATL, I was on one of the nicer 757-200s with the in-seat in-flight entertainment system and power ports. I also had Gogo Inflight. Service included pre-departure beverages, hot towels, lunch, and beverages.

When I landed in ATL, I had an e-mail from Delta saying my connection was delayed, so I proceeded to an agent upon deplaning and was confirmed on an earlier ATL-TRI flight.

I must say that Delta serves me very well and they do seem to be trying to improve their recent DOT ratings. They have a new ad campaign and the Red Coat customer service agents have returned.

Here are the links to their new video ads on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/user/DeltaAirLines#p/a/u/0/o2Ltz8d16kE

http://www.youtube.com/user/DeltaAirLines#p/a/u/1/lpie7-lhok8

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

Roanoke to LaGuardia to Richmond to LaGuardia to Roanoke on Delta

I flew six segments in four days trying to make up some ground from the winter: June 30: ROA-ATL-LGA, July 2: LGA-RIC, July 3: RIC-LGA, and July 6: LGA-DTW-ROA. Overall the flights were good. Some of the highlights were:

*My original ROA-ATL took a delay, so I was able to rebook myself online to a later set of flights so I would not misconnect. I also retained my upgrade.

*ROA-ATL took a 20-minute hold in the air for wind shears reported in the ATL area due to storms in the vicinity. ATL-LGA took a similar residual delay from the earlier ground hold, but both flights still arrived on time.

*All of the Delta Connection flights (ROA-ATL, RIC-LGA, and DTW-ROA) had a standard beverage and complimentary snack service except for LGA-RIC. For some reason, we got the “due to the short duration” spiel. That same flight also took an ATC delay from LGA, at 9:30 am on Friday morning, July 3.  We took off an hour late after waiting in a long line to take off.  We were 16th for departure at one point.

*I had a standard meal service on the ATL-LGA flight, choice of a chicken wrap or a pasta chicken salad. We also had Gogo Inflight available.

*I flew on my first DC-9 aircraft from LGA-DTW.  It was also my first missed upgrade of 2010. The flight was completely full.  I was something like #7 of 11 on the list with one seat open. I had exit row seat 11B aisle on the two-seat side, which was fine, as it had excellent legroom. The DC-9-30 was in amazing shape on the inside and out, but it did still have the Northwest-style cloth seats. We had a beverage and snack service.  My only disappointment was that the plane was not catered with the coach BOB snack boxes, as I wanted one and I heard someone else near me ask for one. We were probably both thinking breakfast.

*My DTW-ROA flight aborted the first landing attempt at approximately 300 feet above the ground. The pilot said that a “caution light” had come on, requiring them to abort and go through a checklist before landing.

Overall score for the six flights = B+

When Beth Effect strikes

Friends jokingly call my air travel challenges the “Beth Effect,” and when I have one of those, it’s usually a doozy.  This past weekend would definitely qualify.

Friday, June 25:
I was scheduled to fly TRI-CLT-LGA on US Airways to attend the Travel Blog Exchange conference. How ironic! The ticket was a Continental mileage award redemption.  The TRI-CLT flight was uneventful. However, the next flight was the beginning of the Beth Effect. We boarded, pushed back, and started to taxi, when the pilot noticed a problem with the hydraulic system readings. We returned to the gate and spent the next two hours on board while maintenance tried to fix the problem by replacing a computer and cleaning sensor contacts. Around 8:15 pm, we were told to deplane and see an agent, as their efforts had not been successful.  Many passengers formed a line to see the gate agent, while I proceeded to a nearly empty Special Services counter, where the agent rerouted both me and my bag to a 10:09 pm departure to JFK.  The flight to JFK was fine, but upon arrival, no bag. The JFK baggage agent checked and of course, my bag was never pulled and rerouted, but sitting at LGA, most likely having remained on the LGA flight which ended up flying after all.  She filed a claim and requested delivery to my hotel in Manhattan.

Saturday, June 26:
Although my bag was sitting at LaGuardia since the evening before, it did not arrive my hotel until almost 6:00 pm.  Because I had a conference to attend, my boyfriend in Westchester County had to drive to Manhattan to bring me clothes and toiletries so I could make the afternoon sessions.

Sunday, June 27:
I tried to do online check-in for my return flights and received an error message that my reservation was “out of sync” and I needed to call US Airways Web Support.  I did, and after being on hold for about 15 minutes, the agent came back and said I needed to see an agent at LGA on Monday.  Frustrated, I contacted a supervisor friend at US Airways who was able to fix the check-in problem.

Monday, June 28:
I arrived the airport very early, so I went to the US Airways Club.  The club agent saw how late my departure was and that thunderstorms were approaching, so she tried to change my itinerary to an earlier one.  No matter what she tried, the system would not let her change anything but my LGA-BWI leg.  After doing so and calling the US Airways Help Desk, a boarding pass would not print and she kept receiving an “invalid flight” error message. She sent me to the gate and the gate agents received the same message, so they sent me to Special Services.  The agent there called US Airways Help Desk again and I was finally able to obtain a boarding pass.

The new flight to BWI was delayed to a late inbound aircraft, but we quickly boarded by 2:30 pm.   However, due to storms in the BWI area, we were subjected to a two-hour ground stop aboard our US Airways Express Dash 8 with no air conditioning.  The flight attendant did serve drinks and brought a small bag of ice to a passenger who was evidently overheated.  Once we took off, it was another hour with little to no air conditioning.  Needless to say, I was suffering from heat exhaustion when I deplaned.  I went to the restroom and accidentally left my BlackBerry there in a cosmetic bag and when I rushed back to retrieve it, someone had already taken it.

