Posted by: Kristen Hicks | March 15, 2010

Letter to United

As detailed here, I found myself profoundly mistreated by United Airlines.  For those of you unfamiliar with United Airlines, they’re a company  that people give lots of money to for the privilege of  being metaphorically shat on.

Some minimal web searching reveals how widespread their revulsion of their customers is.

See here and here and here and here and here and I could keep going.

You can see the letter I wrote to the United Airlines customer complaint department below.

Dear United Airlines,

On our recent trip with you, my boyfriend and I were repeatedly treated with a thorough lack of respect or acknowledgment of any rights we may have as paying customers.  My boyfriend and I spent a good amount of time planning this vacation, saving up the money to take it and took off valuable vacation days from work.  It should be noted, in my boyfriend’s case, not all of these were paid vacation days.  Our vacation meant a lot to us and to have your airline treat it as though it’s of no importance and us as though we earned nothing from you for the $1,100 apiece we spent to secure transportation to our destination is an offense.

Even in the realm of the airline industry, generally regarded to be amongst the least customer friendly industries, we were shocked by how willing United and its employees were to forego reason and humanity in its dealings with us and other customers we came into contact with.  Our complaints with the service we received are so many and varied, that the best possible way to record them for you now is the list I’ve included below.

1)  Some weeks before our flight was scheduled, we received a phone call and e-mail from United informing us that our flight itinerary had been changed.  We did not receive a request to change our flight itinerary, or the option to change our flight itinerary in exchange for some incentive, we were merely informed that the change was made and that was that.  As I’ve mentioned before, we set aside this vacation time well in advance and informed our employers of the dates we would be away.  Luckily, in each case our employers were able to accept the sudden change in our schedule but, as previously mentioned, it meant one less day of future vacation time for me, and one less day of pay for my boyfriend.  We didn’t know to recognize it as such at the time, but this was an early example of what little regard United Airlines has for the time of its customers, something we would come up against multiple times in the course of our travels.

2)  Our flight began in the Houston Intercontinental Airport with a connection to Buenos Aires, Argentina at Washington Dulles.  We were delayed by about an hour at the Houston airport and landed approximately half and hour before our connecting flight was scheduled to leave.  We raced across the airport, getting to the gate 15 minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave, only to have a door shut in our face and an unfriendly member of the United staff brush us off towards customer service.  We were there in time to make that flight.  We did everything we were supposed to to get to that flight on time (we booked well in advance, paid, made it to the airport on time, made it to the gate on time), and our seats were given away anyways.

3)  In the line for customer service, we found ourselves surrounded by at least 30 other people in similar straits.  Every person we spoke to had gotten to the gate of their flight (often after a great amount of rushed effort) 5-15 minutes before the flight was scheduled, and all had been rudely turned away and sent to customer service.  Every person in this line was in a state of rage at having had the seats they had paid for given away, many of them were now stuck without any luggage (we had the cynicism/foresight to not check any bags) or were missing important, time sensitive plans they had at their destination.  Not one person received any sympathy from the representatives at your customer service desk.  Rather, the rage we were all feeling was even further provoked by the news that United Airlines would admit no blame for not allowing us on our flights (apparently it was the weather’s fault you gave all of our seats away) and would therefore not pay for anyone’s hotel for the evening and frankly didn’t give a damn about the sorry state we were all left in (that last part isn’t verbatim, but it does communicate the gist of what we were told).

4)  The cost of our hotel that night was $66.  The cost of the hostel we had booked in Buenos Aires was $12 and we knew of our delay too late to cancel it.  I expect that $66 back from your company.  We planned and budgeted for a trip to Buenos Aires, which is far cheaper than a trip to Washington DC.  I don’t expect you to reimburse us for the expensive meals we had to eat in the hotel that would have been much cheaper at our actual destination, but I absolutely expect reimbursement for the hotel we wouldn’t have had to pay for had you not so flippantly and unapologetically given the seats we had reserved and paid for away.

5) The earliest flight we were told we could book was two days later than the original one we had scheduled. This is two days of our vacation that are lost.  Two days of vacation time that we will not be getting back from our employers.  Two days of our vacation plans that we were not able to experience (ever heard of Iguazu Falls? I still haven’t seen it because of United Airlines).  Two days of our lives that were wasted in a hotel room in Washington DC because we packed for summer in Buenos Aires and had no appropriate clothes to venture outside in winter in Washington DC.  Those days were valuable to us on multiple levels.  In financial terms, those days were worth more than $500 to us and our employers.  More importantly though, this was a vacation we had spent months planning, saving and preparing for and to lose a fifth of it due to the policies of United Airlines and the decisions of its employees with no absolutely no apology or retribution is worse than an insult.

6) We returned to the airport the day after losing our seats and dealing with United “customer service” with the hopes of either getting on an earlier flight that day or being able to get on that evening’s flight standby.  A customer service representative spent some time looking at the different options for getting to Buenos Aires earlier and informed us that they were all full.  It should be noted, a good friend of mine scheduled for that evening’s flight to Buenos Aires was offered $400 to take one of these supposedly “full” flights instead of the one she had been booked for.  She informed us that there were ample free seats on the flight you put her on.  I can’t think of any reason for one of your customer service representatives to lie to us about the availability of an earlier flight to reach our destination, but then if there were reason behind any of United’s actions throughout this experience, I’d have little reason to write this letter.

7)  To add insult to injury,  we were informed that on the flight we had been booked for the following night, we were both “confirmed” for a seat, but only I had an actual “reservation”.  Apparently John’s “confirmation” did not equal a “reservation”.  When I suggested that this sounded like a contradiction in terms, your representative, with all the condescension she could muster, informed me that I wasn’t listening and proceeded with a patronizing lecture about the difference between a “confirmation” and a “reservation”.  You should know, this lecture had no relationship to the English language according to how anyone not working at United uses it.  The definition of the verb “to confirm” is “to acknowledge with definite assurance”, thus a “confirmation” should damn well have meant that we definitely had seats on that flight.

8)  We were then informed that in order to turn John’s “confirmation” into an actual “reservation”, he would have to upgrade his seat for $120.  This is on top of the over $1,100 he paid months in advance to “reserve” a seat on the flight two days earlier, a seat which United had chosen to give away.  How can you justify making somebody pay extra to receive service they had already paid to receive two days late.  What kind of a company charges their companies extra for the privilege of bad service?

In a general state of shock at how our past two days had been spent and trying to suppress the general state of rage your company had gone to great lengths to put us in.  John and I finally got to Buenos Aires two days late, and somehow managed to have an otherwise good vacation.  It’s too bad it couldn’t have been longer (like we planned and paid for).

As previously outlined in this e-mail, there were multiple expenses we were asked to cover on this trip that I believe United Airlines owes us reimbursement for. The hotel we paid for the night you gave our seats away was $66, the fee my boyfriend had to pay to change his “confirmation” into a “reservation” was $120. Kindly provide us a refund of $179 for these costs we had to incur due to the failures of your airline. We don’t have any way to get back the two days of our vacation you took away from us (worth far more than $179 to us), but the least you can do is refund us this small portion of the inconvenience and frustration you forced on our vacation.


Kristen Hicks and John Veron

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