The next flight to CLT was also delayed to a late inbound aircraft.  However, we did board quickly and departed around 8:30 pm, about 35 minutes late, and arrived CLT at 9:45 pm.  My last flight to TRI was on time and uneventful.

In retrospect, there is obviously something wrong with the baggage system and issues with certain types of tickets.  It’s unacceptable that my bag was not pulled from the LGA flight and put on the JFK flight, when there was nearly a two-hour time block to do so.  It’s also unacceptable that gate/club/special services agents have to call a help desk to complete simple transactions and that agents are not empowered by the system to proactively move customers to their final destination in the most expeditious manner.

TRI-CVG-SFO on Delta 31 July 2009

DL 6520 TRI-CVG 12:30 pm-1:33 pm CRJ Seat 8C Exit No Seatmate
Actual 1:23 pm-1:59 pm (36 minutes takeoff to touchdown)

DL 1162 CVG-SFO 4:50 pm – 6:37 pm 737-800 Seat 2B Aisle
Actual 5:16 pm -6:46 pm

The first flight was fairly uneventful except for the fact that it was delayed.  The weather was awful at TRI, high winds and pouring rain, so I assume that the inclement weather played a role in the delay.  The inbound aircraft arrived late, around 12:50 pm.  Deplaning and aircraft turnaround was rather quick all things considered.  However, for some reason, TRI only had ONE gate agent and ONE baggage handler for three flights, our flight to CVG, one to ATL, and a NW Airlink flight to either MEM or DTW, so it caused additional delay.  The ATL flight, then the NW flight, then our flight boarded, in that order.  And it was “all aboard,” no Breezeway or zone boarding.  I felt badly for the lone baggage handler, who kept running between checked luggage and valet.  I actually patted him on the shoulder and said, “It’s tough having to do it all, isn’t it?” and he shook his head yes.  We pushed back fairly quickly and were airborne by 1:23 pm, 53 minutes late.  There was no service in flight “due to the short duration” and we landed at 1:59 pm, only 36 minutes in flight and only 26 minutes late.

I spent my next two and a half hours in the Concourse B Delta Sky Club.  I have to say that I enjoyed my complimentary Internet and the peace and quiet, but the beverages left a lot to be desired.  I first tried a Bloody Mary.  Apparently there was no Mr.  & Mrs.’s T’s Bloody Mary mix, because it was made with plain tomato juice and lime and I had to “doctor” it myself with the provided salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco.  I much prefer the mix.  So for my next drink, I asked if he could make a margarita, hoping for the Rande Gerber Signature version found aboard Delta flights.  Again I was disappointed, as the mix was not that and was not good.   One nice touch was the offering of mixed nuts, in addition to the standard Biscoffs, pretzels, dried fruit, and Nutella.  As I was leaving, the club had put out the evening fare that I love so much:  chicken salad, hummus, cheese and crackers, and olives.  I confess I took a few olives and ate them quickly before leaving!

Around 4:20 pm, I proceeded to the gate and as I walked up, the gate agent called first class to board.  Perfect timing!  In my seat were the standard pillow, blanket, and mini Dasani.  The flight attendant offered a full pre-departure beverage service.  I had a glass, not a plastic cup, of white wine, the Fetzer Sauvignon Blanc, which after having a few times on Delta, is a pretty “uneventful,” bland offering, but otherwise harmless.

We were ready to push back on time, but the pilot announced that we were going to wait a few minutes on a group of passengers that were coming through customs.  Honestly, if I were one of those customers, I would be eternally grateful to Delta for holding my flight.  We pushed back only about 12 minutes late at 5:02 pm and were airborne by 5:16 pm.

About 30 minutes in flight, the flight attendant offered dinner service, which consisted of hot towel service, drinks in glassware, and dinner.  I was sort of shocked, because the dinner offerings were the same as I had back in March 2009, the short ribs or penne pasta with red sauce.  I would have thought Delta would have changed the menu by now, five months later, but I guess times are tough all over!

The meal was served on different dinnerware than before, but the meal was essentially the same, a nice-sized portion of very tender, no knife needed, beef rib; salad, grilled squash, mashed potatoes, and a very rich, chocolate mousse-like dessert, similar in texture to cheesecake.  My seatmate, a wine geek turned businessman, and I opted for the “safe” Fetzer as the beverage, but wow, it did not taste very good with the meal!  So we inquired about the red offering, which was a 2008 Copperfish Shiraz from “Central Baja,” whatever that means!  We assumed it would not be very good.  It was slightly better with the food than the Fetzer.  To be honest, it tasted better after the rich, sweet dessert. I suggested to him that we needed to move away from the wine and on to the Rande Gerber Signature Margarita, with a soda water and lime in between as a break!

The flight did not have Gogo Inflight Internet, but it did have Dish Satellite TV and On Demand movies and music.  I watched some of WNBC NY local news and NBC Nightly News.  While writing this trip report, I opted to listen to Delta’s On Demand music offerings.  My seatmate tried to listen to the standard music channels, but the system kept resetting to Channel 1, so I suggested he try the On Demand offerings on Channel  1, which worked!

My seatmate actually told me in flight that this was his first transcontinental upgrade on Delta as he usually flies other airlines as per his company travel budget and policy, so he was not familiar at all with the Delta 737-800 first class service and amenities, and that I steered him correctly on the power outlets under the center console, the choice of the short ribs for dinner, and the music on Channel 1.  I think he was surprised I knew so much!  Being a travel geek does have its advantages!

The rest of the in-flight service consisted of the standard Delta snack basket and full beverage service.   The one disappointment was the margarita I ordered.  What happened?  The mixer for this one was the same as the Sky Club and it was not very good, so I asked the flight attendant to take it away and bring me an Amstel Light.  We landed at 6:46 pm, nine minutes late.